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Oak Harbor's Pioneer Way project keeps Island County grant

After months of uncertainty, the fate of $1 million in grant funding for a controversial Oak Harbor street project has been decided.

On Monday, the Island County Commissioners unanimously voted that the city will get the money it was promised three years ago for the SE Pioneer Way improvement project, an $8.35 million plan to turn the downtown street into a bustling commercial district by transforming it into a pedestrian friendly one-way.

Oak Harbor City Councilman Scott Dudley, who in August led a group of property owners and business leaders in an attempt to persuade the commissioners to rescind the grant, said he was not surprised by the decision.

“I’m disappointed,” Dudley said.

The commissioners Monday repeated many of the opinions they expressed a week ago during a work session. Commissioner John Dean said he was unswayed by the group’s argument, that a one-way street would actually hinder economic development.

“As much as I enjoyed listening to their concerns, I don’t think it’s within the purview of the county decision-making authority to make those kinds of determinations, that one is better than the other,” Dean said. “I didn’t feel that one-way versus two-way significantly changes the economic development basis of this proposal.”

The Council of Governments, a body composed of elected officials from municipalities and junior taxing districts across the county, awarded the city the grant from the Rural County Economic Development fund in 2007. The decision was only advisory however, requiring final approval from the board.

Island County Commissioner Angie Homola said she was OK with moving ahead but with the caveat that the decision be based on the economic development that will result from the utility work, such as burying electrical lines, included in the project. She made it clear she was not taking a position on the one-way or two-way issue.

From an engineering prospective, Homola said she would need to spend a lot more time looking into the two designs to make any kind of determination as to which is more appropriate.

“I defer to the elected officials of the city of Oak Harbor to make that decision,” Homola said.

Dudley, a longtime critic of the one-way plan, said he has no regrets about bringing the issue before the county board despite their decision, as they can’t say later that they didn’t know they were supporting a project that would be detrimental to downtown businesses. He did say however, that he was not planning to argue the issue any further.

“I don’t think there is much that can be done,” Dudley said.

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