Courtesy Lower Columbia Engineering
Courtesy Lower Columbia Engineering
WESTPORT — Plans to revitalize a well-worn boat launch and park area along the Columbia River estuary recently received a major boost when Georgia-Pacific Wauna Mill completed a 27-acre land donation to Clatsop County’s parks department.
The land donation, valued at $230,000, will be celebrated from noon to 1 p.m. Friday at the Wauna Mill during a special recognition event that marks the beginning of a new Westport park.
Kristi Ward, a spokeswoman for Georgia-Pacific Wauna Mill, said staff from the mill and county will be on hand at the Friday event to discuss plans for the 27 acres. The event is a private gathering at the mill by invitation only, and not open to the public.
Now that Clatsop County owns the land, it can formally pursue grant funding to complete its Westport Corridor and Community Plan. The county’s proposed plan outlines improvements to the boat launch and park area and access to the Westport Ferry landing.
The county parks department was originally approached by Georgia-Pacific in 2004 about donating the property, which consists of the existing recreational boat launch and private fishing dock.
“Georgia-Pacific approached the county about donating the land so it could be used as a park for the community,” Ward said. “The Westport community has been good neighbors and we wanted to do a nice thing for them.”
Georgia-Pacific inherited the 27 acres as part of its purchase of the Wauna Mill. The acres in Westport have not been used by Georgia-Pacific and have mostly fallen into disrepair.
The donation hit a roadblock a decade ago when the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality suspected contamination in the area from a sawmill operation in the 1950s.
After a lengthy regulatory process, DEQ issued a no further action statement, allowing the land to be donated and eventually used by the community, Ward said.
In the meantime, the county parks department continued to host public meetings and hired Lower Columbia Engineering of St. Helens to develop schematic design drawings of the proposed projects.
Clatsop County Commissioner Dirk Rohne, who represents the Westport area, said plans to put the 27 acres to use could create economic and recreational opportunities for local residents.
“That park and boat ramp development will allow everyone to enjoy the Lower Columbia River estuary,” Rohne said. “I’m hoping it creates a movement to allow Westport to rejuvenate itself.”
Andrew Niemi, of Lower Columbia Engineering who designed the proposed drawings, grew up in Westport and said the plans are a welcome improvement to the local residents.
Niemi said the current boat launch is not usable at lower tides and has inadequate parking, especially during the busy spring salmon season. The parking area has potholes and only a port-a-potty as a restroom.
Proposed improvements to the boat launch would include a boat washing station that would keep boats clean of possible invasive species. In addition, the parking area would be reconstructed.
The county is working with the Oregon State Marine Board for possible funding.
As for the park portion of the project, Niemi said, community members would have a larger space for walks along lighted paths and better fishing locations, including a handicap accessible fishing dock. The park area would also connect better with the Westport Ferry landing.
“If someone is waiting for the ferry, they would have a park to spend some time in,” Niemi said.
The 27-acre donation includes Plympton Creek, which has been rerouted to an unnatural channel over the years. Plans are in the works by the Lower Columbia River Council Watershed to reconnect the creek with its historic channel, which could have a positive impact on fish habitat.
All of the ideas in the county’s Westport Corridor and Community Plan, made possible by the recent land donation, still rely on possible funding.
Niemi said he is confident the funding will come and his hometown will successfully see an extensive transformation in the coming years.
“There is no guarantee they will all be completed, but the chances are pretty good for the majority of it to come to fruition,” he said.