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New county road elicits mixed reaction
The public had its first chance in years to weigh in on a proposal to build a new county road on Central Whidbey.
About 25 people, including county staff and representatives from its hired design and consulting firm, attended a June 21 open house at the Race Road fire station to talk about the proposed 1.5 mile road.
It would connect Race and Houston roads to provide a secondary route to Highway 525 in the event it was closed due to an emergency. That small stretch of roadway is one of just two that have no secondary access. The other is near Deception Pass.
Plans for the new road have been in the works for years and several public meetings on the issue were held about five years ago. At the time, reaction from the community was mixed, with some being OK with the idea and some against.
Based on the comments of those who came to the recent meeting, little has changed.
Tom Wilsey raises beef on his land off Kempton Place, a private, dead-end dirt drive that would make up about one-third of the new road. He said he’s a little worried about the impact to his animals and isn’t too excited about additional traffic noise. However, he’s not totally opposed to the idea.
“The good side is it (Kempton Place) will be a county road and they will maintain it,” Wilsey said. “It’s got pros and cons.”
Under the proposed orientation, the new road would begin on Kempton Place, which intersects with Race Road. It would then make its way though a heavily forested area, bisecting Highland Trail (also a private dirt drive) before emerging in grasslands and then on to Houston Road.
Like Wilsey, impacted resident Jeff Lauderdale has mixed feelings about the proposed project. He lives off Highland Trail and the new road would travel along the outskirts of his 10-acre parcel.
He worries about noise and increased traffic but said he can’t complain too much as he was informed about the county’s plans for the new road when he first bought the property.
Also, while Lauderdale wasn’t especially excited about the idea at first, he recently learned more about the project and why the county is interested in building the new road.
The road would make it possible for people or emergency services to get to Whidbey General Hospital in the event of the highways closure.
“It now makes sense, I just wonder where the money is going to come from,” he said.
Lauderdale is one of five people running for the District 1 county commissioner seat.
Others at the meeting were vehemently against the proposal. Al Bowers, of Coupeville, said the access aims to address a problem with a state highway and therefore the cost of providing a secondary access should not fall on the shoulders of county taxpayers.
“They should build their own damn road,” Bowers said.
“The county should keep their nose out of it,” he said.
Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes has estimated the total cost of the project at about $6 million but most of the money will not come from county coffers.
About $900,000 has been has been secured for design, permitting and right-of-way acquisition, but funding for the majority of the project (more than $5 million) will have to come from partnerships with federal and state funding sources.
“We can’t do this on our own,” Oakes said.
The project is entirely funding dependent and construction could be many years away, he said.
Connie Bowers, no relation to Al Bowers, is the assistant county engineer for Island County Public Works and said plans for the project are about 30 percent complete. They hope to be 60 percent done by the end of the year and then begin working on easements with property owners.
“If that process is completed, it makes us a better candidate for grant opportunities,” Bowers said.
While she said the county will work hard to negotiate with property owners, if an agreement can’t be reached the easements could be acquired through the legal process of eminent domain.
Such an action would require the approval of the county commissioners, though Bowers said she is optimistic that it would not come to that. So far, she’s not aware of any property owners that are dead set against the new road.