Willamette Falls Legacy Project update

Thu 9 Apr 20

Willamette Falls Legacy Project officials met April 8 to discuss the future of the riverwalk at Willamette Falls. The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde presented an alternative riverfront concept they’ve developed for the first phase of the riverwalk. The alternate design seeks to support the Willamette Falls Legacy Project’s four core values, the riverwalk conceptual design, and meets Grand Ronde’s site cleanup and development goals.

The tribes had previously requested that project officials consider providing a path running entirely along the river to the proposed Phase 1 overlook. This differs from an earlier temporary plan to weave visitors through the middle of the former paper mill site to the developed overlook. Grand Ronde on April 8 presented a design that would allow visitors to travel along Oregon City’s waterfront, and it was well-received by officials from Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro and the State of Oregon.

Both the Legacy Project Partners and Grand Ronde officials heartily acknowledged that the current COVID-19 pandemic has produced a lot of unknowns. Metro Councilor Christine Lewis hoped that giving project stakeholders some time would allow everyone to gain more certainty.

“At the same time, know that some of what we need in recovery is going to be shovel-ready projects, and I’d like us to continue to look at this as a premier shovel-ready project,” said Lewis, whose district includes Willamette Falls.

While the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a project delay, the Grand Ronde Tribe continues to be engaged in the transformation of the former mill site. In addition to collaborating with the Willamette Falls Legacy Project on an alternate riverwalk design, the tribes have also applied for $975,000 in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other partner agencies to assist in further assessments and site cleanup.

Estimates completed last year showed that construction costs for the temporary plan through the middle of the site could range from $20 million to $33 million depending on the scope and scale of the first phase of the riverwalk. The estimates provided by Lease Crutcher Lewis on behalf of the Tribe and the Legacy Project for the updated Phase 1 cost, including riverfront access, pin construction for the new concept at around $49 million. Tribal Council Member Denise Harvey with Grand Ronde said that while the approach the tribe is hoping for might add some costs initially, it could save money in the long run and provide safe, uninterrupted pedestrian access to the site.

The Willamette Falls Legacy Project has roughly $12 million set aside for the construction of the first phase of the riverwalk.

So, what’s next? Project partners agreed that it’s too early to make any decisions and asked staff to continue working with Grand Ronde to refine the project scope and determine how the current funding gap could be closed.

“This is still a world-class opportunity that really does have a lot that we can do in the immediate future, so, I don’t want us to lose that momentum,” Lewis said.

The Willamette Falls Legacy Project team is looking to schedule the next Partner meeting in early summer.

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