City celebrates cleanup, vibrancy of Ogden River

Oct 8 2011 - 8:14am

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(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey and California businessman Gadi Leshem (left) cut a ribbon for the Ogden River Restoration Project on Friday. Leshem’s company, Ogden Riverfront Development, is the main owner of property in the separate Ogden River Project, a planned mixed-use housing and retail complex.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) A crowd gathers on the banks of the Ogden River to watch the Friday ribbon-cutting held to celebrate the cleanup of the waterway.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Ogden River Restoration Project on Friday.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) A crowd gathers on the banks of the Ogden River to watch the Friday ribbon-cutting to celebrate the cleanup of the waterway.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey and California businessman Gadi Leshem (left) cut a ribbon for the Ogden River Restoration Project on Friday. Leshem’s company, Ogden Riverfront Development, is the main owner of property in the separate Ogden River Project, a planned mixed-use housing and retail complex.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) A crowd gathers on the banks of the Ogden River to watch the Friday ribbon-cutting held to celebrate the cleanup of the waterway.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Ogden River Restoration Project on Friday.
(MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) A crowd gathers on the banks of the Ogden River to watch the Friday ribbon-cutting to celebrate the cleanup of the waterway.

OGDEN -- An operator of a pizza shop and brew pub on the banks of the Ogden River says his business is riding the tide of success because of a $6.3 million effort to clean up a polluted downtown section of the waterway.

Justin Gumm, co-owner of Slackwater Pub and Pizza, 1895 Washington Blvd., which provided food for a celebration Friday to commemorate the cleanup, said he is enjoying a steady flow of customers who are using the trail along the now-pristine section of river.

"Who wouldn't want to have food or a drink and stroll down by the river?" he said.

The Ogden River has been so good for business that Gumm is planning to install an 800-square-foot glass atrium on the north side of the restaurant so customers can enjoy views of the water year-round.

He predicts more restaurants and shops will eventually open along the river, which will make Ogden's downtown more vibrant.

"I would love to have the competition," he said.

Friday's festivities celebrated efforts that began in January 2010 to clean a polluted 1.1-mile section of the river between Washington Boulevard and Gibson Avenue.

Despite rainy weather, volunteers spent most of the day placing about 2,000 plants in the damp soil along the river's banks.

Work along the river has been completed from the Kiesel Avenue bridge to Wall Avenue. Efforts to clean up a section of the river along Wall Avenue west of Gibson Avenue should be completed in the spring.

Funding for the project is coming from several sources.

The Utah Water Quality Board already has provided about $2.1 million for the project. The Central Weber Sewer Improvement District has contributed $825,000, and an additional $800,000 is coming from city storm water improvement bonds. Weber County and the Habitat Council each contributed more than $200,000, and Blue Ribbon Fisheries gave more than $100,000.

The aim of the river restoration project is to stabilize the riverbanks, improve water flow, provide aquatic food sources and offer pedestrian access points to the river, including a public viewing area on the south side of the river off Childs Avenue.

Vegetation has been planted to buffer pollution sources, reduce channel temperatures and provide aquatic food sources.

During Friday's ceremony, Mayor Matthew Godfrey singled out several people who have been instrumental in the project, including California businessman Gadi Leshem.

Godfrey praised Leshem for providing the city with valuable property easements that allow improvements to be made to the river.

Leshem's company, Ogden Riverfront Development, is the main owner of property in the separate Ogden River Project, a planned mixed-use housing and retail complex.

The project area encompasses 60 acres straddling the river from 18th to 20th streets and Washington Boulevard to Wall Avenue.

Leshem's involvement with the Ogden River mixed-use project has been controversial partly because vacant homes there were allowed to remain in disrepair until the city stepped in and demolished the structures.

Leshem was approached at Friday's event by a Standard-Examiner reporter but did not provide any new information about the status of the mixed-use river project.

However, he did briefly comment on the waterway cleanup effort.

"It is a big reward for the community," he said.

Mike Styler, executive director for the Utah Department of Natural Resources, told dozens of spectators who gathered on the banks for Friday's ceremony that the river cleanup may be emulated by other cities around the state.

"You set a high bar," he said.

City Councilman Doug Stephens said the cleanup of the river has improved the quality of life in nearby neighborhoods. Residents who previously avoided the river area because of its appearance now enjoy walks along the banks, he said.

Tim Van Haitsma, who traveled from Salt Lake City on Friday to kayak along the section of the river that has been cleaned up, said he's impressed by the new amenities for water sports.

"It's a beautiful area for it."

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