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Mukilteo terminal project has hiccup with city permit

This concept design shows the elevated passenger terminal and vehicle holding lane at the proposed Mukilteo site. Demolition of the former Air Force oil tank farm pier could begin this fall.  - Washington State Department of Transportation, Ferries Division, image
This concept design shows the elevated passenger terminal and vehicle holding lane at the proposed Mukilteo site. Demolition of the former Air Force oil tank farm pier could begin this fall.
— image credit: Washington State Department of Transportation, Ferries Division, image

Mukilteo’s appointed hearing examiner scolded the Washington State Department of Transportation, Ferries Division, during a public hearing Tuesday night for what he criticized as poorly prepared documents and shoddy communication between agency officials.

A handful of Mukilteo residents shared their concerns over parking, landscaping, noise and traffic with the proposed new $140.9 million Mukilteo terminal. The city held the meeting to hear justification for granting an essential public facilities permit and a shoreline development permit. After a half-hour presentation by Nicole McIntosh, the ferries division lead engineer for the new terminal, the hearing examiner called out the ferries representative for failing to directly address and respond to the six questions on the permit questionnaire.

“I am a little disappointed,” said Ted Hunter, the mayor-appointed hearing examiner and a land use attorney with the Sound Law Center. “I don’t know where those items are.”

As a professional hearing examiner for several cities in Washington, Hunter said he expected to be told with page citations on the reports and documents turned in by ferries to Mukilteo of infrastructure that would ensure safe transportation access and transportation, for public safety responders, the ability to pay for capital costs, noise estimates, visual screening and mitigation measures. Patricia Love, a Mukilteo city planner, said the city assisted the ferries division by pointing to exhibits, jointly prepared by the city and ferries, that were submitted for the hearing. He requested a 20-day review period to look over the documents before making a recommendation on the permits.

Too many cars

Public testimony was largely devoted to traffic. Cars in the ferry line on Highway 525 would be reduced by the new ferry terminal, agency officials reported. But traffic going south up the hill would remain an issue, according to Mukilteo residents.

“I don’t see any great plan for the ferry traffic going up the hill,” said Charlie Pancerzewski, who has lived near the ferry for 45 years. He also blasted plans for a parking garage or lot near the existing ferry terminal, possibly built where the current holding lanes are.

“If that is developed into an additional parking area, that will create more traffic,” he said.

Added resident Christine Awad Schmalz, an artist in Mukilteo, “We’re pushing this forward without looking at the traffic impact.”

According to agency documents provided at the presentation, the touted project benefit is reduction in wait times in Mukilteo. Current lines can stretch south on Highway 525 a half-mile from the toll booths past Goat Trail Road. Projections by Washington State Ferries show car lines backing up 4,300 feet by 2040, nearly to Clover Lane by Olympic View Middle School. 

A bridge too small

More than just car traffic-worried residents attended the hearing, however. Some complained the existing Highway 525 bridge over the train tracks, just before the toll booths, is perilous for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“We have a sidewalk on the 525 bridge that’s only 41 inches wide,” said Steve Schmalz.

Expanding pedestrian areas on the four-lane bridge with a sidewalk only on the east side was not part of the ferry terminal plan, McIntosh said. Displeased with the explanation to the public’s concern, the hearing examiner questioned the relationship between ferries and its highway counterpart in the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“Do you not talk to each other?” Hunter jokingly asked, which drew chuckles from the crowd of nearly 40 people.

Displacing resting birds on the oil tank farm pier, an abandoned 1,500-foot structure that gathers vegetation, gulls, herons and eagles, was also raised as an issue for ferries to consider.

Kevin Stoltz, a resident of the Old Town area of Mukilteo near the ferry, said he wasn’t sure how many birds nested there and hoped the state would look into building new habitat.

McIntosh and Burt Miller, an environmental permit officer with ferries, said they had plans for netting to prevent birds from nesting during demolition of the pier, which could start as early this fall.

“What we’re doing is not harming birds,” Miller said. “We admit we will displace birds.”

Noise, light and exhaust pollution mitigation were conditions for the city to grant the permit. The new terminal site would be down a bluff and across the train tracks from water-view homes.

 

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