Preserve Vs. Road: Southeast Washington’s Growing Pains Erupt In Public Planning Battle
In southeast Washington, the Tri-Cities are growing faster than most other metro areas in the Northwest, or the nation. From a high spot like Badger Mountain it’s easy see how rapidly new neighborhoods are leveling-off ridgelines and hacking into fruit orchards.
Now there’s a very public pinch point - a small track of wildland versus a planned city road. At a city council meeting Tuesday, the issue caused another raucous debate.
Here in the wide-open spaces of Eastern Washington, development is celebrated with golden shovels and ribbon cuttings nearly every week. That’s beginning to change.
Take Amon Creek Natural Preserve. It’s a tiny bite of city-owned land that includes desert, riparian and wetland habitat all smooshed together.
Scott Woodward leads a non-profit centered on preserving open space in the Mid-Columbia. Amid sagebrush-studded hills that plunge down into reeds and ponds, this small ribbon is almost surrounded by dense development.
“What we are looking at is a place that you come to get away from everything else in a hurry,” said Woodward. “Just listen, you don’t need a vision, you just listen and you know you’re in a special place.”
This land is home to over 150 different species of wildlife: Cinnamon Teal ducks, coyotes, beavers and even the elusive black-tailed jackrabbits. Woodward fears losing this desert oasis.
“You lose black-tailed jackrabbits,” said Woodward. “And he’s kind of cool with the big floppy ears. When he’s gone – you know that the rest of it’s gone.”
Woodward’s group organized the purchase of this land several years ago to protect it. They knocked on 2,000 doors, and landed major government grants. But being a land manager is expensive and it was not part of the group’s long-term plan. So they turned it over to the city with the assumption that Richland would protect the 80 acres from future development. It was a hopeful assumption that doesn’t appear to be panning out.
Pete Rogalsky is the City of Richland’s public works director. He says the preserve’s land use agreement included a dotted line for a planned road.
“A road that crosses it would have to do so with a lot of sensitivity and be planned correctly because the whole thing hasn’t come into focus until just recently,” said Rogalsky.
The “just recently” is a proposed subdivision that’s fast-laning key decisions about where that road should go or if it should go at all. Rogalsky insists the road would serve people beyond the new subdivision.
“There are people in Benton County that will use this road to get to the Columbia Center Mall and the Toyota Center and other places in the heart of Kennewick,” said Rogalsky.
Rogalsky says inadequate streets for populations and developments cause traffic jams, long waits and accidents.
Still, the proposed road and subdivision is dividing the Tri-Cities.
Ongoing city council meetings on the issue have been packed and the tenor of conversation is getting nastier by the day.
At a recent meeting, most of the people were there to plead Amon Creek’s case, including Bill Kinner. He noted that at the turn of the last century a road was proposed along the west rim of the Grand Canyon.
“The people there voiced their concerns. And their leaders listened," said Kinner.
Although most of the council members spoke about their concerns with the development and the proposed road across Amon Creek – all but the mayor voted in favor of rezoning the private land for housing.
Back at Amon Creek, Woodward says there are plenty of other places for roads. Why put one right here?
“There is no other place like this in the whole region,” said Woodward. “Right next to coyotes you have river otters. That’s going to go away. ”
Final decisions on the proposed development and the city’s road are expected by early June.
Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network