Road construction has cherry stand worried

KENNEWICK -- Come next fall, motorists on 10th Avenue in west Kennewick may enjoy the wider lanes, street lights and new paving that's on the way.

But for cherry growers Steve and Michele Sauer of Kennewick, the street project's timing is the pits.

Their farm, he said, "is dead center of all the construction. The paving is gone, there's nothing but a dirt track and barricades are up with signs posted, saying it's closed ... to through traffic with only local traffic allowed."

Which has Steve and his wife, Michele, worried because they sell their cherries at a fruit stand on their farm. They have other crops -- they also raise wine grapes and have leased their apple trees -- but cherries are a significant portion of their annual income.

The Sauers tried to get the road improvement project delayed until after cherry harvest, which lasts only about 10 days. They contacted the city of Kennewick, which talked to the private developer who is having the road work done as part of expanding the Hansen Park Development.

"They were all very sorry it had to happen at this time. But the builder needs to get going on more houses, so the road work needs to be done now. I understand. They're worried about paving in October," Steve said.

Peter Beaudry, executive director of municipal services for the city, explained that the road project had to go forward "because this is the season we have to do things. Our projects are all planned around Mother Nature. Typically, we try to have everything like this done by Thanksgiving."

Cool spring weather complicated things too by delaying cherry harvest by about 10 days.

"Normally we begin picking early in June, but not this year," Sauer said. They began picking their 18 acres of Bing, Rainier and Van cherries Friday and likely will have cherries to sell through June 27.

"We've already had some longtime customers calling, asking if the cherries are ready and how can they get to us," Steve said. "We have people who have been buying our cherries for 38 years; they're dedicated. They'd go through a flood to get to those cherries."

Customers won't have to wade through water, but they will have to drive carefully through the construction zone.

Cherry buyers are the exception to "local traffic only" rule.

"They can disregard the barricades. The road is open to cherry traffic," Steve said. "The people at the city were very helpful. In fact, some are my customers."

The fruit stand at Sauer Orchards will be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, until all the cherries are harvested. They sell for $2 a pound, less in large quantities. The farm is at 8101 W. 10th Ave., Kennewick. Be sure to take along grocery bags or a box.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com