Clinton sign got lost in the planning process, officials say

This illustration shows where the new sign probably will be located, but a final decision hasn
This illustration shows where the new sign probably will be located, but a final decision hasn't been made.
— image credit: Photo illustration courtesy of Mike Morton

Clinton's carved "Welcome to Whidbey Island" sign fell through the cracks because of a lengthy planning time and distance from the public process.

That came out of a public meeting in Clinton Thursday night to celebrate the preservation of the iconic sign in its current location and to clear the air on what happened in the past few years as a plan was developed to create a Scenic Isle Way.

County and local officials and others involved in the project, and members of the community — about 50 in all — attended the meeting at the Clinton Community Hall.

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who organized the meeting, said the plan to move the carved sign up the highway to Campbell Road was the result of a decision by community members and volunteers, who were to coordinate the relocation on their own.

She said the county's only contribution was to clear the new location with the state Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the highway right-of-way.

"The county was never going to move that sign," Price Johnson said.

"None of us were going to move that sign," she said of other representatives of local government.

She said much of the difficulty in dealing with the old sign was in determining who actually owns it and who's responsible for its maintenance.

"It was hell trying to get people to make a financial commitment to maintain the sign," said Larry Webster of Clinton, who had been involved with a citizens' committee that took part in years of scenic-way planning. "That was the biggest challenge."

Webster added that the largest participation early on in the scenic-way planning process came from the Clinton area, with about 50 to 100 people weighing in on the project.

The 18-year-old sign was to be relocated to make way for a new Scenic Isle Way monument in the same spot on a steep bank across from the Clinton Ferry Terminal.

The new sign also would say "Welcome to Clinton."

It is one of three monuments to be erected at Whidbey Island point of entry, the others to be at Keystone and Deception Pass. The new signs are expected to be installed beginning next month.

Although the plan to move the old sign was devised several months ago, it came as a surprise to many in Clinton when knowledge of it became widespread last month.

E-mails were circulated, a Save Our Sign Coalition was formed and more than 1,500 signatures were collected on a petition to county officials. There was even talk of legal action.

Last week, after hasty deliberations, it was decided the old sign would remain where it is, and the new one would be placed next to it, probably to the left.

Some in the audience Thursday praised the efforts of Price Johnson and other county officials who helped reach the compromise. Others, however, concerned about clutter, wondered why the new sign couldn't go to Campbell Road.

"I don't see any reason to put a 'Welcome to Clinton' sign on your way out of Clinton," Price Johnson said, drawing laughter.

Sherryl Christie-Berschenk, president of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce, said that reaching a consensus about the sign shows what can be accomplished by working together, rather than sniping at each other.

"We've been a community divided," she said. "Let's have a common voice."

Also attending the meeting were Bill Oakes, county public works director, and Mike Morton, public works planner, Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard, and Lynae Slinden, former Port of South Whidbey commissioner.

The biggest laugh and applause was for Clinton graphic artist Lee Wexler, 85. Unbuttoning his shirt, he revealed a white T-shirt with a full-color picture of the carved sign.

"You all can do what you want, but I'll be carrying it with me," he said, adding: "I'm taking orders."

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