Another snag on Eagle's Greenbelt

Laguna Pointe's path through nearby wetlands was never authorized by the Army Corps of Engineers.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comSeptember 27, 2013 

Before the city of Eagle gave its final approval for the Laguna Pointe subdivision in May 2006, the developer agreed to put in a public path for bicyclists, walkers and others.

But the development plan for the subdivision submitted at the time to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not include the path, a corps spokeswoman said this week. The one-mile path that was built goes through a wetlands area required by the corps to mitigate the new subdivision's impact on wildlife and habitat.

"There is no permit for it," Gina Baltrusch, a Walla Walla-based spokeswoman for the corps, told the Statesman this week.

The unexplained lack of appropriate permits for the path is the latest complication in the city's continuing quest to get the public path open and connected to existing paths to Garden City and Boise - 25 miles of pathway all the way to Lucky Peak.

A gate blocks access from the subdivision that would connect the path to a paved section recently built across Boise's sewer-plant property and through unincorporated Ada County by the Foundation for Ada-Canyon Trail Systems and ACHD. City officials say the gate is on private property, and the owner intends to keep it locked.

Baltrusch also said no permit was obtained for a small pedestrian bridge constructed where the path crosses an overflow channel. The bridge fell into disrepair and was removed this year.

The Eagle City Council was notified in a letter from the corps in July that the path and bridge were never authorized. The council discussed that at its meeting this week.

Eagle Planning Director Bill Vaughan said the onus is on the developer to obtain proper permits.

"We don't police their following of other agencies' regulations," Vaughan said Thursday.

In Boise, the city does not issue building permits until developers provide proof of permits from regulatory agencies.

"That's something we take real seriously," said Boise Planning & Zoning Director Hal Simmons. "The city could be liable for allowing development without that permit."

Laguna Pointe developer Creston Thornton did not to respond to requests for comment about the path and bridge.

Eagle officials continue to work with the Laguna Pointe Homeowners Association and property owners to resolve issues regarding the path and bridge. All of the surveying and staking must be done before the application is submitted.

"The corps will not even entertain the idea of saying what they will or will not do until you do all this preliminary stuff," Councilman Jason Pierce said.

There's no guarantee that the corps will approve the path or the bridge as proposed - or at all.

"We could require whoever owns the property to return it to its original condition," Baltrusch said.

WALK LENDS CLARITY

Accompanied by Laguna Pointe residents and other interested parties, several Eagle city officials went for a stroll on the path last week. The goal was to get a close-up look at the path and discuss its future.

The path runs east from Eagle Road - behind several homes - and connects to the paved path that extends all the way to Garden City's path to Glenwood Street and points east. It has meandered quite a bit over the years.

"It's kind of hard to pinpoint what you're talking about until you're out there on the trail," said Mike Aho, Eagle parks director.

It has become a sore subject for public officials, as bicyclists and walkers continue to complain about the unmaintained, weed-choked trail that's been impassable in some sections. A completed, paved path would provide a connection from east of Boise all the way to Eagle Road while Garden City works on building a bridge to connect its bike path to Eagle's.

A 200-meter section of the path near the houses and Eagle Road was widened early last week.

"It defines the trail, so people don't trespass up that slope," Aho said.

About 20 people met at the path Friday, including Mayor James Reynolds, Councilwoman Mary Defayette and Councilman Jason Pierce. There was not a quorum; council members John Grasser and Mark Butler were not present.

"We just walked the path and discussed where the best places to move it were," Councilwoman Defayette said. "The property owners were very positive."

The next section the city plans to clean up is the east terminus, where the path connects to the existing paved path.

To bicyclists and walkers headed west, the paved path appears to dead-end at the locked private gate. The public trail does veer around it through some bushes, but not all users are aware of that.

"That needs to be cleared ... for people who don't know (the bypass is) there," Aho said.

REMOVING WEEDS

The city has been negotiating easements with Laguna Pointe's homeowners association since last year. Two weeks ago, the council announced that it was time to begin clearing out weeds that choke the path in some sections, raising the hackles of some in the neighborhood.

A Statesman request for comment from the Laguna Pointe HOA went unanswered.

"I think it was some miscommunication," Councilman Pierce said of the brouhaha that resulted. He was the lone council member who voted against ordering staff to clear the path.

Pierce's concern was that clearing the two ends of the path might signal to bicyclists and pedestrians that the entire path is passable. There are no signs indicating otherwise, and it's dicey in some sections even though users can find a way around the gate.

"What are you leading people into?" Pierce asked. "A mess."

Pierce said Laguna Pointe homeowners have been cooperative; one offered to help build a new bridge.

"It's hard to turn a seven-year problem into a three-month fix," Pierce said.

"These homeowners are not saying, 'We don't want you there,'" Pierce said. "They're saying, 'Hey, this needs to be done right.' And I totally agree with that."

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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