PORT ANGELES — A unanimous Port Angeles City Council has voted to support the present Olympic Discovery Trail.
The seven-member council voted Tuesday to adopt a resolution that states the city will “prioritize the improvements, repairs and maintenance” of the existing trail between City Pier and Morse Creek.
The three-page resolution was revised by council action to incorporate changes suggested by Peninsula Trails Coalition President Jeff Bohman and City Manager Nathan West.
“I have a feeling this is a very important moment for the trail, and we’re very excited now to turn our attention to talking care of the trail and working closely with the city,” Bohman said in a Wednesday interview.
The 4.5-mile Port Angeles Waterfront Trail from City Pier to Morse Creek is an iconic segment of the Olympic Discovery Trail, which will eventually connect Port Townsend to La Push.
The city’s delayed maintenance of the trail after 2019-20 winter storms — and a council-approved plan for a Gales Addition Connector between Ennis and Morse creeks — dominated public comment periods on June 1, June 15 and Tuesday.
Eighteen speakers in Tuesday’s meeting, many of whom left voicemail messages, supported the Peninsula Trails Coalition’s call for improved maintenance of the waterfront trail.
Many urged the council to shelve plans for the renamed upland route that would be used as an alternative — not as a replacement — to the existing trail.
Trail advocates say more maintenance is needed to address bluff erosion and poor drainage along the trail between mileposts 3 and 4.
The city owns and maintains the entire stretch of trail between City Pier and Morse Creek that was built atop a historic railroad grade between the bluff and Port Angeles Harbor.
Bohman asked the City Council to clarify the city’s timeline for urgent repairs to certain trail sections.
He and others suggested that trail maintenance be moved from the auspices of the Parks and Recreation Department to Public Works and Utilities.
“It’s just a common sense thing that needs to be done,” said Rich James, PTC board member and retired Clallam County transportation program manager.
“The trail is a transportation corridor,” James added during public comment Tuesday.
“It has all the characteristics of a road. It’s a road for bicycles. It’s Highway 101 for bicycles. Public Works should be managing it.”
The Peninsula Trails Coalition supports 14 federal, state, county, city and tribal jurisdictions that are responsible for various segments of the 135-mile Olympic Discovery Trail.
“Our immediate concern is taking care of some important repair work before the winter hits,” Bohman said Wednesday.
“The resolution doesn’t quite provide a level of detailed instruction that we had suggested, but we’re comfortable with the commitments.”
Prior to the meeting, council member Mike French worked with the trails coalition and suggested a draft resolution to clarify the council’s support for the waterfront trail.
“I’m happy that we’ve made progress, and the next step will be taking a close look at the contract that will come to the City Council in August to ensure that we take care of the trail before the winter storm season,” French said in a Wednesday email.
The resolution begins on Page 74 of the City Council packet. Click on www.cityofpa.us/DocumentCenter/View/10524/Agenda-Packet-07062021.
The final version of the resolution contains several edits and typographical revisions suggested by Bohman and West.
The waterfront trail section of the ODT recorded 382,000 trips in 2020. It brings in more than $2 million annually to the local economy though tourism and events like the North Olympic Discovery Marathon, the resolution states.
The City Council has budgeted $600,000 for trail repairs in the next five years.
French delivered the PTC draft resolution to city staff, who incorporated language into the city’s resolution.
“We really should celebrate all of the ways that we are on the same page and the progress that we have made,” French said in the Tuesday meeting.
“But there are some meaningful places where the two drafts diverge.”
French said the two drafts diverged on specificity, timelines and maintenance responsibility.
The council could not reach a consensus on which department should have primary responsibility for trail maintenance.
The resolution identifies the departments of Community and Economic Development, Finance, Parks and Recreation and Public Works and Utilities as each having roles in trail improvements, repairs and maintenance.
“Us saying what department this belongs in feels like micromanagement and outside of the scope of our work,” Mayor Kate Dexter said during a lengthy council debate.
Parks Director Corey Delikat defended his department’s record of trail maintenance.
“My crew does an outstanding job maintaining the trail, and I’ve heard a lot of things that are kind of false over the last three weeks,” Delikat said in the virtual meeting.
The parks department had recently cleared three culverts along the trail and works closely with the city’s streets and water divisions on trail maintenance projects, Delikat said.
“The reason why it took so long for us to get down there and do the ditching is because it is summertime, and that’s the only time that we can do this,” Delikat said.
“We don’t want our crews down there in the wintertime against a hillside when we could have slides coming down.
“I felt like our staff has been really thrown under the bus for no particular reason, I just want to make those comments,” Delikat added.
To assuage concerns about which department will be in charge of the trail, West offered to provide an outline of the city’s maintenance responsibilities in a future council meeting.
“I think it would be a really wonderful compromise,” Deputy Mayor Navarra Carr said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].