A group of Rancho Reata area residents doesn't want to see Richland run a sewer line through a canyon they describe as a "natural jewel."
They've sent a letter to city officials outlining their concerns and also mailed a flier to more than 600 people living near the 2.5-mile area, known as the Reata canyon.
"We want them to exercise one of their other options," said Paul Silvernail, one of the residents.
The canyon is filled with plants and wildlife and is a community asset, Silvernail told the Herald. "We just don't want it destroyed."
The city hasn't yet decided to install the sewer line in the canyon -- it's one of the routes being examined in an engineering study. The study should be done by the end of the March, giving a picture of the feasibility and costs, said Pete Rogalsky, pubic works director.
It will be up to the city council to decide which option to pursue, Rogalsky said, adding that public input will be considered.
Residents said they want to see the idea of a sewer line through the canyon nipped in the bud.
The project would affect property values and quality of life, they said, citing issues from construction noise to sewage odor.
They're also worried about harm to the canyon's ecosystem, which includes a stream, a variety of shrubs and trees, and wildlife from owls and hawks to raccoons and porcupines.
They pointed to the Amon Basin sewer project a few years ago, which stirred concern because more area in the preserve was disturbed during construction than originally anticipated. However, Rogalsky noted that extensive restoration was done after that project.
The Reata canyon property is privately owned, primarily by residents who live on its edges, but easements are in place allowing neighbors in the area to use it for hiking and horseback riding.
Several residents, including Silvernail, hiked through the area on a recent afternoon, telling of their love for the canyon. "This is one of the last few gems that we have," said Joseph Rastovich.
"You can search high and low (in the Tri-City area), but I don't think you'll find another place like this," added resident Chris Hutzelman.
If the sewer line is put in the canyon, those living around it wouldn't be able to hook up to it -- at least not anytime soon. The area in unincorporated Benton County is outside Richland's urban growth area, and cities aren't allowed to provide urban services to properties outside their UGAs.
The engineering study is happening because property owners in two areas recently annexed into the city -- including the Badger Mountain South area and about 140 acres in the Reata Road area -- are considering forming a local improvement district, or LID, to finance construction of sewer infrastructure to serve their properties.
Under the LID, the city would cover the upfront costs, paid back by the property owners through assessments.
Some sewer infrastructure is in place for Badger Mountain South, but more is needed for the master planned community that's to be built over the coming years.
With the Reata area annexation last year, the possibility arose for landowners in the two areas to share costs, according to city information.
Of the options in the study, the Reata canyon route is the only one where a gravity system would work. Those generally are cheaper, and residents worry that will be the deciding factor.
Rogalsky said the cost hasn't yet been determined, noting the engineering study will help pencil that out.
He also said other factors will go into a decision, including environmental impacts and input from the community.
"The crux of it is that nobody has made a decision yet," he said. "We realize some people are concerned, but we're trying to do this the right way" by giving notice and time to weigh in.
The residents said they aren't opposed to urban growth, but the canyon isn't the right place for a sewer line. "There are very few places that are wild in the Tri-Cities," said resident Joel Hopkins, "and this is a beautiful canyon."
The residents have a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/stopranchoreatasewer.
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald