Whidbey Island: Unhappy about trails, residents stop plans
A controversial plan to add a horse/pedestrian trail and above-ground
detention ponds to the south end of West Beach Drive in Oak Harbor
has been scrapped after the county’s Roads Division was overwhelmed
by opposition from neighborhood residents wanting to maintain the
Largely at issue for residents of the West Beach area was the fact
that many of the older homes in this community rest in proximity to
the arterial, and any potential easement required for a trail would
usurp an inordinate amount of existing private property.
Island County Public Works officials instead will limit planned improvements
along West Beach to bring the arterial road up to modern standards
required by the state Dept. of Transportation, which includes the
creation of 12-foot car lanes in each direction and a 6 -foot paved
The total cost of the project is estimated between $1.5 and $1.8 million,
with $1 million in funding coming through state Rural Arterial Preservation.
RAP funding, which is competitively solicited, is generated through
gas tax revenues.
West Beach Drive in its current configuration was first established
in 1931, though portions of the road were in place as far back as
1912, when it was a dirt path through a community composed primarily
of large farming properties.
The county’s previous plans to create a segregated trail along West
Beach, along with detention ponds for water run-off, encountered tremendous
opposition from the West Beach community, which is composed largely
of retirees who appear to resent opening up their neighborhood to
bicycle and equestrian traffic.
Also of concern for residents was the issue of mosquitoes breeding
in the standing water of detention ponds. With growing panic over
mosquito-borne West Nile Virus, which can infect horses and humans,
residents argued that any excess surface water would pose an undue
Doris Campbell, a West Beach resident who has been a vocal opponent
of the trail/catchbasin project, expressed cautious optimism over
the revised plans. She said she and other residents are still awaiting
the final drawings, adding that she’s not convinced the county isn’t
going to try to acquire an excessive amount of private property.
“We want to see that in writing, and we want to see just how much
property they’re going to acquire for their so-called right of way,”
Campbell said Thursday.
Campbell said the vast majority of West Beach residents she’s spoken
with are against the idea of creating trails through their neighborhood.
Beyond the issue of usurping private property, she expressed concern
over issues of trail maintenance, litter from out-of-town pedestrians
and cost to the county.
“Are we going to make the island one big trail?” Campbell said. “Since
when is having trails such a sacred right. And the county doesn’t
have any money anyway,” she added.
Campbell said the county hasn’t adequately involved West Beach residents
in the decision making process from the beginning, and didn’t take
into account that most people opposed plans for a trail and above-ground
catch basins. “They tried to tell me that people wanted this,” Campbell
said. “Nobody asked me. I went knocking on everybody’s door along
West Beach Road, and to a person, nobody wanted it.”
Campbell said she’s collected more than 100 signatures from residents
opposing the original plan, adding that only such an outcry prevented
the project from going forward.
“If we hadn’t yelled and continued to yell, they would have just barreled
through with it,” she said.
Campbell said, even with the current plans for simply paving a 6 foot
shoulder, she still feels like the county has left things “wide open,”
adding that she will remain vigilant to the end.
“They still need to be watched,” she said.
Public Works Director Bill Oakes said he is pleased with the current
plans to proceed with West Beach improvements.
“We reached a decision I think both we as engineers can live with,
and the local neighborhood can live with,” Oakes said.
Oakes pointed out that the county will maximize use of an infiltration
system for water run-off, putting in underground detention ponds when
necessary. Detention pipes, Oakes said, will be perforated on the
bottom “so in a low flow type storm the water is actually put back
into the ground.” He added that such a solution puts as much treated
water back into the ground as possible, recharging the area’s limited
aquifer with drinking water.
Island County Public Works officials held an open meeting Tuesday
at the Sierra County Club to discuss the proposed change in plans
to improvements to West Beach Drive, attended by the board of commissioners
and various county engineers and health officials. Design options
for the road were discussed, with the current plan for 12-foot roads
with 6-foot shoulders receiving enthusiastic applause from the 75
or so residents in attendance.
The other options presented to the crowd included the creation of
a 6 ft. trail separated by a grass swale, and another plan that simply
expanded the shoulder by four feet to incorporate a connected pedestrian/horse
trail. A 6-foot. shoulder is the minimum allowed by state DOT regulations.
Many in the audience had yellow ribbons pinned to their shirts, a
symbol indicating support of limiting West Beach improvements to creation
of a paved shoulder.
County engineer Randy Brackett pointed out that the plan being supported
by a majority of community members had a downside in terms of non-vehicular
“This has, from the county’s standpoint, no pedestrian facility,”
Brackett said of the 6-foot shoulder plan. “There isn’t the safety
that a pathway might provide.”
Environmental health expert Keith Higman also discussed the recent
West Nile Virus scare, telling the audience that though no cases of
the virus have yet been documented in the county, it could only be
a matter of time.
Higman warned residents to avoid having any standing water on their
property, especially in contained areas such as tires and bird baths
where vector mosquitoes (which can carry the virus) are known to breed.
Board chairman Mike Shelton said he was happy with the results of
the meeting, in that no properties along West Beach would be condemned
to build a trail but the proposed shoulder would still provide adequate
safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“The issue on West Beach is that many of the homes out there are built
relatively close to the road,” Shelton said Thursday. “The addition
of a trail probably imposes such an impact on people’s property that
it doesn’t seem to be a workable solution.”
Shelton added that “hopefully one of the things we have done is provide
a paved shoulder that will create some safety margin in terms of people
Shelton also said he was pleased with how the issue of West Nile Virus
was addressed, adding that the proposed creation of underground detention
ponds reduces risk of the virus. “I think that’s a significant issue,”
he said. “In this time when we have this virus on the horizon, we
need to be cognizant of the fact that we don’t want to create areas
where mosquitoes can multiply.”
Oakes said improvements to West Beach will begin “late summer at the
earliest” next year. First the county has to buy all the necessary
properties in order to widen the shoulders, then utilities need to
be relocated, which will take approximately three months. Actually
construction along the road is scheduled out at 100 working days,
or about five months.