Construction damage in Amon Basin criticized

As work nears completion on a mile-long south Richland sewer line, members of the Tapteal Greenway Association are concerned about damage to the Amon Basin ecosystem from construction.

Tapteal President Scott Woodward said he marked several spots in January where contractor Rotschy Inc. of Vancouver strayed outside the 20- to 30-foot easement where work was supposed to be confined.

"In some cases it was over 50 feet," he told the Herald. "One place was 60 feet. They way overstepped their boundaries."

Woodward said he is concerned about the destruction of native vegetation that will take years to restore.

"It's unfortunate," he said. "When you take old growth sage out, you can't just plant it and have it come up like tomatoes this summer. We won't see it in our lifetime."

Richland Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky said that he responded to a letter Woodward sent in mid-January and believes the problem has been resolved.

"I believe this is an old issue," he said this week.

He added the city has hired landscape company Wildlands Inc. to restore the disturbed areas in the basin.

"We have got a pretty involved contract with them to not just seed, but to plant somewhat established plants and have the area restored," Rogalsky said.

He said much of the area noted by Woodward were spots that already had been disturbed or ultimately would be disturbed as the city expands Claybell Park or for private development.

"It won't be restored and preserved as native vegetation anyway," he said.

Because most of the places where the contractor worked outside of the defined boundaries weren't expected to be restored, the city shouldn't have to spend any extra money because of the error, Rogalsky said.

Woodward said thousands of Tri-Citians have contributed either time or money toward preserving the basin, and that volunteers are heartbroken to see the damage.

"To see that huge scar, any kind of scar, is not acceptable," he said. "Right now we are calling it an open, festering wound."

The approximately 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 almost 150 species of birds, river otters, beavers, badger and coyotes, and 47 plant species, including some sagebrush that is at least a century old.

The mile-long sewer line will run roughly parallel to Leslie Road and connect the lift station at Broadmoor Street to an existing sewer line at Rachel Road.

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 thealmost 2,000-acre area south of Badger Mountain annexed by the city council in December, and expected to eventually contain thousands of homes.

Construction on the $550,000 sewer project -- which includes money to restore vegetation --is expected to last into early March.

Rogalsky said the project is on track to finish on time and without any additional costs.

"They're pretty close to completing the pipeline," he said.

-- Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com