Sewer lines and trails should be like peas in a pod, city officials believe, and an effort is under way to better coordinate the two.
Mayor Darwin Hindman has asked city staff to draft a report on how best to tie the acquisition of trail easements to the expansion of sewers. The request is timely given voters’ approval Tuesday of a bond issue that will provide $6 million to extend new sewer lines into undeveloped areas.
The mayor’s request came after an Oct. 20 recommendation from the Bicycle/Pedestrian Commission that the city combine trail and sewer easements, said Chip Cooper, commission member and president of the PedNet Coalition.
“When we go out and get a sewer easement and invest all the money and time and materials that go into the sewer line, it makes sense to plan for a trail at the same time,” Cooper said. “The trunk line will open up an intense development, and it opens up that area to the trail network. It’s a very efficient use of the city’s resources, and it will allow people to reach those development areas through bicycle and wheelchair trail access.”
Hindman said he had previously raised the idea of adopting a policy that ties trail development to sewer extensions.
But “since it wasn’t a crisis at that point, it didn’t get the attention,” he said. “But it came up again — that’s the nice thing about citizen commissions — and we’re going through with it.”
Trail and sewer projects can be combined because of their similar characteristics, although trail easements cost more, said Mike Griggs, parks services manager for the Parks and Recreation Department.
“It’s not a new practice,” Griggs said. “A lot of communities have begun doing this because traditionally sewers follow valleys and areas where they service the most people, which is ideally what you want for trails.”
The Public Works Department for several years has tried to link the extension of trunk sewers to the acquisition of trail easements. It has succeeded on some fronts, including parts of the Bear Creek Trail, which links the Albert-Oakland and Cosmopolitan parks in north Columbia, sanitary sewer engineer Steve Hunt said.
The paths of sewer extensions are prime for trail development because they typically are straight and fairly flat, city right-of-way agent James Lane said. Trail easements, however, are not always easy to acquire. There’s a difference between allowing an underground utility line and inviting people to hike and bike through private property, he said.
In November 2001, city officials considered the possibility of building a trail in conjunction with the extension of a trunk sewer along the north fork of Grindstone Creek in eastern Columbia, a project that is nearly complete. However, only two of 20 property owners agreed to allow a trail, Hunt said.
Griggs said it’s easier to acquire trail easements before property is developed and split among several owners.
“You might not mind a trail in your backyard, and your neighbor might not, but your neighbor’s neighbor might not want that,” Griggs said. “If you only have one or two landowners, then you can do it all at the same time.”
John Glascock, chief engineer of the Public Works Department, said the city has not succeeded in obtaining joint sewer and trail easements in his eight months with the department. Griggs said one trail is being built along a trunk sewer in the city-owned Stephens Lake Park.
Griggs noted that trails can become selling points for homes in new developing areas. “Trails are not quite the trouble that homeowners thought them to be,” Griggs said. “People use access to the MKT Trail and the Katy Trail to advertise their homes.”
Trails along trunk sewer lines also bond the community, Cooper said.
“We’re building a community that allows people to get to new developments by wheelchairs or bicycles,” he said. “It’s important for their quality of life and the overall transportation network. And it probably increases the quality of life in those areas because it’s a great amenity.”