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Codorus Creek may be on its way to becoming the waterfront asset to York City community members have been discussing for more than 100 years. 

Plans to make the 1.4-mile stretch of the waterfront a pedestrian friendly, attractive feature were revealed at a Tuesday, Jan. 29, public information session hosted by the York County Economic Alliance at engineering and architecture firm Buchart Horn Inc., 445 W. Philadelphia St.

The Codorus Creek, which is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and is prone to flooding, said Buchart Horn architect Danielle Steman.

Through a $500,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Economic Development awarded to YCEA in 2017, Buchart Horn and C.S. Davidson conducted hydraulic modeling to better understand the creek's flood patterns. 

In addition to controlling flooding, the goal is to beautify the creek and create a tool for economic development. 

"Unfortunately, right now it's just there for someone to drive past or over," said Buchart Horn senior environmental engineer Jim Gross.

Preliminary designs showed work to narrow the creek and add wider pedestrian and bike paths. Greenery could line the creek, creating a more parklike environment. 

More: What's in store for the future of Codorus Creek?

As of now, the project team is leaning toward removing the Codorus Creek dam just north of the Philadelphia Street bridge, Gross said. 

The dam currently does not function, he said. Eliminating it would allow fish to go upstream and allow for boating. 

The project would be conducted in phases and could take about 10 to 15 years once construction begins, Steman said. 

Construction would likely start upstream, near York College, Gross said. It's easier to begin construction upstream as opposed to in the middle and working out, he said. 

Going forward, the next steps would be to secure funding for the project, lay out a construction plan and then begin work, Gross said. 

A rough cost estimate places the project between $60 million and $80 million, Gross said. 

The project is not a York City taxpayer funded initiative, said York City Mayor Michael Helfrich. 

"If we're going to do this, there has to be a way to sustain it without it falling back on the taxpayers the way some projects have in the past," Helfrich said. 

Helfrich has been a Codorus Creek advocate since 1998, he said. 

The mayor is also pushing for the project to "start out in the neighborhoods and not have all of the focus on downtown" and to employ York City residents, he said. 

"This is a big project, and we have time, we can train people up if they need skills," he said. "I want to make sure this is an economic development project for the City of York, for the people of the City of York." 

On either side of the Codorus, there's about $50 million to $100 million of redevelopment projects, said Kevin Schreiber, CEO and president of the alliance. He called the Codorus the "common thread" throughout the community. 

Communities with renovated waterfronts are able to improve economic growth and activity, Schreiber added. 

Public input: Although preliminary designs were presented, the project team wants input from the community. Those who attended, packing the bottom floor of the Buchart Horn building, received comment cards to give feedback on the design.

There will also be a digital public forum launched soon for members of the community to weigh in. 

For some, the plans are nearly 50 years in the making. 

Genevieve Ray, a York City resident, first got involved as a Codorus Creek advocate in the 1970s. She lived on the top floor of her apartment building overlooking the creek, in what's now the Hotel Codorus building, she said. 

"At night I could see lights shimmering on the creek and imagine what it could be," Ray said. 

After Hurricane Agnes destroyed parts of the city, Ray got involved in an effort to save buildings the city wanted to remove. Another part of the effort was cleaning up the creek, she said. 

Work has been done to clean up the creek since then, she said. Although the creek looks murky, it's no longer the "inky, stinky Codorus" it was once deemed, she said.

The bottom of the creek is brown, making creek water seem dirty, but a bucket full will come out clean, she said. 

Now, the proposed ideas can take the less polluted water and "make it into a real attraction," she said. 

York became a city because of the creek, Helfrich said. People were drawn to the creek for fishing, for beauty and as a place to hang out, he said. 

"It has been, over the years for the last over 100 years, it has been a detriment to our community," he said. "So we worked on getting the water quality improved over the last 20 years. We're going to work more on getting the water quality improved, and we also have to improve the physical characteristic of it." 

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The current plans aren't all too different than ones the YCEA found from more than a century ago, Schreiber said. 

Mike and Deb Brillhart said they're also excited about the plans to potentially make the creek an asset for the community. 

Mike Brillhart said he grew up right along the creek; he, too, remembers the days of the "inky, stinky Codorus." 

He said there's been a "real clean up of the water itself," but the proposed plans recognize the Codorus as a resource that can bring value to the community. 

Phil Briddel, a York Township resident who works in the city, said he's been following the Codorus plans since Hurricane Agnes. 

"I always thought it would be more than what it is," he said. 

Briddell said it "would be wonderful" to see renovations, whether or not the end result stays close to the plans presented Tuesday. 

"The creek is part of the community and a vital part of York City," he said. 

— Rebecca Klar can be reached at rklar@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_ 

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