Tharinger, Chapman support trail north of 101

by Dan Ross & Leif Nesheim
Sequim Gazette Staff Writers

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

The north side is the right side, according to at least two county commissioners.

Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim and Mike Chapman, R-Port Angeles, agreed Monday afternoon a proposed north of Highway 101 Olympic Discovery Trail route from Sequim to Blyn is the best way to proceed.

“All the information seems to point to the same place,” said Tharinger.

“Quite honestly,” said Chapman, “I think we all know where the data is pointing us.”

The two commissioners responded Monday afternoon to a county roads department report outlining the costs associated with four proposed routes moving the trail east from Sequim toward the county line. Chapman said he was prepared to move right away toward trying to purchase rights-of-way for trail construction.

“At least I am prepared to make a decision,” said Chapman. “And I think it is time to move on.”

Craig Jacobs, county public works director, told commissioners trail route approval would be appropriate now.

“We can do a recommendation based on this information,” Jacobs told the commissioners. He also indicated a public hearing could be held on the four proposed trail routes before commissioners made a final decision.

Tharinger wavered a bit, uncertain if another public meeting would be appropriate for residents who have been quite vocal in opposition to the trail proceeding near their homes. The third county commissioner, Mike Doherty, D-Port Angeles, was on vacation.

A shorter, cheaper route

The proposed north route is 1 mile shorter than other routes because Sequim constructed a trail segment last year from Carrie Blake Park to the Johnson Creek Bridge. The southern routes would cut off from the Sequim portion of the trail at Simdars Road, slicing under Highway 101 and picking up on the south side of the highway.

The county examined three factors of the costs for building each of the four routes considered: purchase of rights of way, construction of bridges across the various stream, creeks and sloughs along the routes, and building the trails.

They also compiled a list of advantages and disadvantages for each potential route.

“Each route has some pros and cons,” said county senior planner Rich James.

Overall, the north route---which for the most part parallels the track bed of the former rail bed with the exception of a segment that bypasses the Schoolhouse Point area by running along the highway 101 corridor---is the least expensive and has the smallest environmental impact.

“you literally clear off the brush, put some gravel down and you’ve got a trail,” James said.

The northern route also has the advantage of tribal support where it would pass through land belonging to Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe near Blyn and would be eligible for grant money to build bridges at some locations.

Although it avoids many of the complicated right of way issues that its unpopular variant---which follows the rail bed through the Schoolhouse Point Lane area---has, there are still some potential ownership issues near Bugge Road, and a bypass of property on Highway 101 may be required.

James said an additional $533,000 in costs is anticipated to extend the trail from Blyn to Diamond Point Road. The cost is set, James said, because no matter the chosen Sequim-to-Blyn connection, any of the four proposed routes would follow the same path from Blyn to the county line.

However, all three routes that travel south of Highway 101 are more expensive, cross more properties, and would have greater environmental impact because of lack of an existing trail bed, James said.

They also lack tribal support through the Jimmycomelately Estuary Project and some would require steep grading in areas to cross some creeks.

The major cost for two of the south-side routes, the road department report shows, is trail construction dropping into and climbing out of the Johnson Creek ravine. James estimated a need for 1,000 feet of trail going into and coming out of the ravine, along with a 70-90 foot bridge to cross the creek.

James estimates trail construction at about $100,000 per mile, but expects double that amount if a route dropping into the Johnson Creek ravine is used.

“All the south routes are above a million dollars,” said James. “And the north route is nearly a million dollars.”

James said the county estimates eliminate a $550,000 cost for south-side trails because the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is completing a Highway 101 underpass as part of the Jimmycomelateley Estuary reconstruction project. James said the tribe has federal grants for the underpass project.

“We are assuming if it is federally funded,” said James, “we can use it.”

The cost of extending the trail from Sequim to the county line ranges from $976,439 for the north route to $1.4 million for the most expensive south route.

The routes studied came from an October report issued by the Peninsula Trails Coalition, a private, nonprofit group that supports the Olympic Discovery Trail and from discussions with residents of land immediately east of Sequim Bay State Park.

The group held several public meetings to gather input after its initial study in 2001 looked at the state of the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroad grade between Sequim and the the Clallam line as a potential route.

A State Environmental Protection Act review is being completed by the county for all four proposed routes. Both Chapman and Tharinger said they are ready to approve a north-side trail once the SEPA review is complete.

Chapman said he would prefer to move ahead without additional public hearings but would agree if Tharinger saw a need.

“I think we are going to hear the same things,” said Chapman to Tharinger. “But if you want to have it, that’s cool.”

Tharinger and James both said they felt it was appropriate to wait for the completion of the environmental review before designating any route as the county’s preferred path.

“Before a final decision is made,” said James, “you should have that.”


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