Trail proponents and opponents demonstrate during Port meeting
May 20, 2021
DAYTON–During the monthly Port of Columbia Commissioners meeting on May 12, opponents of the Touchet Valley Trail again gathered outside of the Port office along the road with signs of protest.
But they weren't the only group gathered that day. About a dozen supporters of the trail marched downtown holding signs of support for the project. Dayton residents Dr. Michael Luce and wife Mary were among them.
"As we've studied the Touchet Valley Trail proposal, and discussed and listened to legitimate concerns about its effect on our community, we feel the trail would be an overall benefit to the health and welfare of valley residents," the Luces said. "We feel the Port has diligently tried to answer all negative concerns with well-researched comparisons to similar existing non-motorized trails. Those opposed to the trail have generated a lot of negative press, and we felt it necessary to join others to show public support for the project."
However, marching along past the Depot Park, one of the adjacent property owners' 12-year-old son, Carson Potter, was present there and held up his "No trail" sign to the group of supporters. Mother Deena Potter, who grew up in Dayton, said, "I am against it. I already have issues with the Depot Park with drugs, needles, tweakers, kids being loud, graffiti and garbage. It will also change the layout of the street." Potter said the current problem at the park is not being addressed sufficiently and thinks it will worsen with the trail as well as attract homeless individuals.
Long-time county resident Betty Longen was on the Zoom meeting. She has been a regular attendee since she saw news of potential annexation to expand the west side of Dayton along Highway 12. Longen resides on the south side of the highway.
The discussion of annexation has been focused on the north side. She made an opening statement to the staff and Commissioners during the public comment portion of the meeting.
"The Port should support private, local businesses by focusing its effort on pre-existing private business," Longen said. "...It seems that the Port is focused on development to justify its existence, whether by competing with our private businesses or finding other controversial projects to occupy itself...We need our private business space with the Port supporting local entrepreneurial and start-up businesses, not chain stores – by focusing on Main Street and filling it with private business instead of government agencies....
"We need to find projects that all the community members can get behind, not projects that divide us," Longen continued. "I encourage you to listen when private business owners and the no-trail people are requesting that you not pursue these...One of the drawbacks of focusing on getting more grant money is that it brings in more government control and the focus gets shifted from the people who pay your salaries to business-based dollars...Let's try to work together."
There was no immediate comment to Longen's statement, but later in the meeting during discussion about the Executive Director's report, it was pointed out by Commissioner Sean Milligan that the recent opening of the Main Street Marketplace and Table Rock Meat Company was with the help of start-up grants issued out through the Port. Additionally, grant money sought by the Port for COVID relief was dispersed out to private businesses, that this is "a good example" according to Milligan, of the Port expanding and supporting private business.
Commissioner Shawn Brown agreed. "I've personally had multiple local business owners come back with thank-yous for them being able to stay open through COVID because of grant moneys that were distributed through the Port," Brown said.
Executive Director Jennie Dickinson clarified that all grant money was given away despite allowances for Associate Development Organizations, for which the Port is authorized by the County, to keep 10% for administrative costs. "We did not keep one dollar," said Dickinson.
When asked if the Commissioners or staff had any comment to the continued protest to the trail, Milligan replied to say, "We've already made formal statements."
Comments for the trail on the Port website closed on May 12. Dickinson said the majority of them were positive and will be posted when answers are composed. However, opponents to the trail are concerned not all commenters are local and are not directly affected. They still want to see the trail put on the ballot for an advisory vote.
Dickinson said, "I think we can safely say, 'Peoples' concerns are heard, loud and clear. We've heard them. We hear them.'"