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Solutions for crumbling road still rocky

The crumbling Rockaway Beach Road sits on a eroded hill on the southeast portion of the island. - Courtesy Photo
The crumbling Rockaway Beach Road sits on a eroded hill on the southeast portion of the island.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Councilor Kim Brackett brought an apple-sized asphalt souvenir to Tuesday’s discussion about Rockaway Beach Road.

“This is a piece of the road I picked up off the beach,” said Brackett. “I don’t think the road will last. There were other pieces out there, but this was the only piece I could actually carry.”

While the road crumbles away as it has for the last decade, the council finds itself at the beginning of a bureaucratic maze of regulatory permits and data collection, while scarce funding continues to raise doubts that a solution can be implemented before a crisis.

Rockaway Beach Road runs along a hillside that drops to the Puget Sound shore on the southeast portion of the island.

The hillside is plagued by both wave-erosion on the lower portion of the slope and a sliding slope on the upper portion that is collapsing the road.

A November 2010 study estimated that at least one lane could fall before the end of the winter.

The council authorized city staff on Tuesday to start using their limited funding to compile data and begin planning for both long and short-term solutions.

The council wants to find a way to armor the toe of the bluff to slow the erosion while it finds a permanent way to stabilize the sloughing cliff.

The city has very little time and money to find a solution.

During Tuesday’s question-and-answer session, Ross Widener, of the environmental planning and permitting law firm Widener and Associates, warned the council that starting the data collection process is critical.

The city has already spent an estimated $100,000 to $125,000 on several hundred pages of geotechnical studies beginning in 1997. That data is not data for this project, Widener said, and will just be supplemental.

“I personally am frustrated that we waited so many months to follow up and get back to this,” said Mayor Kirsten Hytopoulos. “I’m surprised we are funding essentially the ground data collection to inform what direction we want to go. We don’t have any data.”

The city has a federal grant of $200,000 to use for the project design and pre-construction work it has not used, and $27,000 in local funds.

The Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council has said that approximately $700,000 could become available for the city to use, but that money is uncertain.

Widener advised the city  to avoid triggering red flags with federal agencies  such as the Army Corps of Engineers, which could prolong the process.

In the last discussion about the road, Widener and Robert Fernandes of BergerABAM Engineering, suggested a concrete wall with a price tag of $2 million as the most effective solution.

Since $2 million is not an option, the council wants to push for a short-term solution to buy the city more time.

Solutions such as “soft armoring” would allow the city to embed natural materials at the base of the bluff, which would hopefully be strong enough to sustain winter storms.

One property owner was able to permit and construct a bulkhead in about six months, but the city will face different regulations than a private citizen. Bulkheads are often an environmental concern and trigger a potentially long permitting process.

Even if the council had a design today, Fernandes said that he didn’t think construction would be possible until summer 2012.

“What we need to do is get started, collect the data, collect surveys and determine using serious engineering [to ascertain] what is possible and what is not,” said Widener. “We need to explore options to pay for various strategies and keep everything on the table until we see it.”

Both Widener and Fernandes said there are too many unknowns to speculate when a solution can realistically be found.

The council directed city staff to work with the consulting team to begin data collection and split the project into two phases.

The goal is a short-term solution to stop the erosion at the toe, and a long-term solution for permanent stability on the cliff side.

Public Works Director Lance Newkirk said that the city will begin negotiating a design and pre-construction contract with BergerABAM and begin the data collection process. The city will look for both soft-armoring solutions and the potential of closing the road before next winter.

"We need to analyze if and when do actually need to close this road, and if we do, in which direction," said Newkirk.

At Tuesday's meeting Newkirk said that closing one lane of the road could increase emergency response times from five to nine minutes.

The city will also look for long-term solutions and begin working with the various permitting agencies to learn what the city will need throughout the process.

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