Transit, city buy Unocal property

Traffic, bike/ped circulation will be improved around the ferry terminal.

A wobbly chain-link fence rings a pock-marked lot crowned with a “No Trespassing” sign.

There are probably better ways to welcome visitors to the island than the empty Unocal lot at the intersection of Winslow Way and highway 305.

But a warmer greeting is in the works now that the city and Kitsap Transit are poised to buy the one-acre property.

“This is major,” said Councilman Bill Knobloch. “You come off the ferry and what do you see? A wire fence and an empty lot. That’s not much of a welcome to our community.”

The Bainbridge City Council on Wednesday authorized Mayor Darlene Kordonowy to negotiate the joint purchase of the $100,000 property from Union Oil Company of California.

Both the city and Kitsap Transit plan aesthetic and traffic upgrades for the intersection’s southwest corner, Kornonowy said, but no plans are set in stone.

“Right now, we just wanted to make sure it’s in public hands,” she said. “We know we want to improve access and have a landscape that is more welcoming.”

Unocal operated a Union 76 gas station on the site until increasing traffic made access nearly impossible during peak ferry runs. After shutting down in 1989, Unocal removed 6,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and replaced it with clean fill, but the job was never completed.

Developing the site would require cleaning up the remaining petroleum byproducts buried deeper than Unocal was willing to dig.

The city has eyed the property for over 15 years, envisioning a variety of upgrades, including decorative railings, brickwork, archways, landscaping, park benches and informational signs.

Kitsap Transit would like to incorporate the property into traffic improvement plans and possible bus lanes.

“We wanted to make sure we got control of it,” said Kitsap Transit director Richard Hayes. “Between us and the city, we should be ready soon for a number of evolutions.”

In the short-term, the city plans to widen Olympic Drive’s connection to the highway and Winslow Way. City engineers also plan to improve pedestrian and bicycle access.

Later, as Washington State Ferries launches its ambitious terminal and loading area redesign, Kitsap Transit may build elevated bus lanes, similar to Bremerton’s ferry terminal and transit center, Hayes said.

The lanes could begin at the Unocal site and swing up to the future ferry loading platform.

“We’re looking 10 or 20 years out,” he said. “It could be a huge project.”

A prime piece of real estate for condos or parking lots, fish biologist Wayne Daley is pleased some of the lot could remain open space.

“If it’s used in combination with a park, it will be far less invasive than a permanent hard surface,” he said, adding that an additional impermeable covering near Winslow Ravine Creek would increase runoff into salmon habitat.

“The creek is already severely contaminated by stormwater runoff but a nice population of cutthroat is trying hard to come back into there.”

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