Salmonberry Trail project makes progress, faces concerns
On Thursday evening, Oct. 4, the board of directors for the Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency, among others involved in the extensive rails-to-trails project, had an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of the past year — and to also discuss the obstacles that have come up along the way.
While there have been many forward steps taken in the past 12 months, helping to make progress on the potentially decades-long project, there have also been several setbacks introduced, board members said during their meeting at Banks Fire Hall.
One major concern introduced occupied much of the conversation Thursday evening.
A portion of the the railroad north of Banks Road owned by the Port of Tillamook Bay could be sold to the Portland & Western Railroad company, and how much that could affect the trail is still up in the air.
In April, the Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency voted unanimously to sign a lease agreement with the Port of Tillamook Bay to allow for the rail corridor owned by the port to be converted into a multi-use trail, taking the more than 10-year vision into the planning and development phase.
The project would take the strip of land once used as a railroad line and repurpose it into an 86-mile multi-use trail, which will connect eight cities and two counties from Banks to Tillamook on the coast.
When the Salmonberry Corridor was railbanked earlier this year — an agreement made between a railroad company and a trail agency to use a rail corridor that is no longer in use as a trail until it may be needed again for rail service — it began at Banks Road and headed north and then west to Tillamook. The Port of Tillamook Bay still owns some land south of Banks Road — what is referred to as the Banks rail yard.
"The port had decided that with the corridor being railbanked and the development of the trail, 'Let's get out of the railroad business over here … since we are in Tillamook and why should we continue to have business in Banks?'" said Dennis Wiley with Oregon Parks and Recreation, who serves on the STIA board. "So they began discussions with the Portland & Western Railroad, who had expressed interest in that property for their operation. As they were discussing it, Portland & Western said they're very interested, but in order to make this rail yard work for them, they needed some additional trackage north of the rail yard that would actually extend out past Banks Road — an undetermined distance at this point in time."
Jack Mulder with the Port of Tillamook Bay, who serves on the STIA board, tried to explain where the port district is coming from.
"After terminating operations at the railroad after the 2007 storm, the port has consistently decided that we don't want to be in the railroad business, and to that end, we have engaged in the railbanking process with the Salmonberry Trail organization and also sold off part of the rail on this side, yet the port still owns the Banks yard," Mulder said. "There has been some kind of low-grade discussion over the last couple of years about potentially Portland & Western buying the yard … (Now) there is always this threat or risk of Portland & Western petitioning the service transportation board to restore some of that rail service and coming to the Port of Tillamook Bay with a formal offer to purchase."
Board members discussed their concerns over how this could change the original plan of the trail, specifically for those near Banks, and their fear of letting down those who have invested both time and money into the project up to this point.
"Developing this trail is based on building confidence that it will be done," said one of the trail project's chairmen, Nels Gabbert. "And we signed an agreement with the Port of Tillamook Bay, and they've acted in good faith. And now to have this begin to emerge — and evidently it's been a conversation that's been boiling along for a while at a low level —but this will be a significant impact on the confidence and perspective of funders, foundations (and) the community about 'will this be built?'"
Mulder said Portland & Western is aware of the concerns of the Salmonberry Trail Intergovernmental Agency, but whether the company purchases the rail yard could be contingent on whether or not the port will sell them more of the railroad heading north, potentially four miles.
"Certainly the port would welcome the revenue from the sale, and yet we recognize the impact that we have on the Salmonberry Trail development, on the trailhead plans in Banks," Mulder said. "One thing that I'm committed to throughout this is making sure that the voice of Banks and Washington County are heard in this process. … The conversation will continue and we will see where it goes, but Washington County and the City of Banks are directly involved in the conversation and are sitting at the table with the other folks to figure out a path forward here."
Willey added, "If all this goes through and indeed we lose several miles of the rail corridor, it doesn't really have a tremendous impact on the whole concept of the Salmonberry Trail. It's still viable that someone could start in Banks and continue on the Salmonberry Trail for the entire trail. It does limit expanding it, and it would limit us with what we could do with that adjacent corridor."
But board members said they are looking for more definitive answers on the potential impacts, the legal implications and how the port would be able to make the sale, having signed a lease agreement with STIA. There are many unanswered questions, the board acknowledged, which they hope to get the answers to by the end of the year.
As board members continued to discuss the concerns Thursday, Lisa Sumption, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department director, reminded everyone involved to keep in mind all of the progress that's been made and how far they have come in such a short period of time.
Sumption, who serves on the board, shared the accomplishments — like the trail officially being railbanked, the board approving a lease agreement with the port for the 86-miles to be used for the trail, the various grants, donations and partner agency contributions, completion of a trail benefits study and a comprehensive plan for the valley segment of the trail underway which includes near-term projects like the already-funded Manning Trailhead Expansion, part of the Catalyst Loop Trail project — the first four miles of the eastern valley segment — which will eventually connect the Banks-Vernonia Trail to L.L. "Stub" Stewart Memorial State Park. The parking lot for the Manning trailhead to the Banks-Vernonia Trail will be expanded to accommodate 31 parking spaces, and restrooms will replace the portable toilets at the trailhead.
Over the summer, board members also launched field tours along the trail stopping at the Banks-Vernonia Trailhead, Manning Trailhead, L.L. "Stub" Stewart Memorial State Park, Camp Creek and the Buxton Trailhead.
This past weekend, from Friday, Oct. 5, through Sunday, Oct. 7, the board partnered with Cycle Oregon to assist in its inaugural "Gravel Ride," as participants rode through areas surrounding the future Salmonberry Trail.
The final board meeting of the year for STIA will be held on Dec. 7 at the Oregon Department of Forestry Salem Headquarters.
By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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