"Census surprise: boom wasn't so bigWhile it seemed like a busy decade, island growth was in line with Kitsap."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:43 PM
"The island's population explosion is more pop than explosion, according to the official 2000 census.On April 1, 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 20,308 residents on Bainbridge Island. That represents a 28.1 percent increase from the 1990 census, which tallied 15,850 islanders.In absolute numbers, the island added 4,468 people during the decade, through immigration and births.I'm a little surprised, because the kinds of markers we use suggest that the number is low, said Mayor Dwight Sutton. I thought it would be up around 21,000.But I'm somewhat relieved, he said. A population of 23,000 or 24,000 would have put a lot of stress on the infrastructure, and on people's perceptions.Far from being a growth explosion, the 10-year increase since 1990 actually represents a slight slowing of the island's growth rate from the previous decade.Between 1980 and 1990, the population grew 28.7 percent, while the growth between 1970 and 1980 was 45 percent.City Finance Director Ralph Eells had fueled some of the conjecture about runaway growth, at several points challenging the method by which the state's Office of Financial Management had been tracking local population.Eells had estimated Bainbridge population by looking at data on driver's licenses and school enrollment. Using those numbers, he had put the island's population at somewhere between 23,000 and 24,000.This week, Eells wouldn't speculate on the discrepancy between the census data and his estimates, but said he had always deferred to the census numbers. I said all along that if the census numbers came in low, we would have to say (the estimate) was wrong, Eells said. I'm not looking into the details of it.On the other hand, the city planning department projections proved highly accurate. Using the methodology of the state OFM, the department had predicted a population for Bainbridge of 20,150 - only 158 people off the actual census count.I'd say we're doing a darn good job of estimating the population, said long-range planner Marti Stave. The OFM formula uses building-permit data to estimate each year's population increase, Stave said.The census data reported late Friday did not contain any detailed demographic information. It did show, though, that the island remains overwhelmingly white, with only an 8 percent minority presence. And in another somewhat counter-intuitive finding, the data suggests that the population may be getting slightly younger. The number of people under 18 grew 30 percent, while the increase in people over 18 was 27 percent. The island's increase, while significant, is in line with those of other outer ring suburbs of Seattle and with the rest of north Kitsap County. In fact, if one drops Bremerton out of the mix, Bainbridge's growth rate was slightly smaller than the county growth rate.That surprises me, Sutton said. I hear alarm throughout the community, 'How come this flood in our population?' There seems to be far less pressure being felt about growth elsewhere.The fastest-growing area of the county by far is Silverdale, whose population more than doubled during the decade. Trailing closely was Bangor, on the west side of the Kitsap Peninsula, which almost doubled in size, and Indianola, which grew by 75 percent. Double digitsFor purposes of the census, Bainbridge Island was divided into four tracts, and each registered double-digit growth. As expected, the greater Winslow area led the way, growing 34 percent to 5,409 over the decade.But almost equally rapid growth in percentage terms took place in the northwest tract - north of New Brooklyn Road and west of Highway 305 - which also grew 34 percent to 4,065. That count was a mild surprise to some observers, because there has been relatively little large-scale, high-profile subdivision construction in that area.The south tract - the largest geographically - remains the most populous, with 5,970 people, up 25 percent since 1990. And the northeast quadrant grew at a 21 percent clip, to 4,864.Some 31 percent of the island's 10-year growth occurred in the Winslow tract. I would have liked to see more of the growth there, as our comprehensive plan calls for, Sutton said. The plan calls for Winslow to accommodate half of the island's growth.But Sutton noted that the comprehensive plan was not adopted until 1994, and that some of the measures aimed at channeling growth into Winslow weren't adopted until as late as 1998.A lot of those measures are pretty new, Sutton said. I don't think you can conclude from the census numbers that the effort to encourage growth in Winslow isn't working. "