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Island County supports Oak Harbor's Pioneer grant

Efforts to convince the Island County commissioners to rescind a $1-million grant in the hopes or crippling a major Oak Harbor street project are not looking good.

The board met this week, Oct. 3, to discuss the concerns about the SE Pioneer Way Improvement Project brought forward in August by a group of merchants, business leaders, and Oak Harbor City Councilman Scott Dudley. The group lobbied that the one-way design was not the plan originally approved and may hurt downtown businesses.

But the commissioners appeared unswayed by the group’s plea and were reluctant to overrule the decision made by the Council of Governments, the body of elected officials that approved the city’s 2007 Rural County Economic Development fund grant.

“Although I think it’s our job to make sure the funds are appropriately distributed, it’s not our job to tell our sister jurisdictions how to do their business,” Island County Commissioner Angie Homola said.

The group that appealed to the board in August argued several issues. First, they alleged that the original application approved by the council of governments was for a two-way street plan, not the one-way configuration that is now moving forward.

The group also claimed a one-way street though downtown would do more harm that good, hindering economic development rather that promoting it. They backed up their claim with a mountain of evidence, ranging from professional traffic studies to case-after-case of cities that have spent millions of dollars reverting back to two-way configurations after their one-way designs proved detrimental.

City Councilman Scott Dudley also charged, before the commissioners, that at least one of his colleagues on the council should have recused themselves because of a conflict of interest. He requested the board either take back the $1 million grant or put pressure on the city council with a letter urging it to abandon the one-way plan. None of the board members commented on the conflict of interest allegations during Wednesday’s meeting, but they did address the group’s other claims.

“As I was reading through the agreement, it doesn’t specify one-way or two-way,” said Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, of the original grant application.

Also, the grant is meant to foster economic development, and Island County Commissioner John Dean said it was difficult for him to see how a project that will result in more parking spaces, the burying of utility lines, and the addition of new landscaping and lighting — essentially a complete makeover of Pioneer Way — will hurt businesses.

“I just don’t get that argument,” Dean said.

Homola was the only commissioner to express any hesitation about giving the grant application the final stamp of approval. There were solid reasons for moving towards a one-way street design, said Homola, but “there is a level of concern from the businesses that warrants consideration.”

Homola said her concerns can likely be addressed over the next few days and she was OK with the grant going before the board for final consideration at its Monday meeting, Oct. 11.

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