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Boost in funding spurs new slate of construction projects

By STEVE WEHRLY
Journal of the San Juans Reporter
September 16, 2013 · 7:44 PM
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Town workers install a new curb and walkway on Spring Street, one of five construction projects underway starting this fall. / Steve Wehrly

After weathering a severe budget downturn, the Town of Friday Harbor appears to be in recovery mode.

The proof can be seen in the streets, especially on Spring Street, from Mullis to the waterfront. And in meetings of the town council, where plans are being perused and projects approved.

Economic activity and tax receipts grew in 2012, in large part because of construction of Peace Island Medical Center. For 2013, although sales tax revenues are still below pre-recession levels, they are rising steadily, as are lodging tax receipts.

Gary Franklin of Windermere reports increased activity in real estate this summer and looks forward to even stronger sales in 2014. David Nash of Nash Brother Sporting Goods says summer sales were the best in five years, and post-Labor Day traffic has been “strong.”

Because reserves in various town funds are healthy, necessary maintenance and some improvements could be budgeted, according to Town Administrator Duncan Wilson. There may not yet be a light at the end of the tunnel, but the boots on the ground and backhoes in the ditches suggest things are happening now and will continue for the next couple of years.

Plans and projects are buoyed by the success of the Brickworks, with five construction projects in various stages of completion and six major planning efforts underway. Wilson likes to call Friday Harbor “The Busiest Small Town in America (or at least the state).”

Here’s a quick look at what’s happening around town.

Projects:

On Mullis St., from Spring St. to the new airport pilot’s kiosk, a $190,000 sidewalk project is underway, much of it funded by a Washington State Transportation Improvement Board 90/10 match. According to Wilson, the project should be completed in a few weeks.

The water and sewer pipe replacement project from First St. to Front St, budgeted at $320,000, will be finished this year. Longer term, the engineering work for replacement of the main water transmission line from the town reservoir to the town, is finished and the permits and environmental reports are in process. Wilson says funding for the $8 to $9 million project remains to be found, but he is hopeful that a loan and grant package from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development service can be obtained.

Planning continues on a $1.6 million complete rebuild of Blair Ave. between Spring and Guard streets, scheduled to begin in May and end in November, 2014. Ninety percent state funding has been budgeted, but the money for Park St. to Spring St. portion has not been identified.

The new corner paving at Marguerite and Spring is finished, costing $7500 - a project Wilson put on his personal list when he first arrived last year.

Plans

Preliminary discussions have begun in the council about how to remodel the old fire station - and how to pay for it. When, what and how much are still unanswered questions.

A revised water system plan has been approved by the state Department of Health. The Solid Waste Plan, which includes plans for future use of the town-owned Sutton Road solid waste facilities and plans for collection and disposal of construction debris, tires, petroleum products and bio-medical waste is in final stages of approval.

Sunshine Alley, between First St. and Nichols Street, next to the Brickworks, is high on the list. A request for qualifications for a consultant to plan the future of Sunshine Alley was responded to by seven urban plan consultants. Two finalists will be interviewed by the council. The town has budgeted $30,000 and promises to conduct a public process for the plan. “Sunshine Alley has the potential to be the heart of Friday Harbor,” said Wilson, who wants to create a fund to pay for desired changes.

The town wants to devise a Tourism Master Plan, with eleven elements. A request for proposals for consulting services for preparation of the plan received only two responses, both of which suggested that the plan’s parameters were too broad. Wilson said the council will be revising the RFP with a narrower scope. $70,000 has been allocated for the tourism plan work.

Wilson is also preparing an “infrastructure report” which outlines medium-term plans for work on roads. Some of the roads being looked at are Price St from Spring St. to Park St.; Park Street from Guard St. to Marguerite St.; and Tucker St. from Guard St. to University St.

In an interview with the Journal, Wilson summarized the funding situation for the near future.

“Implementation of any plan for Sunshine Alley and for tourism will require the town to seek grants or other funding,” he replied in an email. “The lodging tax is limited to capital expenditures directly related to the tourism trade, so that will need to be closely scrutinized. If the public is supportive, we could seek revenue for Sunshine Alley redevelopment by creating a local improvement district to raise revenue. Any park improvements in 2014 will require the council to authorize expenditures from the capital project reserve fund.”

 

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