Waterfront trail path clears hurdle

A waterfront walkway plan that has been cryogenically frozen for decades was partially thawed out at last Tuesday’s Oak Harbor City Council meeting.

The council heeded an earlier recommendation from the Oak Harbor Planning Commission by approving a Shoreline Development Permit for a walkway that would connect Windjammer and Flintstone parks.

With a major hurdle cleared, the state Department of Ecology will now examine the permit and determine if the city’s plans are adequate.

“We send the notice to Ecology, they do their final check, and out it goes,” said Senior Planner Rob Voigt.

Designs for the undertaking meet all requirements of the Shoreline Master Program development guidelines. The ultimate design, however, will fit within the parameters of the state Environmental Policy Act, the Shoreline Master Program, as well as restrictions in the underlying easements.

Although the city has put together preliminary, conceptual designs for the walkway, Voigt said there is no single set of drawings.

“We’ll decide what the final design will be based on all of the regulations, approval conditions and our preliminary designs,” he said.

City planning staff described the path’s specifics at earlier planning commission meetings, assuring the group that the walkway was designed to leave “as a light a footprint as possible” on the more environmentally-sensitive areas. Voigt also maintained that the bulkhead would not be disturbed.

For the stretch of walkway bordering the Waterside Condominiums and other residences, easements were purchased and donated with specific stipulations attached — including height and lighting regulations.

Fred Walrath, one of the property owners who sold an easement to the city, said at an earlier meeting that the transaction was made under duress after an impasse could not be resolved.

The longtime resident explained to the planning commission at end of March that he was concerned with the design, construction and location of the proposed trail. The location, he said, is along the “ordinary high-water mark,” where a buildup of driftwood serves as a natural bulkhead.

The council’s permit OK placed an emphatic stamp of approval on a project that will vary in its technical details. For the largest portion of the trail, a pier-like design could be used to elevate the walkway above the ground, thereby minimizing adverse environmental effects. Holes would be drilled to provide a foundation by which the walkway can be placed on top, Voigt said at the earlier planning commission meeting.

Nearer to Flintstone Park, construction will be easier and less technical given the nature of the property and its existing uses.

The permit requires the inclusion of a ramp at the west end that will lead into the bulkhead to allow all people beach access.

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