Town finds money to rebuild Spruce Street
By SCOTT RASMUSSEN
Journal of the San Juans Editor
July 22, 2011 · 1:12 PM
Finding a solution to a persistent problem sometimes requires looking at it from a different angle.
Which is precisely how Friday Harbor officials found the means to pay for a full-fledged reconstruction of one of the town's most notoriously broken down roadways -- Spruce Street.
"It's been a long time coming," said a grateful Richard Pederson, who has wrestled with the road's ravaged surface for the better part of 15 years as a Greenway neighborhood resident. "It'll be wonderful."
Town Administrator King Fitch credits Treasurer Wendy Picinich for thinking outside the box to find the money to pay for the pending repair. While the surface of Spruce Street has long-been plagued by potholes, patches, cracks and crumbling asphalt, Fitch said the root of the problem stems from the continued buildup of rainwater and poor drainage that lies below.
"Wendy asked me one day if repairing the street was a road project or whether it could be considered a drainage project," he said. "That's really what it is, a drainage problem."
While the town lacks enough resources in its road fund to pay for the repair, Fitch said it will be able to finance the bulk of the street's reconstruction by redefining it as a drainage project. The town has the $340,000 it will need for the project set aside in its stormwater utility, thanks in large part to an earlier drainage project on Larsen Street that cost far less than first projected.
Slated to begin in mid-August, the Spruce Street project will take about 40 days to complete. It earned final approval Thursday as the town council voted without dissent in authorizing the mayor to contract with locally-based Richard Lawson Construction to undertake the reconstruction.
The cost of project includes $60,000 to repave the street, which, Fitch adds, the town has done twice before, but without lasting success.
Residents of the Greenway neighborhood and town officials have clashed over the condition of Spruce Street, as well as Rose Lane, which intersects with Spruce Street, in recent years. They've grappled over who should pay for improving the street. Town officials say the neighborhood was built in a wetland, and that the developer asked for an exemption from requirement for curbs, gutters and sidewalks in order to keep the costs of homes low.
As a result, Spruce Street is potholed, pools up in the rainy seasons and is often covered in ice in winter. Neighborhood resident counter that the decisions that led to the street's condition were made before they moved into the neighborhood. Several have said that the town should fix the street because it's a town street and it's unsafe.
More than a year ago, the town council took what proved to be a fortuitous step by hiring an engineering firm to study the street and develop plans for fixing its susceptibility to stormwater runoff. At that time, however, town officials expected that the neighborhood would tax itself to generate money for the road's repair by creating a local improvement district.
That effort, met by pockets of resistance in the neighborhood, eventually failed.
But in spite of that failure, Fitch believes that the reconstruction of street and its financing is a solution that will satisfy all parties.
"The residents are happy and there's no impact to the town's general fund," Fitch said. "And we'll have an engineered road that hopefully will last."
Contact Journal of the San Juans Editor Scott Rasmussen at email@example.com or 1-360-378-5696.