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Lobbying begins for Pritchard Park

The will is there. Now it’s a matter of finding the ways and means.

That’s the report from Olympia after a delegation of islanders traveled to the state capital to make a pitch for state funding to help build a memorial to the World War II exclusion of the island’s Japanese-American citizens, and acquire the nearby acreage for a public park.

Despite the state’s record budget shortfall, the city’s volunteer lobbyist is optimistic.

“I believe it’s possible to get funding this biennium,” said islander Mike Ryherd, a professional lobbyist who is donating his services to the city. “There is a $900 million capital budget, and it’s a matter of how legislators set their priorities.”

Bainbridge Island is looking for $4 million of that money – $2.5 million for acquisition and development of the Japanese-American exclusion memorial planned at the Taylor Avenue road end, and $1.5 million towards acquisition of the 55-acre site formerly owned by the Wyckoff Company, which for planning purposes has been dubbed Pritchard Park.

To some extent, those requests overlap, said Bainbridge City Council chair Christine Nasser Rolfes, who led the group in Olympia.

That’s because the 55-acre Wyckoff site extends west along the south shore of Eagle Harbor to the city-owned Taylor Avenue site. Some portion of that property will have to be purchased to make the memorial practical, but the amount is undetermined. Whatever does not become part of the memorial will be targeted for purchase as parkland.

Before Rolfes and islander Clarence Moriwaki made their presentation on behalf of the community, the House Capital Budget Committee got a powerful “warm-up” in the form of remarks from Seattle legislator Sharon Tomiko-Santos, whose parents were interned during World War II.

“She gave a really moving speech that said we should move forward now because the people who experienced this are dying, or have already died, like her parents,” Moriwaki said.

“They made a wonderful presentation,” said Rep. Beverly Woods (R-Poulsbo), a member of the House committee. “We have a real fight on our hands to try to get that into the budget, but I’ll be doing everything I can to help.”

The former Wyckoff property is currently being cleaned up by the federal Environmental Protection Agency under auspices of the Superfund program to remove contamination from the creosote that Wyckoff produced.

The eastern portion of the property at the entrance to Eagle Harbor is the most contaminated, and efforts to clean that soil by injecting heated steam into the subsurface could take a decade or longer.

The western portion of the property, though, including several hundred feet of no-bank restored beach, was much less contaminated, and could be released for sale in the near future.

Held in trust

The land is held in trust, with proceeds from the sale earmarked to reimburse EPA for its cleanup costs. But the property is the defunct Wyckoff’s only asset, and cannot be sold for anywhere near enough to recoup cleanup costs that may exceed $100 million.

The committee that Rolfes heads is trying to put the land into public ownership, so that taxpayers may reap the benefits of those expenses. While trustee Dan Silver has not given a precise figure, the cost of the whole 55 acres is estimated at roughly $8 million.

The effort to acquire the property has been named the Pritchard Park project in honor of Joel Pritchard, a long-time summer islander who served 12 years in the state legislature, 12 years in Congress and eight years as lieutenant governor.

“The Pritchard connection went over real well in Olympia,” said Moriwaki. “Everyone knew who he was, and some had even served with him.”

The Taylor Avenue road end is the site of the old Eagledale ferry, where 227 islanders of Japanese-American descent were sent to internment camps.

Bainbridge was the first place where President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order directing the removal of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast was carried out.

The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community and the Interfaith Council have proposed a memorial for the area, designed by island architect John Paul Jones.

Pursuant to a bill introduced by Bainbridge Island Democrat Rep. Jay Inslee (D-1st Dist.), the National Park Service is studying whether to put the memorial on the rolls of park service property.

Getting substantial funding from the state, which would go a long ways towards the twin goals of the monument and the land acquisition, is simply a matter of priorities, Ryherd said.

“There is $900 million in the capital budget, so it’s just a matter of where the committees decide our project ranks compared to things like prison construction and new buildings at the universities,” Ryherd said. “We’ll find out in about six weeks.”

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