The city of Hermiston is adding a new park to its books.

On Monday the city council voted unanimously to approve an agreement with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to take over Steelhead Park, a 5-acre piece of land along the Umatilla River south of Highland Avenue.

The city hopes to eventually build a boat launch and restrooms at the park, but its primary reason for acquiring the land is to build the planned West Highland Trail through a corner of the land, looping the trail from Highland Avenue under the bridge and into Riverfront Park nextdoor.

The property is mostly undeveloped other than a small gravel parking area near the road. The city has agreed to make improvements to the property in exchange for ODFW giving it to them for free.

“There’s a lot of potential for passive recreation,” parks and recreation director Larry Fetter said.

The council also approved a resolution allowing the Oregon Department of Transportation to enter into negotiations on the city’s behalf for the 20 foot right of ways needed to build the West Highland Trail parallel to the south side of Highland Avenue.

Part of that resolution states that eminent domain could be used to condemn property if the a deal cannot be reached, but city manager Byron Smith said the resolution is just a formality and the city isn’t planning to exercise that power.

“It’s not our intent,” he said. “In fact, we would be likely to change the design if it came to that.”

The resolution passed, 5-1, with Doug Primmer stating he wouldn’t vote for anything that could lead to condemnation and Rod Hardin declaring a conflict of interest because he is the principal at Hermiston Christian Center & School, which is one of the properties affected. Clara Beas Fitzgerald was absent.

On Monday the council also approved a new batch of light poles for Main Street as part of the Hermiston Downtown Association’s efforts to beautify the area. The 14 new light poles will be black with more decorative features, including arms supporting the Hermiston City logo and self-irrigating hanging flower baskets. The project will cost $79,788 total, but will result in some energy savings and rebates due to the switch to LED lighting. Hermiston Energy Services superintendent Nate Rivera said the electrical outlets at the base of the poles will also have more capacity than the current ones, which should reduce the number of times vendors overload and short out the system during events.

City finance director Amy Palmer gave her last financial report to the city council. Palmer is resigning to take care of an ailing family member, and Mayor David Drotzmann praised her for the “leadership and hard work” she had provided in helping the city accomplish its goals of financial stability and accountability. Palmer got a little emotional when talking about how she had arranged to leave the city’s investments in a place where they can safely “ride” for at least six months as the city selects and trains a new department head.

“I shouldn’t really get choked up about money,” she laughed. “But I take my job very seriously.”

The council also discussed the final weeks of preparation for the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center before the Umatilla County Fair and Farm-City Pro Rodeo Aug. 8-12. City manager Byron Smith, who is also the chair of the EOTEC board, said that the grounds are bigger and better than the old venue on Orchard Avenue, but the public should be prepared to be patient while some of the bumps are worked out in the first year.

“This will not be 100 percent smooth,” he said. “But it will be nice, it will be good and it will get better every year.”

Contact Jade McDowell at or 541-564-4536.

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