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Rockaway Beach awarded $900,000 in federal funds

The eroding Rockaway Beach area will get a $1.5 million solution thanks to federal funds allocated by the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council. - Courtesy Photo
The eroding Rockaway Beach area will get a $1.5 million solution thanks to federal funds allocated by the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

The failing hillside at Rockaway Beach will get a band-aid worth $1.5 million after the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council awarded $900,000 in federal funds for a design and solution to stop the erosion debilitating the bluff and threatening the road from above and below.

After nearly two and half hours of debate Wednesday, the council decided by a 5-2 vote to formally propose a Rockaway solution asking for $900,000 of the approximate $1.8 million in total federal funds that the KRCC divvied out during a meeting Thursday afternoon.

The Rockaway Beach Road stabilization has sat at the top of a funding emergency list since 2009. KRCC originally expected it would have $750,000 to allocate for projects throughout the county, but the council found out in June that $1.8 million would be available.

What started as an arduous council discussion ended in unanimous support to ask KRCC to fund a $1.5 million project using one of the three designs presented by engineering firm BergerABAM in May. Though several councilors expressed doubt during Wednesday's council meeting that the city would have a credible proposal, KRCC awarded the city's full $900,000 request.

Councilors Kim Brackett and Debbi Lester, with support of Public Works Director Lance Newkirk, advocated for and were awarded $900K in funding from Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council Transpol Board. The KRCC recommendation now goes to Puget Sound Regional Council for final approval.

The city plans to use $200,000 from a federal grant already obligated for Rockaway design, $400,000 from a Recreation and Conservation Office grant that was awarded to the city in the last several weeks and the $900,000 in federal money that KRCC awarded.

The city started imposing emergency measures on the site after a 1997 landslide to try and preserve a 200-foot long portion of the two-lane coastal road that lies south of Bill Point and Creosote Way. Several studies have analyzed the deteriorating road since then, while the cliff side has continued to erode some 15 to 20 feet in places along the bluff.

In order to be competitive for the monies, Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer said the council needed to express unanimous support for a design approach and corresponding funding strategy. At the start of the meeting the council had decided on neither.

“In the end, the deadline actually helped council focus on what needed to be done,” said Brackett. “On a seven-member council, where we all had our own ideas on the best way to solve the problem, we had to work through it and find compromises that were amendable to everyone.”

In a May report, Robert Fernandez of the engineering team suggested a concrete shaft wall with a $2 million price tag that would provide a 75-year lifespan and the most time-sensitive approach. Without that kind of cash at the councils disposal the council voted to propose one of the three alternative 20-year solutions, which use variations of retaining walls at the top of the slope and would require some form of armor protection at the toe.

According to an Aspect Consulting report, the costs range from $305,000 to $785,000 and would likely exceed $1 million with permitting and design. Armoring the toe would require the city to mitigate its environmental impacts, which would need to be added to the cost of the project. Using the KRCC funds will also trigger federal requirements which will be more costly than using local money, according to Bauer.

Brackett said that the city may phase the project depending on costs. The first phase would be to secure the top slope, and if funding allows, then armor the toe. Construction would begin next summer, she said.

The proposal presented to KRCC will cap the project at $1.5 million, which would instruct the consultants to design around that budget.

In order to skirt around permitting delays, the city can declare an emergency by resolution, which would waive some of the initial permitting and bidding requirements, and apply for permits after the fact.

The road presents an emergency because of the delays a closure would create for emergency vehicles.

The city has already said that at least one of the travel lanes will be closed before next winter’s storm season for safety reasons. Brackett said she hopes that it will only be a one-year closure, and once the stabilization is finished in 2012 the lane can be reopened.

Councilor Bob Scales, who voted against the proposal, said he thought the council was playing “Russian roulette.” Scales argued that there are too many other roads, such as Wing Point Way and Manitou Beach Drive, which have reached an emergency status yet the city hasn’t dedicated the funds to fix them.

Scales didn’t feel like the city could dedicate the funds to Rockaway without seriously analyzing if Rockaway is the most deserving of city funds.

“We are just jumping from year to year and from priority to priority,” said Scales. “We are talking about potentially spending two to three million dollars on a project that has never been our top priority until maybe just now.”

More than 70 residents of the Rockaway Beach Road area signed a petition asking for the city to use the funds it has available to at least stabilize the situation.

“All we are asking for is that the city not let the road fall in,” said one resident who spoke during public comment at Wednesday’s meeting.

The Rockaway petition comes after residents in the Rolling Bay neighborhood petitioned for their own action in June.

“For many years we have suffered the exact same issues as the Rockaway Beach area,” stated the petition. “We have endured one-way traffic, delayed emergency response times and added commuter expense similar to what is feared at Rockaway – but has yet to occur. We have been at the top of the capital project list for a number of years with allocation spent on ‘other’ things through the process.”

Peters said he wasn’t willing to support applying for the KRCC funds because he didn’t think the city had prepared a viable proposal and he was wary that accepting the federal money would trigger lengthy and costly federal permitting requirements that would delay the project from finding at least some solution before next winter’s storms.

Peters said that although he was reluctant to do so, he would consider using up to $1 million from the Washington State Ferry settlement money to fund the project instead of using the KRCC money.

Though Peters and Scales voted against the actual proposal, they voted yes in a unanimous decision to present the proposal to KRCC. Both Bauer and Brackett said unanimous political support was needed to be competitive for the funds.

“This council has a reputation from years ago from when Bob Scales and Bill Knobloch were on the council that you delay, delay and it will go away,” said Brackett. “Now we have an opportunity to do something.”

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