County plans beach access at Chambers

Pierce County could open up two miles of beach near its new golf course by 2010, shoreline that’s now out of bounds for the general public.

The county hopes the state will help pay for a pedestrian overpass that will allow people to cross a set of railroad BNSF Railway tracks to reach the water.

Joe Scorcio, county program manager for Chambers Creek Properties in University Place, says the county will ask the state Legislature for $1.4 million this year to build a pedestrian overpass at the former gravel mine’s North Dock area.

The state committed an additional $1 million toward construction this year. The county is also proposing $750,000 in its budget next year to pay for design and permitting costs of the 120-foot-long overpass, he said.

The county submitted applications for the state and federal environmental permits required for the work last month. It hopes to start construction by 2009 and open the pedestrian walkway a year later.

Once open, the walkway would open up highly coveted access to the Puget Sound shoreline.

Scorcio said the county plans to do something similar at the property’s South Dock area, possibly with an underpass instead of an overpass.

The county would build the North Dock overpass 29 feet high, leaving enough space for trains to cross under it.

After clearing the railroad tracks, visitors could walk onto a pier or down to the beach.

The project also involves replacing the dock with a pier. Scorcio said the county hasn’t determined its exact size, but it would be larger than the Les Davis Pier on Ruston Way.

The concrete dock would be smaller than what’s there now – an aging barge landing used during the gravel pit’s heyday. The county’s also seeking federal money for this portion of the project.

Walkers and joggers who regularly visit Chambers Creek Properties are treated to panoramic views of Puget Sound, but the closest they can get to the water is a chain-link fence along the new Soundview Trail. Between them and the beach are BNSF’s tracks, which visitors can’t legally cross. People try anyway, sometimes with fatal results.

“Sooner or later, we’re going to have to get across those railroad tracks,” Scorcio said.

In addition to safety, a pedestrian overpass would open up more of the 932-acre Chambers Creek Properties to the general public, said County Councilman Terry Lee.

Opponents have criticized the $21 million Chambers Bay Golf Course, which opened in June, saying that for many people it was too expensive to use.

Chambers Bay is an 18-hole, Scottish links-style course that county leaders hope will one day attract a PGA event. Greens fees range from $74 to $114 for Pierce County residents, depending on the day of the week and time of year they play. There’s also the option of hiring a caddy for at least $35.

But the pedestrian walkway and pier, as well as the Soundview Trail, give non-golfers a reason to visit the property, Lee said.

“The message I’m trying to send is that 932 acres is more than just a golf course,” he said.

It would also be a boost for University Place, which is paying Pierce County $350,000 to build 28 acres of park at Chambers Creek Properties.

That includes the Central Meadow area, which would be where visitors could enter the pedestrian overpass. The county hopes to complete the park by next spring.

University Place City Councilwoman Debbie Klosowski said residents have told her how anxious they are reach the water.

“It’s just killing people,” she said. “They are walking along the path now. They want to get out to the beach.”

Brent Champaco: 253-597-8653