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Grumpy city council OK's water line loan

Oak Harbor City Council members weren’t happy about it, but ultimately they approved taking out a $143,000 loan that will help pay for design plans that will move the city’s water lines out of the way of a state road project.

The loan comes out of the state’s Public Works Trust Fund and carries an interest rate of just half of 1 percent.

The city previously paid $106,000 out of its own pocket for preliminary engineering. That money was pulled from the city’s utility fund to hire a consulting engineer.

The city needs the loan money to complete the engineering required to shift Oak Harbor’s two water lines from their current position beneath Highway 20, just south of Deception Pass. Construction of the replacement lines is expected to cost $1.1 million.

But council members, who have long felt aggrieved at having to pay to move the water lines, expressed misgivings yet again at Tuesday night’s council meeting. They said the state’s plans to turn Highway 20 into a National Scenic Byway didn’t match up with the state’s intention to lower the highway grade as much as 16 feet, just south of Cornet Bay Road, to improve visibility.

Council members Paul Brewer, Sheilah Crider and Sue Karahalios, suggested that the city send letters to the state Department of Transportation outlining their opposition to the current plan.

Meanwhile, council member Richard Davis, as well as Mayor Patty Cohen, said that Brewer, Crider and Karahalios, were getting side-tracked from the main issue: approving low-interest loan money to pay for the project.

“This is a safety issue,” Davis said. “This is not our jurisdiction. It is a state highway. Our job is to get that water line moved.”

But Brewer said the city, which is getting stuck with the tab, should have more say-so and insisted that the city set up a meeting with state transportation officials.

“I don’t think we’ve spent all our efforts to get the state to change its mind,” he said.

The city purchases its water from the city of Anacortes, which draws water from the Skagit River and operates its own utility. Oak Harbor’s water lines head south from the Deception Pass bridge, enroute to the city.

The city’s water lines also serve the Navy base. Navy officials have said in the past they will pay for a portion of the water line project.

Like it or not, the state’s Department of Transportation will make the final determination on the scope and scale of the project.

Because the water lines are considered to be in the right of way of a state highway, the city is obligated to move them at the state’s discretion.

The issue arose last summer when the state’s Department of Transportation informed the city of plans to lower a half-mile section of Highway 20.

According to the Department of Transportation, the section of the highway from Troxell Road to the bridge is designated as a “high accident corridor” because there are a high number of rear-end and intersection-related accidents.

Also, the department claims the narrow shoulders and lanes create a high risk of running off the road.

In addition to lowering the highway’s grade, the state plans to widen the highway and add turn lanes at the intersection of Ducken and Deception Circle roads. Ducken Road will be realigned to form a four-way intersection with Deception Circle Road.

A turn on the highway to Old Cornet Bay Road will be eliminated.

Also, the historic Civilian Conservation Corps-built rock-and-log guardrails in the area will be replaced with a guardrail system that meets current standards.

The state has scheduled the project to begin in spring of 2005.

Convincing state transportation officials to reconsider the project is a long shot, City Administrator Thom Myers told the council.

“To stop this project is a reach for us,” he said.

Mayor Cohen said that she had met with state representatives over the issue who told her safety is a key consideration.

“There is great liability to the state of Washington,” she said.

But Karahalios and Crider, who attended a recent meeting about designating Highway 20 a scenic corridor, said they were shocked when transportation officials said they were unaware of the project.

“I would like to start checking to see if the right hand and left hand know what the other is doing,” Karahalios said.

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