Are things moving on the river greenway project?

Fear and Loathing in Waynesboro column by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

Here’s some good news, depending on how you look at it. City council is going to hold a closed meeting Monday night to talk with legal counsel regarding the possible acquisition of property for the city greenway project.

This greenway project, for those who are new to Waynesboro, at least new compared to old farts like me who have been here forever and 10 years, has been in the works, well, forever and about 10 years. It’s one of those projects that I like to tell people was among the first stories that I wrote when I started as the ace cub reporter at The News Virginian back in the mid-1990s.

The long and short of why we haven’t gotten any further than we have with it, which is to say, pretty much nowhere, has to do with DuPont/Invista, and issues regarding access to the portion of the proposed greenway pathway that would have to go across its property along the South River. It’s been my policy for several years to ask the various city officials who are involved in the project for updates on how things are going every few months, and the answer that I always get is, Um, well, you know, we’re still waiting to hear back from DuPont/Invista.

So I’m wondering if this closed meeting might have to do with some sort of breakthrough with the folks at Invista now. I haven’t heard anything to that effect, so I’m just speculating, but I know from talking with city officials before the election that there was a feeling that there might be some movement forthcoming on that front, to the point where my friends in City Hall had shifted their focus from talking about “if the greenway happens” to worrying aloud how they could get things moving if they received the go-ahead to move forward with things.

That is no small matter, incidentally. My understanding is that the feeling at this point in time is that the work would probably be handled in-house by crews at the parks and recreation department, which is of course bogged down with a project at North Park that will have Dave Van Covern’s attention for the foreseeable future.

So there’s that issue, and then there’s the 800-pound gorilla of issues. It’s been so long since this was a hot-and-heavy public issue that you might not remember this, but back when the greenway project was first proposed, it wasn’t exactly the most popular of ideas for people who live along the proposed path. Residents across the city along the pathway expressed concerns about the pedestrian traffic that would be expected in their backyards taking on an all-hours-of-the-night feel, and there were also issues raised with proposed lighting along the pathway and the loss of alley space and the like.

I tapped into this earlier this year during my run for city council when I went door-to-door in the Tree Streets and got a friendly earful from a handful of residents who wanted to know where I stood on this whole greenway project thing. Having been around long enough to know what they were talking about, I made it a point to talk less than I did listen, and what I heard was passions that I hadn’t heard for maybe 10 years.

Me personally, I think a greenway running along the South River would be a great addition to our city. I say that recognizing that I don’t live along the pathway, so it’s not a backyard issue for me at all. It’s more a general quality-of-life thing, and I think a greenway would be a boon to our city that would get people out walking and biking and enjoying the scenic splendor that we are so fortunate to have in our unique urban environment. And my sense is that while residents along the pathway are raising what are in their minds completely legitimate concerns, we would be able to deal with them long before they would become a worst-case-scenario kind of thing.

I hope things are moving in the direction that I assume them to be based on this one otherwise throwaway line item on the next city-council agenda. And I hope that we get the chance to have a healthy dialogue on the pros and cons of the greenway before we move either way when things get to that stage perhaps a few months down the road.

My guess is that if we do get to the point where we can make this happen, we will end up having a community conversation or two about it whether we set that out as a course of action or not.


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