Editor's Column: We’ll miss those two old hills

Some islanders are having trouble adjusting to our less-hilly conditions caused by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Coming into Oak Harbor from the south isn’t nearly as hilly as it used to be. They cut one hill down by eight feet, which leaves our “Welcome to Oak Harbor Sign” sitting high above the roadway below. Since the sign, advertising Whidbey Island’s “premier waterfront community,” is six-feet high, the top of the sign is 14 feet above the roadway.

As a result, tourists coming into town have to look up high to see that they’re being welcomed. It’s OK for truck drivers, but if you’re at the wheel of a Civic or Tercel or something like that, you have to lean forward, look way up and twist your head sideways to see that you’re being welcomed. And that’s no way to welcome a tourist. The chamber of commerce had better start working on answering negative comments, such as “your welcome sign gave me a crick in my neck,” or “I was watching your welcome sign and didn’t see that darn bicyclist by the side of the road,” or “I was just trying to see the top of your welcome sign when Homeland Security arrested me and accused me of spying on your jet airplanes.” None of this would even be a concern if the DOT hadn’t decided to lower the highway by cutting not one, but two, hills down to size. The second hill they’re working on now, reducing its height by a relatively modest four feet.

It was sad that no “save our hills” demonstrations were held when the DOT started its de-hilling efforts. The hills entering Oak Harbor were historic, having been that way since the glaciers first brought the highway here some 10,000 years ago. (The highway was formerly used by Woolly Mammoths in Alaska.) To add to the hills’ historic significance, Oak Harbor has numerous residents who have come into Oak Harbor from the south at the same high level for 80 years or more. How are they supposed to adjust to a lower entry? It just won’t seem like they’re getting close to home any more.

The DOT says it decided to lower the hills to improve sight distances, which is hard to believe. Have you ever heard anyone complain about Oak Harbor’s sight distances? Of course not. The DOT obviously had ulterior motives which most likely centered on our most important asset — our dirt. Without dirt, we wouldn’t even have a Whidbey Island. We’d be just another wet spot in Puget Sound. And yet the DOT decides to take our dirt and leave us a smaller island.

The DOT was secretive about where all our dirt is going, but we believe it’s on the mainland where they’re busy working on other parts of the highway. We suspect our part of Whidbey Island is being used as roadway fill in Burlington. Next time you see Whidbey Island property advertised by a Burlington Realtor, just remember, it’s not necessarily on Whidbey Island.

The Island County Sheriff should immediately station deputies at the Deception Pass Bridge with orders to turn back anyone taking our dirt to Burlington. We can’t afford to lose another dumptruck load.

The DOT was right about one thing, the lower hills have improved our sight distances, but for what? Probably that Costco store so many of our political leaders are dreaming about.

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