Richland’s controversial plan to link Steptoe Street and Leslie Road means crossing the Amon Creek Natural Preserve in south Richland.
Where exactly the extension will be built and whether it will cross the sensitive area on a causeway or on the surface is an open question.
But residents who braved a winter storm warning Monday to attend an open house about the plan had a clear message for the city: No matter which route Rachel Road follows, protecting the dozens of animal species that inhabit the preserve as well as its wetlands should be the top consideration.
The open house at Reata Springs Baptist Church, near the preserve, was an open-ended opportunity for the curious to come learn more about the road, necessitated by area development and the need for a new road to serve an elementary school expected to open in fall 2018.
Cheryl Hoffman, a 15-year resident of the Meadow Springs neighborhood, said she’s concerned about the impact of new homes on neighborhood. She accused the city of failing to plan for residential development, then expecting surrounding communities to absorb the impact.
“Poor planning on your part does not make an emergency on my part,” she said.
Poor planning on your part does not make an emergency on my part.
Cheryl Hoffman, Meadow Springs resident
Hayden Homes has built about 67 lots in the area and is about to begin the fourth phase of the 350-unit development. Its Clearwater Creek subdivision is part of the reason the Kennewick School District will build its 16th elementary school in the neighborhood.
“We’re trying to work with everyone,” said Brian Thoreson, land development manager for Hayden.
The school is a big reason why the Rachel Road extension is back on the city’s radar two years after the city council overrruled its own planning commission to include it in the city’s long-term transportation plan.
Superintendent David Bond said the district expects to break ground next spring. When it bought the property from Hayden, it was banking on a connection to Leslie Road.
The district, Bond said, isn’t concerned about the alignment as much as providing safe access to a school expected to serve up to 730 students when the neighborhood is built out.
To guide the discussion, the city hired The Langdon Group, a division of J-U-B Engineers, to guide a citizens committee to recommend the best alignment. That group will meet Tuesday to sort through the comments it heard Monday.
I don’t think the city has met its commitment with regards to maintain the Amon Preserve.
David R. Orcutt, Richland resident
The citizen committee is currently considering routing Rachel Road from the Steptoe Street intersection at Center Parkway and running roughly west to the school site. From the new elementary site, it can follow one of four routes westward toward Leslie.
Each takes it across Amon Creek but at different positions. Officials say there is no preferred route.
Tapteal Greenway, the nonprofit that helped establish the Amon Creek Natural Area, prefers to see no road through the area, which is home to birds, raccoons, beaver, mink, jackrabbits, deer and many more species. But failing that, it wants the city to build on a Bonneville Power Administration access road serving a nearby substation.
Critics say they’re skeptical that any road will leave the preserve unharmed.
“I don’t think the city has met its commitment with regards to maintain the Amon Preserve,” said David R. Orcutt, a Richland resident.
The citizen committee will meet through the winter and spring and is expected to hold a second public meeting in 2017. It is scheduled to recommend a final alignment to the city council in May.