OGDEN -- State and federal dignitaries gathered Thursday near the frozen banks of the Ogden River to launch a $2.1 million effort to resurrect a polluted quarter-mile section of the waterway that has become a graveyard for rusted shopping carts, auto parts and other debris.
It was a little more than two years ago that Robert Kennedy Jr., a noted environmentalist, during a visit to Ogden in a driving rainstorm, described the portion of the river that flows through downtown as a "putrid waste conveyance" and vowed to lend his support to clean it up.
Those efforts officially got under way Thursday with a groundbreaking ceremony held adjacent to Peloton's Cafe and Bakery, 1895 Washington Blvd., for the first phase of the Ogden River Restoration Project.
Work on the first leg of the project that extends from Washington Boulevard to Wall Avenue will begin in about two weeks and conclude by the end of the year, said Justin Anderson, the city's engineer.
The state Water Quality Board has authorized $1 million in stimulus funds and the city has received $300,000 from the Central Weber Sewer Improvement District to fund construction of the project's initial phase. An additional $800,000 is coming from stormwater improvement bonds.
As part of the project, vegetation will be planted to buffer pollution sources, reduce channel temperatures and provide aquatic food sources.
In addition, interior flood plains will be created, riverbanks will be stabilized, concrete and litter will be removed, and recreation access will be provided.
The city will seek $4.2 million in additional grant funds to eventually complete the rest of the restoration project that will continue along the Ogden River from Wall Avenue to Gibson Avenue at the railroad bridge, said Anderson.
An economic help
U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said during Thursday's ceremony that the first phase of the project will dramatically enhance the quality of life for residents and business owners who choose to relocate downtown because of the river improvements.
"Businesses will come to the area and homes will be renovated," he said. "There will be economic consequences (for the city) that will be for the good."
Mike Styler, executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources, said the river improvements will provide an oasis in an urban setting.
"It's a little piece of wild Utah right in the middle of the city," he said. "People need an opportunity to commune with nature."
Mayor Matthew Godfrey was unable to attend the groundbreaking because he was in St. George, where his brother was hospitalized with a serious head injury sustained when his bike was struck by a hit-and-run driver Wednesday night, said John Patterson, the city's chief administrative officer.
Godfrey told the Standard-Examiner on Wednesday the waterway restoration effort will help launch the initial phase of the separate Ogden River Project, a proposed development that will include condominiums, town homes and single-family dwellings on 30 acres from Lincoln to Grant avenues between 18th and 20th streets.
"We believe a river running through the property will make it attractive for developers," he said.
The city is continuing to negotiate with a company to undertake the Ogden River Project, said Tom Christopulos, the city's business development manager, who declined to identify the firm pending an agreement with the municipality.
About 60 percent of the property in the project area is owned by Ogden Riverfront Development, a company with ties to California businessman Gadi Leshem, while the remaining parcels belong to the city or other individuals, Christopulos said.
Leshem, who attended Thursday's ceremony, declined to answer questions about his level of future involvement in the Ogden River Project.
"It's a good day for the community," he responded when asked about the project.
Meanwhile, the city has been successful in obtaining most of the easements and private property needed for the Ogden River restoration effort, said Anderson.
Ray Jensen said the city bought an acre from him Monday, at 1803 Grant Ave., for a little less than $300,000. Ogden Redevelopment Agency funds set aside for property purchases near the river were used to acquire Jensen's land, said Mark Johnson, the city's management services director.
The city still hasn't been able to acquire an easement from Emogene Berrett, owner of Pappas Brick and Stone, 1860 Lincoln Ave.
Berrett said she isn't opposed to the river restoration project, but wants to be paid for her property. "I invested in this property to make money," she said. "The city should give me the same consideration and help to make it work that they would give any other developer."
If landowners refuse to provide easements, the river restoration project can be reconfigured around those properties, said Anderson.
Related link: This article is a topic of discussion at Weber County Forum.