Funding issues could delay street project

TONASKET – State budget woes could force the cancellation or delay of a much-needed road project that the Washington DOT had scheduled to repair Whitcomb Ave. through Tonasket in the spring or summer of 2013.
Chris Keifenheim, DOT Assistant Project Engineer, and Paul Mahre, North Central Region Local Programs Engineer, were on hand to discuss the status of the project at the Tuesday, July 24, Tonasket City Council meeting.
Keifenheim is the project manager for the road project that is slated to repair US-97 from the Bonaparte Creek bridge on the south end of Tonasket up to Oroville. He said that the DOT project includes a mill and fill of the driving lanes, new ADA sidewalk ramps, and a crack seal / fog seal of the parking and turn lanes.
He said that thanks to the state-wide budget crunch, the DOT headquarters prioritized all of its pavement preservation projects statewide, with only the top 100 receiving funding. Keifenheim said that the Toansket project ranked about 120th out of 300.
“They did this two weeks ago, and none of the six chip seal sections (which includes the mill and fill) prioritized high enough to get funded,” Keifenheim said. “This last week they were looking at adding more money into the statewide program. If they do that, the project would be back in.”
Keifenheim said that the final funding decision would likely be made within the next couple of weeks.
“If they double that money, then the top 200 would be funded,” he said.
“Fully funded?” asked council member Scott Olson.
“Yes, that would include the work I just described,” Keifenheim said. “The only caveat would be that they could fund it and then tell us just to chip seal rather than mill and fill.”
“Would they still do the ADA (ramps)?” asked city clerk Alice Attwood.
“No,” Keifenheim said. “If we just chip seal, the ADAs would not be done. That’s why we’re trying to keep the mill and fill in.”
Not doing a complete mill and fill with the original project, and the threat of having just a chip seal done, didn’t sit well with Mayor Patrick Plumb.
“We should go out and look at the curb and the level of fill,” he said. “The last couple of flood deals — the whole strip — by not knocking it all the way down to the curb and not starting over, we’ll dump all this money into it and 20 years from now we’ll be back in the same spot.”
“This is not the reality, that we have the funding to do that,” Mahre said. “The need is there, but the funding is not there to do that. We have 38 cities in our region, and probably half of them are dealing with the same things.
“Right now we’re trying to do this mill and fill, when usually we would only be funded for the chip seal.”
After lengthy discussion, Olson asked if contacting state legislators would help move the project forward.
“If you talk to your representatives, they’ll talk to the DOT,” Keifenheim said. “Our program is directed by the legislature, so they have a lot of say in which projects are funded and which are not. We do have some leeway since we know where the needs are.”
“I’m having trouble justifying either side,” Plumb said. “I appreciate you guys doing what you’re doing. The mill and fill and ADA ramps would be a blessing beyond anything. I don’t think just chip sealing would be a wise use of money.”
Mahre said that future legislative sessions likely won’t ease the financial crunch.
“It’s not getting any better,” he said. “We might not even have a 2015-16 seal at all.”
“We’ll take what we can get,” Plumb said.
Keifenheim said that a few years ago, the North Central Washington region, the smallest of six in the state, had a $30 million budget for chip seal and repaving. That is now the budget for the entire state.
When asked later in the week if he felt the project was in danger of being cancelled, Plumb said he thought that unlikely.
“I think it’s mostly state lingo that until the project is underway, there are no guarantees,” he said. “So until there are boots on the ground, it’s possible, but I think we’ll be OK.”
Later in the meeting, Olson asked for reassurance that funding for the crossing project at 2nd and Whitcomb wasn’t similarly endangered, especially since the city had already purchased the equipment.
“That’s already funded and in the bank,” Mahre said. “The biggest concern there is getting out the bid for a contractor to build it. If they can’t we’ll go back to our headquarters office and we’ll work on the best way to get it in.”
Also discussed were options for revising the US-97 / SR-20 interchange (by The Junction), though
Mahre said it could be years before anything is done there.

Sewer legalities

The refusal of a city property owner to hook up to the city sewer system had the council looking for legal advice on how to remedy what has become a stand-off.
Legally, property owners are required to hook up to city sewer if the sewer line comes to within 250 feet of the building involved.
Previously, the city had been advised by building official Christian Johnson to deliver a notice that the property owner’s water service would be discontinued, and if they did not comply for the city to take legal action.
Plumb was skeptical that that would be effective, which was one reason the council had city attorney Mick Howe present.
“The city has an obligation to either enforce or repeal the ordinance,” Howe said. “How do you enforce other ordinances if you don’t enforce this?”
Olson thought Johnson’s recommendations were too passive.
“We have an ordinance,” he said. “And we have valid reasons to enforce it.”
Howe said the city’s options could include a citation, that could carry a fine of up to $500 a day, or a non-consensual connection.
“That would be a bit heavy-handed,” Howe said of forcibly connecting the property to the sewer.
“There is no way to do that without spending thousands of dollars (in legal fees). And then you could spend more thousands just to hook it up. It’s definitely a last resort.
“I think the citizens would recognize the value of a public sewer system versus an antiquated drain field within the city limits,” Howe said. “I would think people would expect you to pay cash into making it sanitary for everyone in the community.”
Howe said the police couldn’t be directed to issue a citation, but would likely do so if made aware of the violation, particularly since it is potentially a public health hazard.
“The only way you can have a viable public sewer system or water system is if everyone is a participant,” Howe said. “You can’t have a every other household connected. It just doesn’t work that way.”
“I would hate to have someone come to my house to look for code violations,” Olson said. “But this is over and above. This is above and beyond.”
“Let’s do what we have to do,” said council member Jean Ramsey.

About Gary DeVon

Gary DeVon is the managing editor of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune and celebrated his 25th year at the newspaper in August 2012. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in Communications - Print Journalism, with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a proud alumnus of Oroville High School. His family first settled in Okanogan County in the late 1800s. His parents are Judy DeVon and the late Larry DeVon and he has two younger brothers - Dante and Michael. Many family members still call Oroville home. He is single with a grown daughter, Segornae Douglas and a young granddaughter, Erin.

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