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City council approves $2.1 million for river improvements 

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Editor’s note (June 8, 2024): Read a follow-up story to this one. The Flood Management Authority’s executive disputed what city staff and the mayor said at the meeting, as reported in our original story below.

Original report

Reno City Council members on Wednesday approved $2.1 million for river projects despite frustrations over the focus area. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars must be allocated to contracts by the end of the year, and projects must be completed by the end of 2026. 

Amy Pennington, the city’s public works special projects and outreach coordinator, presented the next phase of the Truckee River Plan and said that staff has received positive responses to the plan from the community.  

In March 2023, $3 million in ARPA funds were dedicated to the Truckee River Plan. The city has spent  $330,000 for development of the Truckee River Vision Plan, and in May approved $266,000 for trash cans, signs, new paint and railings, and $300,000 for West Street Plaza “activation.”

The project is moving into its third and final phase to use the remaining funds. 

According to Pennington, community feedback shows people use the river corridor for parks and open spaces, nature observation and water access points. The city also received feedback that the reason more community members aren’t using the river is due to safety concerns, lack of trail connectivity and a lack of cleanliness and aesthetics. 

Pennington said the goals of the plan include creating a clean and safe riverfront with easy access to the river and implementing a cohesive plan for design consistency and long-term maintenance. 

The ARPA-funded plan focuses specifically on the river area in and near the downtown area. 

The majority of the ARPA funds — $1.56 million — will go toward Riverside Drive park design and lighting. The park project is focused between Arlington and Booth streets.

“This is a very beloved portion of the river,” Pennington said. 

The Truckee Meadow Flood Management Authority is requiring a flood wall, and the city wants to include park amenities, such as seating and new lighting, along the path to promote safety in the area. 

“[Truckee river flood management agency] hasn’t done a damn thing.”Mayor Hillary Schieve

Pennington said the city is spending the money on the flood wall design to ensure the final work protects portions of the area that the citizens want, such as the mature trees and benches.

The remainder will be spent on a paint refresh of river elements ($260,000) and the design and permitting, but not the construction, of a cantilevered path ($280,000). Grant funding would need to be secured for the path’s construction, which would be built behind the National Automobile Museum, where it has eroded.

Council member Meghan Ebert asked if a specific grant was planned to complete the cantilever path project. 

Pennington said they don’t have a specific grant in mind, but had been discussing “what is out there” for the project. She said she was “as confident as can be without being awarded” about securing funding to build the path.

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve. Image: Ty O'Neil / This Is Reno.
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno.

Mayor Hillary Schieve said she had many concerns over the proposal. 

“I’m very sensitive to this initiative,” Schieve said. “Since day one I’ve been floored there hasn’t been any sustainable funding for the Truckee River. It’s our biggest and best asset.” 

Schieve asked if council members had the chance to meet with the design company, Dig. Pennington said yes, but not all council members have used the opportunity. 

Schieve said she would have liked an invite as it’s important to her. 

“We have reached out to your office a few times,” Pennington said. “But I’ll make sure to email you directly.” 

Schieve said she is concerned that the city continues to focus on one area of the river that has already seen improvements while neglecting other areas that need improvement. She said she was having a “hard time” wanting to approve anything presented. 

Pennington said they’re focusing on this area because of the flood wall requirement. 

“If we’re not involved [in the design], we might end up with them building something that takes away all of these improvements,” Pennington said. 

Schieve said that even if the flood management authority is requiring a flood wall, she’ll “believe it when she sees it” because the authority “hasn’t done a damn thing.” 

“Quite honestly it’s because you have a lot of politicking going on from other jurisdictions,” Schieve added. “It’s been particularly problematic; I don’t think it will ever happen. I don’t want to wait or worry about what they’re doing.” 

“they need permits from us to do the work… and the access, so I look at it as a partnership.”Mayor Hillary Schieve

Schieve said she felt the lighting design presented is “stale” and she wanted to see string lighting along the river sector and reiterated wanting to meet with Dig to discuss design elements. 

“If you see what other river districts have done, it’s really quite dynamic.” 

Staff agreed that the lighting design could come back to the council before it is finalized. 

Duerr said she is also concerned that the city spends a lot of time doing and redoing many of the same areas, to the detriment of other areas, but she is also very supportive of the cantilever path. 

“I’ve spent a lot of time diving into this cantilever path and it would be amazing,” Duerr said. “I’m all behind it. My concern is, where is the money coming from to build it? Staff have continued to say ‘If we get the design, then we can apply for grants.’

“I haven’t seen this before. I‘ve been able to apply for grants without designs. But I want to hear more about what makes them think that when we get a design that this will be fundable.” 

Downtown Reno and views of the Truckee River. Image: Ty O'Neil.
New lighting along the Truckee River will be focused downward to prevent light pollution in the night sky and improve safety. Image: Ty O’Neil.

Brian McArdle, the city’s revitalization manager, believes revitalization money will become available for river projects in several years when the Redevelopment Agency comes out of debt. He said it would be easier to place river corridor improvements on the agency’s Capital Improvement Plan with existing designs. 

“That’s a pretty inspiring answer, I didn’t see it coming,” Duerr said. “So what you’re saying is that redevelopment funds could become available.” 

Pennington said transportation grants are also being explored. Micromobility paths have more grant funding available than other transportation options, she added. 

Taylor echoed the concerns over spending money on designs that may not turn into finished projects. 

“What I don’t want is to spend a whole lot of money on designs for projects that we can’t build. That doesn’t do anybody any good,” she said. 

Schieve again talked about her frustration regarding the river, as well as with the flood management authority. 

She then seemed to imply that if the authority doesn’t cooperate with the city on design, they may have issues getting permits approved by the city. 

“They should come to council and present it to us when they’re ready,” Schieve said. “I sat on that board for a long time, I’ve heard things over and over again and I’ve seen nothing. 

“But I would say, they need permits from us to do the work and also on our streets and the access, so I look at it as a partnership, and if we’re going to do anything we need to do it together.” 

Council members approved the money for the proposed designs, which will be considered again by the council in early fall. 

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.

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