The saga of the controversial Grande Ronde River Greenway Project took another twist, literally and figuratively, Monday night.

Island City’s city council voted to have members meet with Oregon Department of Transportation officials to discuss options for funding and completing Phase II of the Greenway project in a manner that would be acceptable to the public.

The council voted to have two or three councilors present two options to ODOT officials regarding the use of a $1.2 million grant from the state for Phase II of the Grande Ronde River Greenway Project. The grant, awarded in 2012, is for a paved trail that would run from an area east of Riverside Park in La Grande to a pond in eastern Island City north of Highway 82. If the grant money is not used for the Greenway project, Island City will have to return the funds.

Previous route proposals for Phase II of the Greenway received blistering criticism at council meetings from people living near where the path would run, many fearing they would lose their privacy and security. Supporters have said the
Greenway would enhance the local quality of life and attract tourists, boosting the local economy.

Councilor Robb Rea said he understands the concerns expressed by community members, but does not want the city to pull out until all options have been examined.

“I don’t think this should come to a screeching halt. We should find a way to make it work,” Rea said.

Mayor Delmer Hanson echoed this sentiment.

“I find it hard to go back on something. I’m not one to make a commitment and then back out,” he said.

The City of La Grande completed Phase I of the Greenway project about six years ago when it built a bridge across the Grande Ronde River at Riverside Park and put in a paved quarter-mile trail.

Union County and the cities of La Grande and Island City have been working together on the Greenway Project for several years.

Island City’s city council, which did not take public input Monday, will discuss two options with ODOT. One is Option C, one of the three original route proposals, which the council has discussed extensively in recent meetings. This route option calls for two bridges to be constructed across the Grande Ronde River for a path that would have minimal close contact with landowners.

The second option is a loop path, one recently submitted by a citizen and discussed for the first time by the council Monday night. The so-called Loop Option calls for the Greenway to continue along the south side of the Grande Ronde River for about a mile and then loop back to Riverside Park in a figure-eight fashion.

The major advantage of the Loop Option is all the land it would run on is owned by the City of Island City and a minimal part of the path would be near private land. The small stretch that does approach private property would be blocked by a thick row of trees that is already standing, said City Recorder Karen Howton.

See more in Wednesday's edition of The Observer.