Some trying to scuttle Winslow Way grants

Efforts target $6 million in state, federal grants for downtown project.

If you could pick the current most divisive issue in the community, it would have to be the Winslow Way reconstruction.

While opposition to the Winslow Way project and its numerous incarnations has always been robust, a new tactic is being used by opponents to try and scrap the project.

Several Bainbridge citizens have been active in trying to undermine grants the city has received for the project.

Sources indicate that some council members may also be working behind the scenes to subvert council actions related to grants and grant allocations.

“It’s very disappointing to see people work this hard to scuttle a long planning process that they didn’t like,” said council chair Kjell Stoknes. “It’s what I consider to be a way of subverting a democratic process.”

At stake are two large grants the city has received for Winslow Way: the state’s Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) grant for $3.5 million, and a federal grant administered by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) and the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council (KRCC) for $2.5 million.

The PSRC/KRCC federal grant was originally three grants meant to fund repairs on Winslow Way, Wing Point Way and Wyatt Way.

By way of a 4-3 council vote, the city moved to allocate all federal funding towards the Winslow Way project.

That reallocation was approved by KRCC; PSRC will vote to approve the re-allocation on Feb. 26.

Members of the community, most notably Rod Stevens, has questioned the ethics involved in the reallocation.

Stevens’ inquiries to regional agencies revealed that restructuring of the grant included a back-fill clause requiring the city to complete the Wing Point Way project by 2010 – something the city cannot afford to do.

In a letter to PSRC programming manager Larry Burris, Stevens’ opined that the backfill requirement was not made known to city councillors, that the Wing Point project was not planned to begin construction until 2010, and that the narrow council support for the Winslow Way project should disqualify the city’s eligibility for the $2.5 million grant.

“Two of the supporting council members are up for reelection this fall, if they choose to run... the political support is tenuous at best,” Stevens said in his letter.

The allegations caused Burris to question interim Public Works Director Bob Earl about the status of the Wing Point repair project.

A letter from Mayor Darlene Kordonowy dated Feb. 4, assured PSRC that the city was working on the Wing Point project, with completion scheduled for 2011.

Burris said it is not uncommon for municipalities to draw-out their backfill requirements, and that the grant would only be removed if the Bainbridge City Council voted to return the money.

There is evidence that some council members may be working against the $2.5 million federal grant as well.

Mary McClure, executive manager at KRCC, said there was a schism among the council, but would not comment on the motivations of those opposed to the grants, or any individuals involved.

She said that ongoing battles put KRCC in an awkward situation.

“This is the only time when the regional council has been caught in the middle of a dispute among members of one jurisdiction,” she said. “It makes it hard for the PSRC to rely on us for consistency when it comes to grants.”

Other council members have remained tight-lipped about who may be behind petitioning for the removal of grants.

Having the $2.5 million federal grant retracted could jeopardize the entire Winslow Way project.

“Turning back $6 million, our credibility would be hugely restricted,” council member Chris Snow said. “It would be at least five years out before we get close to re-doing Winslow Way, maybe 10. By then the costs would have been raised and grant money from state and federal governments would be gone.”

Another letter, written by accountant and city-critic Daniel Smith to the state TIB, requested the cancellation of the $3.5 million grant. He stated that the city would be unable to pay for unexpected cost increases, and that the project’s strongest advocate, Mayor Kordonowy, may not be in office by next year.

When asked what would happen to the Winslow Way project if the $3.5 million grant was removed by the state, Smith said it “would probably kibosh the project.”

“I think all of these grants are tied into the city’s financial condition,” Smith said. “The big picture is, you can fill a lot of potholes for $3.5 million and in our dire straits, we can certainly do with Winslow as it is now.”

The active role citizens are taking to question millions in grants, approved by the city council, raises questions about who is speaking for the citizens of Bainbridge Island.

“I think under the circumstances, the citizens standing up like this are helping a council minority,” council member Bill Knobloch said. “We’ve identified the issues and the council majority choose to ignore the issues. For the citizens to stand up certainly makes the issue a public statement that is necessary for state agencies to understand. This government can’t support these large complex projects.”

Kitsap County Commissioner, Josh Brown, a member of both the KRCC and the Transportation Policy Advisory Board on PSRC, said action by citizens would not likely affect the distribution of grants.

“Some folks are concerned about money going to this project, but it’s really the determination of the City Council,” he said. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for the mayor of Bremerton or even residents of Bainbridge Island to make decisions on city grants.”

“As a council of governance, we respect the autonomy of jurisdictions. So whether its 7-0 or 4-3 vote, it’s the recommendation that gets forwarded, it’s the will of the City Council.”

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