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Weather Provides Setback For Park Project

INDEPENDENCE -- It may be 2012 before Independence's North Riverfront Ballfield project reaches completion. The Oregon Army National Guard wrapped up a two-week period this month in which they &quo

INDEPENDENCE -- It may be 2012 before Independence's North Riverfront Ballfield project reaches completion.

The Oregon Army National Guard wrapped up a two-week period this month in which they "cut and filled" sections of the forthcoming 50-acre athletic complex.

But wet weather, prior to and during the soldiers' mission, made conditions too muddy for heavy equipment to finish their task.

It was hoped enough grade work on the parcel would be done in June so officials could begin installing irrigation and prepping the ground for grass planting by this fall.

"But it's looking much more likely that we're going to have to finish up work next year," Community Development Director Shawn Irvine said.

"It's an important project and there's a strong community demand for it," Irvine added. "But it's a situation where there's limited resources and you have to figure out the best and most effective way to proportion them."

The Albany-based 224th Engineer Company spent 2009 leveling what had been a grass field off Highway 51 in north Independence, slated to become a series of baseball, softball and soccer fields.

The Guard left before the job could conclude, so the city requested further assistance.

Because there was no federal funding for the task this year "it was on the shoulders of the 224th," said Guard Capt. Robert Earhart.

The 224th is a support company that specializes in building runways, roads and culverts. The unit allotted two weeks of its annual training time to level the property, using 40,000-pound belly scrapers and graders.

"We're lucky as engineers in the Guard to be able to do missions like this that are constructive for the community and effective training for us," Lt. Heath Henry said.

"If we didn't have this park to build, we would have to find a place to move dirt from one place to the other."

Nagging rain in mid-June softened the earth and put the troops -- who pulled out on June 26 -- behind schedule. Now, Independence must finish grading and adding topsoil suitable for planting grass.

The cost for ground work on the project -- including the installation of a 1,500-foot-long retaining wall last summer -- totals nearly $2 million. Irvine said the city must figure out a way to pick up where the Guard left off.

"It could be costly, but we're not sure how costly yet," he said, noting that the Guard will likely not be back for a third stint.

Irvine said there may be other ways to leverage the remaining work. A best-case scenario would see the field far enough along that "people could run around on it and enjoy it next fall."

"But we wouldn't have backstops and other equipment up until" the following year.

The delay on the field won't jeopardize an upcoming boat ramp and associated parking on the southeastern edge of the park.

The Oregon Marine Board deferred a $600,000 grant it had awarded to Independence last summer, but encouraged the city to resubmit that proposal for its next funding cycle. The city will likely receive that award in January, Irvine said.

He added that money would pay for all grading and construction of the ramp, independent of what's happened with the field.

Once the ramp is built, the city will move access for power boats from Riverview Park to the North Riverfront site.

"Riverview will still remain a paddler's access," Irvine added. "You can launch a kayak or canoe from the gravel bar without trouble."

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