Even on a gray December day when most plants and wildlife are hunkered down for winter, Sam Dechter can see beauty in south Richland's Amon Creek Natural Preserve.
Dechter, a resident of the nearby Willowbrook housing development, speaks with pride about the 100-acre preserve and the time he has spent planting or hauling buckets of water to help fragile vegetation survive scorching desert summers.
"For us in Willowbrook, this is a beautiful natural area right in our own backyard for hiking and biking," Dechter said. "I want to see it preserved."
Richland Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky said he also appreciates the passionate work that has gone into preserving the Amon Creek basin, and so when the city embarked on 20-year-old plans to extend a sewer line through the preserve, he made sure that care was taken to plan a route that would cause the least damage.
A contractor for the city is expected to start work Monday on the mile-long sewer line, which will run about parallel to Leslie Road and connect the lift station at Broadmoor Street to an existing sewer line at Rachel Road.
Rogalsky said the project will allow hundreds of homes south and west of the preserve that now are served by septic systems to connect to the city's sewer system if they choose.
The line will not serve the nearly 2,000-acre area south of Badger Mountain annexed by the city council on Tuesday, and expected to eventually contain thousands of homes.
Construction on the $400,000 sewer project -- which includes money to restore vegetation -- is expected to last into early March.
Rogalsky said the city consulted with the Tapteal Greenway Association, a local group that advocates for open space preservation, to determine what spots within the preserve are most sensitive.
"We appreciated that Tapteal has been able to talk with the city and be a part of the process as much as we can," said Dechter, who is a member of Tapteal and the Friends of Amon Basin.
The city then planned the least disruptive route for the line even though that sometimes meant more inconvenience for the city, he said.
"We recognize the community has placed a high value on preserving the basin," Rogalsky said.
The roughly 100-acre Amon Creek Natural Preserve includes shrub-steppe, wetland and riparian areas -- the only urban spot in the Tri-Cities that combines the three kinds of habitat. It also is home to the largest concentration in the Tri-Cities of black-tailed jack rabbits, a species of concern in Washington.
The Amon area also provides habitat to nearly 150 species of birds, river otters, beavers, badger and coyotes, and 47 plant species, including some sagebrush that is at least a century old.
Jack Arnold, the project engineer for the sewer line, said the work will be done within a 30-foot easement marked on one side with a ribbon.
A temporary fence will mark the other side and ensure construction equipment doesn't stray into other parts of the preserve, he said.
Work crews also will save the topsoil where they dig the trench and put it back when the work is done. Then a restoration company will come in to replace the vegetation that was disturbed.
The city will post regular updates about the project at ci.richland.wa.us.
Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org