Town council should take care


April 18, 2019

To The Eagle,

Cathlamet’s Town Council should take care as it moves forward with “Jacobson Park.” Having purchased the Butler Street lot at above market value with scant due-diligence, the town must avoid pushing through a get-‘er-done design that opens the door to costly litigation.

Specifically, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that new public spaces “must be accessible to persons with disabilities” and include a pathway to ADA parking. Some history: ADA requirements were a major hurdle when we repurposed the old fire hall to expand the library and create a street-level community center, even though pre-1992 buildings face less stringent requirements than new facilities. The law requires accessible pathways throughout the park and at least one new ADA parking space. Both look challenging.

Parking first: the site lacks sidewalks on either street fronts, so one will be required (at a minimum) on the Main St. side. Because this is a state highway, Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) review and approval will be necessary for any change to that frontage. At the community center, wheelchair access proved difficult to design and expensive to build because we had to work with existing sidewalk slopes and locations to avoid costly WSDOT involvement.

At least one additional ADA parking space will be required to provide close access. We may be required to offer van-accessible parking, meaning a space (or spaces) too wide for parallel parking on Main St; these would need to be placed on the park site. Walkways, pergolas, etc. must meet ADA guidelines for surface materials, width and slope. Safety lighting will also likely be required. As a reference, the walkway between the ADA parking spot in the library parking lot and the facility’s main door was built at the minimum required width and at the maximum permissible slope. In 2013 a government architect showed up to measure this – with a laser beam. Walk that slope and then walk Butler Street.

Bottom line: this park will be neither cheap nor easy. Subsoil contamination is but one of the concerns. Grant funding is unlikely because there is no evidence of public buy-in, this park doesn’t even exist on the current park plan and the park advisory board is, seemingly, nonfunctioning. Ditto for the planning commission. One major knock-on effect is that funding agencies could be dissuaded from supporting a waterfront park for an administration with such a poor record of public engagement and so steeped in acrimony.

I find it baffling that Mayor Jacobson would prioritize a new park ahead of working to develop the vacant parsonage property in a manner that would incorporate a needed restoration of the Pioneer Church – which, according to the PCA, again faces closure due to the historic structure’s deterioration. I also wonder why local officials have ignored an existing park-like property, the JBH house, as it molders under lock and key, largely unused by the public. Historical sites should be adaptively reused rather than neglected.

Wahkiakum’s population ranks among the state’s oldest. Building parks accessible to people who use canes or walkers or wheelchairs is imperative. Let us not rush ahead until the costs of this – and whether the town’s limited funds would be better spent elsewhere -- are considered.

George Wehrfritz

Cathlamet & California


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