By Zach Hagadone
It’s been a long time coming, but the effort to connect Ponderay with its Lake Pend Oreille waterfront is teeing up to enter the first stages of coming to fruition.
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is seeking comment on a draft work plan to clean up contaminated soil at the former site of the Panhandle Smelting and Refining Company, located at the current endpoint of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail.
Popularly known as Black Rock, the site sits on five parcels of lakeshore left polluted by past lead and silver ore refining. The cleanup plan calls for excavating the contaminated soil and capping the former slag pile.
Comments on the plan are being accepted through 5 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 12, and can be submitted online at bit.ly/3tphDAA; emailed to Voluntary Cleanup Program Manager Derek Young at [email protected]; or mailed to Young at 1410 N. Hilton St., Boise, ID 83706.
The plan can be viewed online at the comment submission webpage, or in person at DEQ’s Coeur d’Alene Regional Office (2110 Ironwood Parkway) or Ponderay City Hall (288 Fourth St.).
Cleaning up Black Rock is a critical step toward a longer-term — and long-planned — extension of the much-used Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, including establishment of a park area at Black Rock and ultimately connecting the shoreline to the city of Ponderay via an underpass beneath the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad line — what Ponderay city officials call the Front Yard Project.
“The idea behind the Front Yard Project is that nobody knows that Ponderay even has a waterfront, because historically they haven’t had any access to it, so we want to bring that to the people,” said Ponderay City Planner and Project Manager KayLeigh Miller.
The DEQ’s cleanup plan has to happen before all that, and officials emphasized that the current comment period is focused solely on the environmental aspects of the project — not the design components of the trail and park, nor the eventual railroad underpass.
Officials also said the entire cleanup project is being funded by the EPA, DEQ and city of Ponderay, and estimated to cost about $3 million — including everything from planning documents and reports to equipment both big and small and site infrastructure.
According to the draft plan, the design and bid package were finalized in September. The next step is to gather comments on the plan and, following that, to begin tree felling and removal, as well as grading, to prepare the site for further remediation work.
With that completed, a notice to proceed with construction will happen — possibly after this month, according to the plan — and will roll out in phases.
The first phase will include putting in place best management practices for erosion and sediment control, along with improving a road by which to haul in the necessary equipment. After that, crews will further clear and grub the site, perform more grading and excavation, put in stormwater controls, and build the slag pile cap and breakwater.
The final phase will be to install clean fill, finish grading, revegetate and do reclamation work on the haul routes.
According to the plan, construction is estimated to be complete 12 months from the start date, with work scheduled to accommodate lake levels. Monitoring, control and final completion report plans will round out the project. However, factors such as regulatory review and compliance, material availability, funding changes and weather delays may affect the timeline.
“The hope is that we would get out to bid to contractors this winter,” Miller told the Reader.
That the cleanup portion of the overall Front Yard Project is primed to finally proceed is a major achievement for Ponderay and surrounding cities, with concepts and planning dating back more than a dozen years, when the city of Sandpoint secured $400,000 to buy the first parcel of property that would become the trail from the Hall family — heirs to late-photographer Ross Hall. The Halls agreed to sell their four parcels of shoreline property for a total of $1.6 million, providing the foundation for what today has grown into a 1.5-mile public trail stretching from Sandpoint City Beach to Black Rock.
Meanwhile, Ponderay has been working to extend the trail even further and better connect it with residents — part of a much larger vision encompassing area cities and nonprofits, including the Friends of Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, which has been instrumental in promoting, advancing and maintaining the trail.
“The city of Ponderay and Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail are committed to creating a permanent public waterfront that extends to Black Rock connecting the communities of Kootenai and Ponderay to Sandpoint and creating a stunning two-mile trail for everyone to enjoy,” the city states on its Front Yard Project webpage.
In 2019, voters in Ponderay approved a 1% local option sales tax with a portion of revenues specifically earmarked for buying additional lakeshore and supporting the construction of a railroad underpass.
By December 2021, the city had gathered enough revenue from the tax to purchase the critical property necessary to bring the project to its current stage. The further portions of the Front Yard Project will be funded in part under a separate U.S. Department of Transportation grant, though additional funding will be needed for both the park area and underpass. The city of Ponderay recently applied for a new grant for construction on the later stages of the Front Yard Project, and is awaiting a response.
As it is, “all the land from the beginning of the trail in Sandpoint to Ponderay is publicly owned,” Miller said.
“The significance of this project overall can’t be overstated,” she added. “You just don’t hear about communities purchasing large swaths of lakeshore property to preserve as community space too often. When we get the site cleaned up it will be a crown jewel of open space on the north end of the Ponderay Bay Trail that is safe for our community to enjoy.”
To learn more about the Front Yard Project, visit cityofponderay.org/the-front-yard-project. For more on the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, visit pobtrail.org. To see the DEQ draft work plan and submit comments, go to bit.ly/3tphDAA.
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