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Walla Walla working on solutions to fix deteriorating downtown structures around channel

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WALLA WALLA, WA. -- The City of Walla Walla is facing a tough challenge, fixing some damaged property downtown that could end up costing millions. You can't see the damage because it's lurking beneath the ground.

The City of Walla Walla has a problem that's decades in the making. When you walk around some parts of downtown Walla Walla, you're not just walking on pavement and dirt. It's what's beneath this ground that's causing a major issue and right now the city doesn't know when they're going to be able to fix it.

Downtown Walla Walla has a problem lurking below the surface. In 1941, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a canal to stop devastating flooding from continuously destroying downtown. About 5 city blocks of that canal is completely underground.

"It's actually a bunch of independent structures even though from the surface it may look seamless," Monte Puymon, City of Walla Walla Transportation Engineer said. "They're a bunch of independent structures that span that creek."

Those structures holding up the ground around around the channel are getting older. 

"Infrastructure degrades over time," Puymon said. "It's not like it was terrible today and it was fine last week. It was just a gradual disintegration."

Last week, the city blocked off two public areas of downtown, restricting cars and trucks from putting more pressure on the deteriorating areas.

There are two options right now for a permanent fix, replacing the structures entirely, which could be very expensive, or an idea from some WSU students, removing all the concrete and creating another opening for the canal. 

"Bringing that tourist aspect, lots of landscaping and pedestrian access," Puymon said. "Of course the counter balance to that is that we'd be losing a lot of the parking."

That loss of parking is a big issue for Valley Vision. Business Manager Brent Dunn says they desperately need those spots for their business.

"We do get a lot of complaints about lack of parking downtown and to lose 5 more stalls plus an additional 20 we lost 10 years ago," Dunn said. "Or probably more than that. It really affects our business."

The city says they understand Dunn's complaints about parking, but their number one concern is safety. 

"We're always going to chose safety first," Puymon said. "And so this is for the safety of our citizens and our visitors and we want to keep them safe. We want them to have a good experience. And I can't imagine a worse one than falling through a structure into Mill Creek Channel. So the primary role that we're taking is a safety one."

There are actually three spots identified as deteriorating in the inspection. The third is on private property right nearby Rose Street and 3rd Avenue. The good news is the city doesn't expect any imminent failures or collapses in the structures.

If you have any ideas you want to share, you can interact with the city by clicking here.