By Travis Gulbrandson
Erosion usually is discussed in terms relating to agriculture, but last week the city took steps to curb its effect on local hikers and cyclists.
Due to ongoing problems related to erosion, the Vermillion City Council voted to relocate a section of the Vermillion River Hike/Bike Trail and study two others for possible relocation.
Following the council’s vote, the “East Section” of the trail that is falling into the river along the right-of-way of Austin Street will be relocated within the platted streets adjoining Block 3 and Block 4 of the original City of Vermillion.
This section was closed to the public earlier this year.
City Engineer Jose Dominguez said this section would cost approximately $38,000 and will require the 2013 budget to be revised for its inclusion.
“The erosion issues that are occurring along the Vermillion River are a natural cause that may have been expedited by the floods that occurred in 2009, 2010 and 2011,” Dominguez said. “As may be seen by walking the trail, both banks of the river are experiencing – and have experienced in the past – the bank erosion that is negatively affecting the trail.”
In addition to the “East Section,” two other parts of the trail have been closed off and will require rerouting.
The first is the “West Section,” which is located directly south of the west trailhead located on West and Broadway streets.
Dominguez said an overlook above the bluff would need to be constructed next to the river where the trail was abandoned.
The second section is referred to as the “Middle Section,” and can be found along the river adjacent to the southeast corner of some property on the 900 block of Broadway Street.
Dominguez recommended that the city consider constructing a new trail north within the South Walnut Street right-of-way toward the east/west alley within Block 4 of Van Meter’s Addition. The trail would then go west along the alley until it reaches the Morse Street right-of-way, at which point it would go north to Broadway Street.
The cost of these options would be $20,000 and $84,000, respectively, Dominguez said.
Although the city council approved the relocation of the “East Section,” they only identified the other two for further study.
When the city abandons its easements on the “East Section,” the land will revert to the property owner, Dominguez said.
“We don’t own the land, per se. The property owners are just letting us use it,” he said.
As such, the concrete of the trail is required to be removed and the land restored, although Dominguez said he did not know if that will be possible because of the level of the river.
Dominguez added that if the council had not chosen to reroute the “East Section,” repairs would have been limited to two “very expensive” solutions.
“These are the armoring of the entire riverbank or placing sheet pilings,” he said. “Both of these options would have to be done along the river from West Street to the spur of the trail that goes north to the dog park.”
The cost of those options ranges from $2.2 to roughly $3.3 million, he said.
“Without additional information it is estimated that these two options would extend the life of the trail,” he said. “However, this does not mean that the improvements could not be eroded away with the next flood.”
Erosion has been a concern throughout the existence of the trail, construction of which was completed in 2010.
“During construction of the bike trail, the construction area was submerged under several feet of water several times during the year due to severe flooding occurring through the Vermillion River,” Dominguez said. “Within a year of construction being completed, erosion issues were noticed on the west end of the project, south of the West Street trailhead.
“This area was carefully monitored by city staff for approximately six months, at which point the area was closed due to safety concerns,” he said.
The city council has been investigating the trail since its May 20 meeting, when a member of the public expressed his concerns about its condition, and raised the possibility of rerouting the trail.
“I think this is a pretty significant issue for the city, and I think the bike path is a very nice asset to the community,” said council member Tom Davies. “I certainly appreciate the fact that staff talked to members of the community about this.”
No possible start date has been named for the “East Section” rerouting.