The city of Durango plans to start construction next week on a northern extension of the Animas River Trail, but some residents who live along the corridor say some issues have yet to be addressed.
At least half a dozen residents on Silverton Street oppose the way the city has designed the northern extension of the Animas River Trail:
Donna Thormalen is worried trees she planted on her property will have to be ripped from the ground to make way for the trail. Tim Wolf wants a fence to protect his property from trespassers. Isabelle Schueller is concerned a proposed pedestrian railroad crossing at 36th Street is too dangerous.But Scott Chism, a landscape architect for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said design of the 4,600-foot extension has been “a robust public process,” and some homeowners are asking for more than what the city can provide. The city is trying to be respectful of all comments, he said, but “you don’t always get what you ask for.”
“They’ve been making many, many requests,” Chism said of residents living along the proposed extension. “Some we can do and some we can’t. There have been demands the city can’t fulfill.”
This is, in part, because bids for the project came back higher than what the city had budgeted, including one that was about $2 million over the proposed budget, Chism said. The city announced Thursday that it hired a contractor, WCA Construction, and will begin work Monday.
Chism attributes the difference in cost estimates to a few things: tariffs on steel from China, a shortage of construction labor and inflated construction prices in Southwest Colorado.
“If we were doing this in the Front Range, it’d be a cheaper project,” Chism said.
The city has budgeted about $8 million for construction of the northern extension and Oxbow Park improvements, Chism said. That does not include the cost of a pedestrian bridge near 32nd Street, which is estimated to cost an additional $3.4 million.
To bring the bid under budget, Chism said the city agreed to do some of the work in-house, like sodding or mulching. It also deferred some aspects of the project that weren’t critical to the functionality of the trail, like anti-graffiti coating for retaining walls or bollard lights on the northern-most part of the trail.
But residents say they’ve been in the dark on those concessions and haven’t been consulted about changes to the project that will impact their neighborhood.
Peter Schertz said the trail extension will be an asset to the community. But the city has proposed removing trees along Silverton Street and replacing them at Animas City Park or Oxbow Park, something Schertz said does not fulfill the project’s goal of creating a greenway, linear park.
“What they’re doing at the north part of Animas City Park, they’re planting 81 trees; that’s great,” Schertz said. “They’re fulfilling those goals in those parks, however, they’re kind of neglecting the mile stretch in-between.”
Thormalen planted 50 trees on her property to create a barrier between her home and the proposed route for the Animas River Trail. Thormalen’s property is on the east side of the railroad tracks and the trail was proposed to be on the west side. But after she planted the trees, the city reneged on its promise to put the trail on the west side of the tracks and is now planning to build it on the east side of the tracks, where Thormalen planted her trees, she said.
When she reaches out to city staff about her concerns, Thormalen said she doesn’t hear back for weeks.
“It’s very strange that I can’t get anyone to respond to me. They pulled out all the things they tentatively promised,” Thormalen said. “It’s been kind of a disaster zone since it’s started. They’d make a promise then change it. I’m going to be very affected.”
Cathy Metz, director of Parks and Recreation, said the department hasn’t promised anything to anybody and plans to respond to comments and concerns from residents in one fell swoop sometime in March.
“At this point, we haven’t provided an answer and that’s causing some questions,” Metz said.
Maya Kane said she’s taken every opportunity to talk with the city about the proposed trail. But the responses she receives from city staff are often “opaque or not true,” she said.
“It feels very much over-designed,” Kane said. “They don’t need to rip out a bunch of trees. They don’t need to create two extra railroad crossings. There are ways they could design this that are minimal, preserve the landscape. This is a really unique neighborhood.”
Metz said a lot of concerns have to do with aspects of the project that won’t be completed for years, giving the city time to hear comments from residents and make changes as necessary.
Schueller took legal action to oppose the trail, filing an intervention regarding the safety of a railroad crossing with the Public Utilities Commission. The city must receive approval from the PUC before it builds any railroad crossings.
Schueller said the crossings, as proposed, are unsafe and unnecessary. But Chism said the redesign of the intersection makes it more safe. A judge will ultimately decide.
“My big question is why the Parks and Recreation Department are beginning construction on a trail when they don’t have the intersection settled,” Schueller said.
Chism said if the PUC rules against the city, it doesn’t mean the project will have to be redesigned. If anything, a judge will require adaptations to the intersection to make it more safe, Chism said.
While the city has been getting complaints and requests from residents, Chism said staff is working to provide an amenity for the community that meets the most needs possible.
“There’s never going to be 100 percent consensus,” Chism said. “We’re devoted to providing the best trail to the community.”