Cleanup and Underpass Plans Move Ahead for Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail

Susan Drumheller
President, Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail

PONDERAY – As the seasons change along the Bay Trail, bringing snow, mud, flowers and golden leaves, stiff breezes and gentle sunshine, we also have our corresponding seasons for planning Bay Trail events and improvements.

Last spring and summer we had the BUILD grant application season. Unfortunately, the city’s application for a multi-million-dollar federal grant to build a railroad underpass to connect Ponderay citizens to the lakeshore fell short of the Secretary of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) desk.

This year, the BUILD grant season has arrived earlier than usual, with a mid-May deadline. Also new this year, Congress mandated that the U.S. DOT spend at least $15 million for “planning grants.” That means the city has the opportunity to apply for a grant to design, engineer and secure environmental permits for the underpass, before applying for the higher dollar construction expenses.

With that in mind, the Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail has secured the services of Sustainable Strategies, a Washington, D.C. consultant that specializes in helping communities secure big federal grants. Their expertise should help improve Ponderay’s chances this year.

Last fall was the local option sales tax campaign season. The Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail encouraged the city of Ponderay to pursue the local option tax as a way to harness some of the retail dollars flowing into the city for recreation purposes.

The city was successful in winning the super-majority of votes necessary to pass the 1 percent sales tax, which will sunset after 5 years. In the interest of not hurting local businesses that sell big ticket items, the City Council made sure the local option tax only applies to sales less than $1,000. The city estimated bringing in $2 million per year from the local option tax, but it’s too soon to tell if that estimate is on target or not.

Those funds can be used to assist with the proposed underpass (a portion could be used as local match for the federal BUILD grant, for instance), and other expenses related to providing lake access to citizens, as well as for the proposed Field of Dreams sports complex on the northern Ponderay city limits.

Meanwhile, the Friends also worked with the city and Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to land a federal Environmental Protection Agency grant application for planning and cleanup of the city’s shoreline property that’s contaminated with lead and other heavy metals from a historic smelting operation. The city was successful in securing the $800,000 Brownfields grant and planning for that project is underway.

The Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail is a partner in the city’s public outreach and education efforts and we’ll be helping to develop videos and plan outreach events that help engage the public in the Brownfields cleanup, which has the potential to open up more shoreline for public use in the future.

While much of the funds that the Friends raise goes toward planning efforts such as these, we also are working on some improvements along the existing trail: constructing rock steps by the Humbird Mill ruins, to help people get to the lake bed safely in the winter and in the summer provide a landing for kayaks and swimmers. We are working with a contractor now, the city, the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get the project permitted and designed.

This spring we’ll also be felling dangerous trees and cleaning up the trail prior to the 8th Annual Bay Trail Fun Run, the Friends’ primary fundraising event. The family 5K and 10K professionally timed run will be held on Sunday, June 7. Registration is currently open for the run, and all participants are entered into a raffle for a pair of Brooks running shoes (two prizes awarded), courtesy of Outdoor Experience. Go to www.pobtrail.org for details and to register.

As you can see, nearly every season is Bay Trail season!

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