New year, new riverwalk?

Thu 9 Jan 20

The path to providing public access to Willamette Falls could take a new direction – literally and figuratively – as project partners collaborate with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which recently purchased the shuttered mill site in downtown Oregon City.

The Tribes have begun design work, in partnership with the Legacy Project, to assess the possibility of routing visitors entirely along the river to a prominent viewpoint of the Falls, instead of providing interim access through the middle of the former mill site.

Groundbreaking on the riverwalk, previously expected to occur this year, has now shifted while we evaluate a possibly more scenic riverwalk experience. Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro and the State of Oregon are committed to collaborating with our partners and carrying out our community’s vision.

“The Willamette Falls Legacy Project has worked hard to balance the voices and vision from our communities with the needs of our partners and the intricacies of the project site. Our strong partnerships and thorough work ongoing will result in a riverwalk we’ll all be proud of,” said Metro Councilor Christine Lewis.

The Willamette Falls Legacy Project shared two significant project updates last year: one highlighting projected riverwalk costs and the news that the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde purchased the former mill site and home of the future Willamette Falls riverwalk.

Cost-estimating began last spring for the design, engineering and construction of the first phase of the riverwalk, and it quickly became clear that the funding available to build the first phase wouldn’t cover as much ground as projected.

Willamette Falls Legacy Project Partners – comprised of elected officials and senior leadership from Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro and the State – directed staff in July to explore options that included reducing the scale of Phase 1 of the riverwalk, closing the funding gap or some combination of the two.

As staff worked with the design firm Otak and general contractor Lease Crutcher Lewis to explore options, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde purchased the former Blue Heron paper mill, where Metro holds an easement to build the public riverwalk at Willamette Falls.

Thoughtful collaboration on the project with the property’s new and engaged owner over the last few months has provided additional opportunities to explore how to sequence site cleanup and implementation of the riverwalk.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde requested that the Legacy Project consider providing a riverside path to the proposed Phase 1 overlook, which differs from the previous plan to route people through the former mill site, and can better accommodate the Tribes’ cleanup plans.

The cost to design and build this section of the riverwalk is under evaluation, and the Willamette Falls Legacy Project Partners and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde will need to explore funding opportunities if this approach has a higher price tag than the current proposal.

In addition to providing additional input on the riverwalk, 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 cleanup.

The Legacy Project has already set aside $12.5 million for construction from the original budget that includes contributions from Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro, the State, the former property owner and Willamette Falls Trust – a nonprofit working to support the vision at Willamette Falls.

Late last year, voters across greater Portland approved a $475 million bond measure to protect clean water, restore fish and wildlife habitat and provide opportunities for people to enjoy nature close to home, with $20 million to be directed to the Willamette Falls riverwalk over time.

Phase One of the riverwalk is still anticipated to include safe and secure public access onto the former Blue Heron paper mill site, a prominent view of Willamette Falls and habitat restoration along the riverbank. The location of the initial path to the overlook may be different than previously envisioned, however, and the groundbreaking schedule has shifted to accommodate exploring this alternative approach.

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