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Mayor Embraces River In State Of The City Address

April 14, 2017

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler came out strong in support of the river and public access – and included several of our HAP talking points – in his recent State of the City address. Ted also gave a shout-out to our swim team, the River Huggers! High fives, Mayor!

Excerpt from Mayor’s address below.  For the full speech go to:

“We Portlanders are a people adjacent to the river, but we are not truly a people of the river. This is peculiar, because we are nestled among two of our nation’s largest rivers.In millennia past, the Willamette River was the very source of life for those who lived along the banks.

But then we turned our backs on it. It became an open sewer and a dumping ground for toxic industrial waste. For decades, the idea of having close proximity to the river was absurd, and instead we walled it off with freeways and rail lines.

In the years ahead, that’s all going to change. Former Mayor Vera Katz called for a river renaissance that led to the construction of the Eastbank Esplanade. I want to take that renaissance to a whole new level. Thanks to my colleagues on the City Council, we’ve made tremendous progress on some of the essential, hard work to clean up the river.

The Big Pipe project has dramatically improved water quality and now the city is pushing forward to clean up the Superfund site in the lower Willamette. Wetland restoration projects are underway up and down the river. The Willamette even has its own swim team, the River Huggers.

The time has come to embrace ideas that broaden our appreciation and understanding of this natural treasure, and increase public access to the Willamette. Over the next several months and several years we’ll begin to activate public spaces, beaches, and access points to the Willamette River in downtown Portland.

We will begin our work this summer, with Portland’s first pilot beach program at Poet’s Beach located on the Westside of the river directly off the Greenway Trail near the Marquam Bridge.

Over the next year, in partnership with businesses and the community, we’ll begin work on developing a multi-user river recreation facility at a site referred to by many in our community as Audrey McCall Beach. This site is adjacent to the Hawthorne Bridge on the Eastside of the Willamette River and has become a popular place for swimming. Work will include replacing the floating wood platform on the Eastside near the Hawthorne Bridge with a new multi-use dock that will accommodate both non-motorized watercraft and swimming.

Next up will be Audrey McCall Beach itself. I believe Audrey McCall Beach has great potential to radically enhance our relationship with the Willamette River. A broad stakeholder plan is done, in place and we’re ready to move on it. The vision isn’t unlike Copenhagen’s world-famous Harbour Bath. Imagine floating docks for swimmers, a kayak launch, shower facilities, an overlook platform and pier, and a beautiful beach and improved access to the beach from the Eastbank Esplanade.

These projects have the potential to revitalize our relationship with what is essentially our city’s largest unofficial park, the Willamette River.

There is another vision, with regard to the river, that we should begin looking at with serious intentions. I mentioned that we walled off the Willamette with highways. First the Harbor Freeway where Tom McCall Park is now, and later the Marquam Bridge and I-5 on the Eastside. The latter has further separated us from the river, created a physical divide between east and west Portland, stunted development opportunities, and created an environmental hazard damaging both water and air quality.

This multi-generational mistake will probably not be resolved in my lifetime. But someday it will be. Someday the economic value of the land, along with the health and social benefits, will outweigh the cost of burying it.

I will ask the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to begin early concepting for the burial or removal of I-5 on the Eastside. If future funds are identified at the federal level, I want Portland to be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity. We need to start building support now, so that perhaps future generations of Portlanders can complete it.”

For the Mayor’s full State of the City address: