The Port of Ridgefield is taking the first of “1,000 steps” to create a formal park on its riverfront property.
The plans feature eight acres of land along Lake River for public space following a $90 million cleanup effort of the area.
The port announced on Sept. 2 that it intends to designate eight of the 41 acres of property along the river and Carty Lake for a waterfront community park. The decision is the result of recent community engagement which indicated Ridgefield residents want to maintain public access as the port eyes economic development opportunities on the property.
Development of the land on the west side of town dates back to a 2001 plan, Port of Ridgefield CEO Randy Mueller said. Through the decades of planning, the port has always held a desire to include public access.
“For 100 years, the waterfront was closed to the public. It was an industrial, working waterfront,” Mueller said. “The mills we had down here, those were some of the best jobs you could get … but the public never had access.”
One of those businesses, Pacific Wood Treating, pressure treated lumber as it operated from the 1960s to the 1990s. That operation contaminated the soil and the Washington State Department of Ecology required an extensive cleanup effort, which began in 1996, according to the department.
Since the cleanup effort is now complete, the port can earnestly pursue how to make the area functional again.
The port had informally set aside some of the property for public use, Mueller said. He mentioned the port has already constructed a waterfront trail along the river.
The port is now taking steps to formalize that portion as a park.
“There’s 1,000 steps to make that happen, but that’s what we’re doing now,” Mueller said.
Since the port’s last major outreach effort more than a decade ago, Ridgefield’s population has more than doubled, Mueller said. That necessitated more public outreach, which was conducted this spring.
The port received about 1,500 responses, or more than 10% of the city’s estimated population, he said.
Mueller said redevelopment was a staple of the port’s plan post-cleanup. Though he took on the mantle of port CEO this year, he previously worked for the port from 2007 to 2014. During that time, much of his work centered around the redevelopment.
The decadeslong cleanup effort cost about $90 million, Mueller said. Despite how “green” it looks, the site is heavily engineered. Soil from the Interstate 5 overpass project on the east side of town created a two-foot buffer.
Much of what the planned park will look like remains unknown at this stage.
“The Ridgefield waterfront has really emerged as this kind of destination” for a number of unpowered water recreation activities like kayaking and canoeing, Mueller said. The property also has a connection to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, though unlike the refuge, restrictions on food services and pets won’t be in effect on the port property.
Mueller said the city of Ridgefield would be a “great partner” on whatever is developed, in part due to the city’s existing park resources.
“Realistically, they might be a better agency to handle some of the heavy lifting that’s going to be required to maintain a park,” Mueller said.
As part of the ongoing planning, a business plan will be crafted for the remainder of the property. The property has a mixed-use zoning, and Mueller noted the port has already ruled out heavily industrial uses.
Due to the past contamination, the property will not include child care facilities or ground floor residential space. Mueller doesn’t see residential development as a top priority for the port given other construction activity in the rest of the city, but he noted it is a component of other successful waterfronts.
“We don’t know what we’re replacing the previous industrial development with, but it will be replaced with something that does create good jobs and is ultimately good for the community,” Mueller said.