By Steve Wehrly/Journal reporter
In San Juan County’s new Six Year Transportation Improvement Plan, the much talked about connector from Pear Point Road across the gravel pit to Turn Point Road is near the bottom of the list.
But it was the top subject of discussion at the June 16 joint town-county council meeting at the county Legislative Hearing Room.
Friday Harbor Mayor Carrie Lacher raised the issue, stating that when the town annexed the “Buck property” as urban growth area property in 2009, the county promised that the road across the former gravel pit from Pear Point Road to the 46-acre property, which borders on Turn Point Road, would be provided.
Showing familiarity with the issue despite his short tenure as interim county administrator, Bob Jean said, “we need a total solution” to road requirements in connection with the property. New town administrator Duncan Wilson added, “This is an important affordable housing project for the town.”
The Community Home Trust intends to use about 15 acres of the property to build an affordable housing community of 120, with the remaining 31 acres to be developed into market-price homes by the Buck Family.
County Councilman Howie Rosenfeld expressed support for the project, and referred to the Public Works Department Capital Project Summary for the road. That summary sets the estimated connecting road cost at $1.2 million and says, “The project will need outside grant funding for construction.”
Rosenfeld said he had talked with Congressman Rick Larsen about possible federal transportation funds for the road. Larsen told Rosenfeld that Congress might be working on another omnibus transportation funding bill in 2013, but that any project needing funding “must be shovel ready.”
“We need a road design and planning approval,” said Rosenfeld. Jean, who earlier had said, “We need a total solution for this whole project,” added that “shovel ready might cost about $100,000.”
The connector road is on the 2013-2018 Six-year Transportation Improvement Program, which went before the county planning commission Oct. 19. The county council has included a public hearing for the six-year road plan on its Oct. 30 agenda.
Earlier, Duncan Wilson and Bob Jean were introduced as permanent and interim administrators, respectively, replacing King Fitch and Pete Rose in town and county governments.
Both said that they would work cooperatively for the “long-term best interests” of everybody in both town and county, and the council members and town Mayor Carrie Lacher expressed similar feelings. “The past is past,” said Lacher, referring to town-county disagreements over several years on various issues, including the town-owned, county-operated Sutton Road solid waste operation.
Economic development of both the town and the county was another topic of discussion. “Economic invigoration of the whole county is necessary to maintain the quality of life,” Wilson said. “We need new businesses and new investment, and additional jobs.”
Jean added, “Staying the same isn’t going to work. Many different players are involved, but all the players need to focus on a strategy and develop a plan to carry out the strategy.”
Tourism, ferries, the new PeaceIsland Medical Center, OPALCO’s broadband initiative and more town center commercial activity were all mentioned as past, present and future economic development drivers.
Both town and county council members expressed a willingness to “get together again soon,” but no date was set and a suggestion that a joint committee be formed was tabled for later consideration.
Town councilwoman Barbara Starr declared hope that the joint meeting would lead to “a new era of town-county relations.”
And town administrator Wilson summed up by saying, “We’re in the same sandbox here. We need each other even though there will be differences to work through.”