‘Something big, spectacular’ at Pritchard Park

Visitors could see changes on the ground beginning later this year.

One day, Pritchard Park will have completed its transformation.

The “Nidoto Nai Yoni” Japanese Internment Memorial will be finished. Views and trails will be improved. A water taxi may even connect the park to the north shore of Eagle Harbor.

And the tanks and other creosote cleanup equipment – now prominent features at the harbor’s entrance – will eventually give way to something more befitting Bainbridge.

“The idea of having something big, something spectacular there that marks the entry to the island and shows how special this place is really appealed to us,” said Adin Dunning, one of 10 members on a committee tasked with visioning the future of park.

Dunning and his colleagues know that day may be more than a decade off, and its arrival will hinge largely on how various agencies choose to deal with the cleanup effort.

Still, park visitors should see smaller changes beginning this year, according to a presentation given Wednesday to the City Council and the Park Board.

Better access, signage, portable toilets, garbage cans and small boat storage are among the planned changes in the first of a several-phase effort to make the park more user friendly.

The park district and the city will begin work soon on an interlocal agreement that would define their respective roles in the upkeep of the 50-acre property, which the two entities purchased jointly in 2006.

“Without that agreement we can’t even put garbage cans down there,” said Committee Co-Chair Barb Trafton.

Committee members said improved access to the site is urgently needed. Plans are in the works for a new entrance from Eagle Harbor Drive. The former entrance at Creosote Place will be closed as part of a salmon restoration project on the park’s eastern shoreline.

The upper portion of the new road will be paid for by the city with the support of a grant connected with the salmon project, while the bottom portion will belong to the Environmental Protection Agency.

City Planner Libby Hudson on Wednesday said the EPA is willing to work with the city to ensure shared use of the lower stretch of the road, without which public access to the park would be difficult.

The EPA is in charge of cleanup at Bill Point, in the northeastern corner of the park, where an estimated 1 million gallons of creosote remain in the ground. The contamination came from the creosote plant that once occupied the property, which has since been designated a federal Superfund site.

Creosote is a toxin that poses only a minimal risk to humans, but is damaging to marine ecosystems, according to the EPA.

More than $120 million worth of cleanup has been ongoing at the site since the 1980s.

At issue now is the final remedy.

The city, the state Department of Ecology, local legislators and the Suquamish Tribe want to extract the contaminants, at a cost of $118 million, plus another $35 million to cap the site after the removal.

EPA officials say a cap will be required regardless, and thus are leaning toward leaving the creosote in the ground and laying the cap.  They say it isn’t possible to extract all of the creosote, so the quantity left beneath the cap makes no difference.

Either way, tanks and equipment, which now are spread across the site, will soon be consolidated into one building at the back of the property as part of a planned overhaul.

Cleanup will continue for at least another decade no matter which remedy is chosen, meaning the public won’t be able to access that portion of the park for several years. 

A lighthouse, artwork or some other iconic structure were among the ideas presented for the land once it becomes accessible.

Committee members said the park overhaul should be phased over 20 years, and would cost an estimated $2 million, though Park District Senior Planner Perry Barrett stressed that all cost figures are preliminary.

Along with better trails, the addition of campsites and the opening of new vistas, interpretive elements would be built to convey the land’s varied history.

The west end of the park was the departure point for 227 islanders of Japanese descent who were forcibly interned in 1942. A memorial to that event is being erected there already.

To the east, on the hillside above the Superfund site, the committee hopes to somehow pay homage to the now-disappeared town that once supported the plant below.

Committee members said they would like to see a water taxi that connects the park to the north end of the harbor.

Nearby streets may also see changes. Parallel parking, bike lanes and, eventually, a car bridge over the ravine are slated for Eagle Harbor Drive.

Access to the Bill Point neighborhood would be changed as well, with the creation of a new street and the elimination of the entrance of Old Creosote Hill Road, which neighbors say makes for a dangerous blind turn onto Eagle Harbor Drive. Road alterations were not included in the cost estimates.

Committee members based their recommendations on comments gathered over the course of several months at public meetings and through various surveys.

Designs, which will likely change some as the plan progresses, were informed by graduate students at the University of Washington School of Architecture and Urban Design, who collaborated with the committee, the city and the park district to initiate planning.

The committee will incorporate comments from councilors and the park board before finalizing its recommendation. The draft recommendation is viewable now at the city’s website.

“It’s different from any other park on the island because of the complexity of the site,” Trafton said. “We’d love to see a few changes there right away, and that can happen without having to spend very much money.”

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