City told to communicate better

Oak Harbor officials need to do a better job of communicating with the Washington State Legislature, they need to plan ahead and they need to create partnerships if they want more state money.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano, delivered this message to members of the Oak Harbor City Council and the Board of Island County Commissioners during a roundtable meeting Wednesday night at the Oak Harbor Fire Station. Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, also attended the two-hour discussion.

The elected officials discussed Highway 20 construction, new regulations for cleaning up Puget Sound, the marina, and most of all, money.

“Oak Harbor has to take the lead,” Haugen said of plans to widen or improve Highway 20 at the congested section in the sound end of the city. “You need to get on the list.”

Improving the gridlock on the stretch of highway from Beeskma to Swantown is a hot issue in the city, especially in the midst of campaign season. Some in Oak Harbor have expressed frustration that the state, which is responsible for the highway, hasn’t fixed the problem.

Both Haugen, the chair of the senate transportation committee, and Todd Carlson of the Department of Transportation explained that the state’s highest priority is safety-related projects, and widening the highway within the city doesn’t qualify as a safety project.

“We put safety first,” Carlson said. “Not just because we might be sued, but because we care.”

Carlson pointed out that the city and DOT worked together to study the corridor and create a phased plan for improving Highway 20 from Swantown Road to Cabot Drive. The plan states that widening is not considered an options, but it calls for roundabouts at Swantown and Erie Street in the first of four phases.

The problem is a decided lack of funds available to carry out the project. Carlson said the state is working with the city to do some kind of immediate, congestion-relief work with a $1 million grant the city obtained.

Haugen said it’s unlikely the state would come up with any funds for the larger corridor project until at least the 2009 session.

When it comes to funding, Haugen suggested that the city has dropped the ball. She said she checked and found that Oak Harbor didn’t even request any funding for the project during the latest legislative session. She said the city also hasn’t requested funding from the state Transportation Improvement Board, a major source of grant funding for cities, since 2004.

But apparently the city isn’t the only entity with communication issues. Bailey said she requested money for the project this year, but Haugen said she didn’t see it in senate budget requests.

Yet Bailey also urged the city to speak up and work on partnerships.

“There are a lot of areas in the state that do have squeaky wheels and the money often goes to those who squeak the loudest,” Bailey said.

The officials also discussed the governor’s new initiative to clean up Puget Sound as well as other new environmental regulations. The state has set aside money for the cleanup efforts.

Again, Haugen advised the city and county to work together, plan and aggressively communicate with the state in order to get a share of the funds.

“The money is going to go to those who are ready to go,” she said.

City Councilman Jim Campbell agreed. “I think we need to get our story together...” he said. “We could get lost in the dust here. We need to get squeaky.”

Councilwoman Sue Karahalios said the city is already behind on the issue. She said it took the city a full year to get a letter, as requested by Haugen, on file at the county about the city’s needs for funds for a sewage treatment plant. As a candidate for mayor, Karahalios — a former state legislator — was critical of Mayor Patty Cohen and other officials for lackluster communication with state and federal lawmakers.

Island County commissioners Mac McDowell and John Dean expressed concern about new regulations requiring homeowners to get yearly inspections of septic tanks. They said it’s an expense that many people simply can’t afford.

In addition, Oak Harbor Marina Harbormaster Mack Funk asked the state lawmakers to help with relief from the hefty, $50,000 payment the city makes each year to the Department of Natural Resources for lease of tidal property. Port districts in the state pay a much smaller fee.

Haugen helped pass a bill in 1997 that addressed the disparity, but the governor vetoed it at the request of the DNR and port districts.

“I’ll work on it again,” she said, “but only if you build a coalition I think it will be successful.”

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 22
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates