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Port Commission favors going forward with trail planning; no authority to hold advisory vote

DAYTON–The Port of Columbia joined in a discussion about the Touchet Valley Trail with some concerned community members during the meeting on March 11. Two requests had been made by concerned community members at February’s meeting, including to 1) have the commissioners walk the trail to assess potential hazards and negative effects on property owners, and 2) consider an advisory vote for the public to have a say on whether the voting public supports pursuing the option of the trail along the railway between Dayton and Waitsburg.

The board each told the group that they have walked the trail to varying degrees and are familiar with its path. Port Commissioner Earle Marvin stated “Anderson Perry and Associates, architects and engineers of Walla Walla, Wash., is currently under contract with the Port of Columbia to perform a preliminary engineering and conceptual design study of the Touchet Valley Trail between Dayton and Waitsburg. It is expected that this work currently being performed by Anderson Perry will be completed sometime in the fall of 2020. I would prefer to see this work being performed by Anderson Perry through to completion. At that point, the Port should have enough answers to the many questions that have been raised concerning the trail that would allow it to hold a public hearing on whether or not to continue further with the development of the trail.”

It was indicated that the matter of the trail would not be placed on any kind of ballot for a vote at this time. Port Director Executive Jennie Dickinson reported that after doing some initial research, the Port doesn’t have the authority to initiate an advisory vote, and that it would have to be sought by the public through other entities, possibly through the city or county.

The concerned group had gathered a significant number of signatures of around 600 registered voters opposing the trail for various reasons including safety, the fear of property infringement and liabilities that could come with that, interference with business and farming practices such as spraying the fields and the operation of the airport along the railway where planes and helicopters take off and land. “There are some things that are big enough, that affect so many people that it does need to be on a ballot,” Board Chair Marvin stated

Paula Murdock, one of the property owners along the proposed trail who has voiced concern has told the concerned group on their Facebook page, Dayton WA Unfiltered Trail Comments Questions & Concerns, that they would use this time to gather more support for their position and continue to get signatures for their petition.

At the meeting, several community members in support of the trail were present and spoke of their support for the trail.

New Port staff members were presented; the new Coordinator of Economic Development Jennifer Dellanoy, who replaces Kathryn Witherington, and Kelly Hinds, part-time administrative assistant.