Construction could start in July on the Yakima River Gateway, a project to create an inviting area at the entrance of West Richland where people can enjoy parkland along the water.
It means the area on the West Richland side of the Van Giesen Street bridge across the river will not be available for public use for a second summer.
But when residents and visitors see the improvements — expected to be finished by spring 2017 — they may think the sacrifice was worth it.
Not only will it provide better access to the river, but it is planned to give people a sense of arrival in West Richland.
“It will be very clear you have entered West Richland,” said Aaron Lambert, the city’s community development director. “This represents the city’s commitment and investment to the downtown.”
The shoreline is currently undeveloped and off-limits to people who cannot maneuver the rocky slopes and terrain.
It has been a popular area for launching kayaks and canoes, but the edge of the river is often muddy. The current is swift at the makeshift launch area, making takeout and launching of boats difficult.
Boaters also damage the wetland vegetation there.
The area is popular with those floating the river on inner tubes, an activity which has not mixed well with nearby homes and businesses on the north side of Van Giesen Street. Residents have complained about littering, trespassing, urinating and illegal parking.
The city plans to resolve issues by creating a a parking lot with 52 spaces on the south side of Van Giesen Street near the river.
The Army Corps of Engineers levee there would be modified to build a long ramp and stairs down to the river. It’s not a safe place to cross Van Giesen Street, so instead park users would use the area as a trailhead for a path that would go under the bridge to a park area to the north of the street.
On the north side of the bridge will be an overlook and a non-motorized boat launch for kayaks, canoes and inner tubes. A recreational trail is planned through parkland to be developed along the river for 1,200 feet. Kiosks will provide information on the area’s history, plants and animals.
Plans call for eventually extending the trail around the golf course, which will require obtaining easements.
Also planned are a restroom at the parking lot area, a flood wall in place of a section of the existing levee, and a monument for a welcome sign for the city of West Richland.
Lights are planned on the walkway under the bridge, plus on the bridge to illuminate the entrance to the city, although the park is planned for day use only.
The project is expected to cost $2.1 million, but grants through the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office will cover $1.7 million, Lambert said.
The remainder of the money will come from the Port of Kennewick, West Richland utility fees and park impact fees from new home construction. Some of the money covers the purchase of a portion of the dike.
Work already has been done to replace aging sewer and water lines before the park is developed. The area was closed to visitors last summer, but the low water caused by the drought kept river use lighter than usual.
Some trees have been taken out already to make way for the development.
The project requires an environmental assessment, which is finished and open for public comment.
Comments may be emailed to NEPANWW@usace.army.mil or mailed to Army Corps, Walla Walla District, CENWW-PM-PD-EC, Yakima River Gateway Project, 201 N. Third Ave., Walla Walla, WA 99362-1876. The deadline is May 4.
The environmental assessment and a finding of no significant impact for the proposed project are posted at bit.ly/YakimaRiverGateway