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Island County commissioners clash over island-wide bike trail

A portion of a Freeland trail project was removed from the county’s Capital Improvement Plan Monday.

The change was made despite calls by South Whidbey Commissioner Helen Price Johnson to keep it in the plan.

Island County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to remove phase II of the Freeland trail project during Monday’s regular session.

Price Johnson said Monday she was “disappointed” that her fellow commissioners could not see the value of the piece of trail that would eventually contribute to an island-long bike and walking trail.

“There is a high priority for me to continue to create a path that goes from the ferry to the bridge,” said Price Johnson during discussion at Wednesday’s work session.

“That’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen in pieces and these are two really important pieces for my community.”

Newly appointed Commissioner Aubrey Vaughan cast the deciding vote to remove the project.

Vaughan said his main concern is the one-third acre property adjacent to the trail owned by Island Transit that remains undeveloped.

Public Works Director Bill Oakes said that Island Transit wants the property to be developed into a transit station as part of the island-long trail, but does not have a firm construction plan. But they have not abandoned the project, Oakes said.

If a concrete plan for the transit station were presented, Vaughan said, the commissioners could reconsider returning the Freeland trail project to the Capital Improvement Plan.

“I like phase II, but I want to know more about it,” Vaughan said.

The project would cost more than $1 million in state transportation funds with Island County’s contribution at roughly $135,000.

Commissioner Jill Johnson said that while she says “Yes” to many of these types of projects, the cost of this project crosses the line. Johnson said she agrees with Vaughan that the trail project should come after the transit station is built.

Johnson said she doesn’t share Price Johnson’s priority for an island-wide trail and knows people who talk about it “with an eyeroll.”

“I’m not huge fan of the million-dollar Freeland trail,” Johnson said Monday. “I don’t need a trail to nowhere. I’m not supportive of the concept. It’s only multimodal if transit connects to it.”

Price Johnson said that the trail has enough value to her community without the transit station.

“I don’t believe my colleagues understand the nature of that area,” Price Johnson said. “There is more than just the transit station it connects with it. Those communities would be using that trail both for pedestrian and for bicycles. I think it’s a false dilemma you’re proposing. … Folks in Freeland are very excited about having this opportunity.”

The other project Price Johnson fought for was the feasibility study for a trail segment at Midvale Road and State Highway 525.

Vaughan, again casting the deciding vote, said that he is in favor of keeping the Midvale feasibility study in the Capital Improvement Plan.

The purpose of the study is to determine if the two small parcels, which include some wetlands, could be of public use as a trail.

The Gabelein family filed a petition for the county to relinquish, or vacate, the property’s right of way to them if a use cannot be found.

“That’s why the road vacation and that feasibility needs to be done,” Price Johnson said Wednesday. “We need to have that done to be able to answer that question at hearing about how feasible that property is.”

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