For some, the extension of Canyon Road in Puyallup can’t come fast enough.
Pierce County’s Canyon Road Regional Connection Project expands the road north from where it currently dead ends at Pioneer Way in Puyallup to 70th Avenue in Fife.
At $160 million, the project is meant to reduce traffic congestion for commuters, create easier access for freight to the Port of Tacoma and rebuild the dreaded Milroy Bridge across the Puyallup River.
But not everyone is excited about the project.
Some local farmers and property owners are concerned about what the project might do to the area’s farming culture and are wary about the prospect of a four-lane road skirting — and in some cases, dividing — their properties.
“It’s frustrating personally, because you see the way that you run the farm having to be altered,” said farmer Russ Picha. “There’s so little farming left, and there is a balance that needs to be created in a community, and that balance is slowly fading away more and more and more.”
Which farms are affected?
Take Picha Farms.
It’s hard for Picha and his brother Russ to imagine how they won’t be affected. Pierce County’s map of the Canyon Road project shows the extended road rolling right beside their farm stand at 6502 52nd St. E. in Puyallup.
The Picha brothers are third generation farmers, continuing a family business first started in 1904. The farm is used year-round for growing raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and pumpkins. The stand is open during the summer for berry picking and during the fall for a corn maze and pumpkin patch.
“With this project, I wonder if the county saw the impact that it would have on our ability to access our business,” Dan Picha said. “Just looking at (the map), that’s a major concern for us, is the accessibility to our stand.”
While the Pichas were made aware of possibility of a Canyon Road expansion over the last 20 years, nothing was concrete. As of late, they haven’t been contacted about the project, they told The Puyallup Herald earlier this month.
Project manager Letticia Neal said that’s because the county has started acquiring property only for Part 1 of the two-part project.
Part 1: Railroad crossing — Pioneer Way to 52nd Street
Part 2: River crossing — 52nd Street to 70th Avenue East
Project leaders expect to start acquiring property for Part 2 sometime in 2021. Construction for the entire project is expected to start in 2025.
Any property needed from Picha Farms would come during Part 2, Neal said.
With the proximity to their property, the Pichas said they would have liked to be kept in the loop as the project progressed.
Currently, it’s unclear to both the Pichas and the county if any of the Picha Farm property would need to be acquired by the county. Picha Farms lies on about 60 acres of property, but the property north of 52nd Street is leased.
Currently, the Pichas cross 52nd Street with their tractors and equipment to harvest their crops.
“There has to be some kind of accommodation to get our tractors and vehicles across the street,” Dan Picha said. “They’re splitting our operation into two.”
Accessibility for customers is another issue. During the fall, when Picha’s Pumpkin Patch is open for business, parking is limited; people park their cars up and down 52nd and walk to the stand.
So far, Pierce County has identified 27 pieces of land needed for the first part of the project.
Sterino Farms, located just west of Picha Farms, also is affected. Spokeswoman Timothy Curtis spoke to the Pierce County Council on Oct. 16 on behalf of the farm, citing concerns about the widening of the road on the north and south sides of 52nd Street.
“We want to be able to keep farming there and we need the property — not all of it, but we can give a little bit up. But it’s our high ground. We want to preserve as much of the high ground as we can,” Curtis said.
What does the future hold for local farms?
Dan Picha said it seems that the future of farming in the Puyallup Valley is bleak.
“Are we serious about preserving farmland?” he said. “If we are, this is going to have a very, very big impact on preserving farmland in this area.
“If it’s really something down the road we want to preserve, what about the next generation? What is the long-term game plan, not short-term, to preserve this area?”
The Picha brothers aren’t sure about their ability to pass their farm onto their children. They want their kids to have options, but the future is murky even for their next batch of raspberries, which is a seven-year commitment.
“How do we plan without knowing what’s going to happen?” Dan Picha said.
Pierce County leaders said maintaining the area’s rural character is important to them and that they are thinking about the future by investing $1.5 million in environmental mitigation for the project. That money will:
Re-establish 5.86 acres of functional wetland
Rehabilitate 10.56 acres of degraded wetland
Preserve 6.59 acres of intact wetland
The county also won’t acquire any Agricultural Resource Land as part of its mitigation sites for the project. The ARL zone is meant to promote long-term agricultural use. Some parcels leased by Picha Farms are zoned ARL.
“We purposefully avoided any of the ARL zone properties for any of our mitigation sites because of council’s directive and desire to preserve the agriculture in that land as much as possible,” Neal said.
Pierce County Councilman Rick Talbert said the council values the farming community and wants to see it preserved. There’s no intention to change zoning codes if property is acquired, and the county would work to revert land no longer needed after construction back to farmland.
“The goal is to need as little property as possible,” Talbert said.
Moving forward, the Pichas hope there will be continued communication between the county and farmers.
“All I know is that from our perspective, wanting to maintain a farm culture is very important to us,” Dan said. “We’ll find out how important it is to Pierce County in their willingness to work with us.”