News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 17, 2013

Environmental concerns will shorten new trail along river — for now

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — It’s easy to imagine, even on a frosty day, how scenic a planned new hiking and biking trail near the Wabash River will someday be.

With frozen snow everywhere and felled honeysuckle bushes covering much of the ground, it takes a little imagination to see the future trail, which will run from Fairbanks Park south to Interstate 70 along the east bank of the Wabash River. But, even now, its future outlines are visible.

“It’s perfect for a trail,” said Pat Martin, city planner, who was walking the planned pathway Tuesday afternoon. The trail will be just a few feet from the banks of the river on one side and landscaped or wooded land on the other.

For now, however, the trail awaits environmental testing that must take place before construction can begin. The pathway will sit atop a long-defunct road, known as Dresser Drive, which was made of cinders.

At one time, that was common. Now, such cinders are regarded as environmental contaminants and must be dealt with. Under the snow, the cinders are still visible.

Once the trail is tested for other environmental problems – and if none is found — the city plans to cap the cinders with soil and then pave the trail with crushed stone, Martin said. Only after a new sewer line is installed underground in the same area will a permanent, paved pathway be constructed, he said.

“If we get a green light, we can start construction on the trail next spring,” said Chuck Ennis, city engineer.

However, there is another catch. Another section of the trail awaits environmental work that is even more significant than the testing of the former Dresser Drive.

Part of the trail is to run through city-owned land to the west of where Hulman Street meets Prairieton Road. But that land, about 39 acres, was found by the EPA last spring to be contaminated with lead. Now that section must be cleaned up before the trail can extend its full 1.5 miles. Until then, the trail must stop short at about 0.5 miles, Martin explained.

The lead contamination was discovered last year after the city acquired the land at no cost from Sugar Creek Scrap, a West Terre Haute-based business. The site was a former industrial dumping ground dating back several decades and through many different owners, according to an EPA-commissioned report published in April.

In the meantime, the city hopes to finish the first portion of the trail in the summer, Martin noted.

City officials announced plans for the new trail in 2012. The city and the county currently have more than 20 miles of recreational trails. This new trail would complement a new trail on the west side of the Wabash River, which opened this year.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes