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Bainbridge Council approves budget plan for Winslow Way construction project and 90 percent design for Strawberry Plant Park

The city moved a step closer this week to finally embarking on two of its most ambitious and controversial projects – fixing Winslow Way’s deteriorating underground utilities and restoring the shoreline at Strawberry Plant Park.

During a two-hour workshop meeting Wednesday, the City Council approved a $5.8 million budget plan for Winslow Way reconstruction. And later, during a business meeting, it unanimously approved a 90 percent design plan for the park’s shoreline restoration project.

Council members were offered four alternatives for Winslow Way by project manager Chris Wierzbicki and approved option B by a 5-0 vote (Bill Knobloch and Kim Brackett abstaining). The approved alternative, which calls for a six-to-seven month project timeline, would include several funding sources, but notably absent are any general or sewer utility funds.

The proposed plan would include replacement of utility infrastructure, sidewalks, newly paved streets, street trees, lighting and parking, and ADA pedestrian improvements. The other three alternatives presented to the council had many similar options, but differed in cost (from $5.3 million to $6.4 million), the size of the state and federal grants, and the source of the funding for the sewer utility work.

The preferred alternative includes: a federal grant totaling $2,539,203; a $1.5 million state grant; $1 million local improvement district (LID), with a city bond that Winslow Way property owners would repay; $750,000 from the water utility; and $30,000 from the stormwater utility. The plan includes $322,000 in contingency funds.

City officials admit they are struggling just to pay its bills these days and there’s little to no general funds to commit to capital projects; and it hasn’t been able to purchase bonds for sewer-related projects because of the ongoing Ratepayers Alliance lawsuit.

Originally, the LID money was going to pay for placing the powerlines underground, but that’s been removed from the accepted plan, which has nearly half of the LID funds being spent on sewer construction.

When Brackett asked if the property owners were willing to help pay for the sewer and give up the powerlines underground, Wierzbicki said: “I didn’t get a cold, hard no, but we need to find that out.”

The state grant money would include about $800,000 in funds originally pledged to the Wing Point Way reconstruction project, but then transferred to the Winslow Way project last year by the council. When the Winslow Way project was put on hold late last year because of a funding shortfall, the original Wing Point grant wasn’t returned. And now, it appears, it will be retained for the Winslow Way project.

Council members indicated they weren’t sure how the city would fund the Wing Point project in the future, but Mayor Bob Scales said he liked Wierzbicki’s suggestion to “take some of the (Winslow Way) contingency money (if unused) and put it in an account (for Wing Point). The only way we’re going to be able to do any projects over the next 10 years is to save money for them,” Wierzbicki said.

In explaining why he preferred option B, Scales said: “The city has two funds that are vulnerable, the general and sewer funds. B is the only one that doesn’t deal with either. I first thought that Wing Point funding should be returned so then we would be eligible to reapply for more funds for that project. But if we retain those funds, in two or three years maybe we can build up enough savings to do that road (Wing Point). So B fits the bill for me.”

Knobloch and Brackett voiced several concerns, primarily the need to have more emergency funding in case there are complications involving underground contamination or problems replacing infrastructure. The question of how much the city would be responsible for if the project “disturbs” an area with hydrocarbon pollution worried both of them.

“I think the foundation of this project is too risky,” Brackett said. “I want to be sure at the end of the day about who will write the check for a cost overrun because we don’t have money in our general fund to cover the worst-case scenario. And from what I understand, the feds won’t pay anything underground, for the utilities.”

Brackett also didn’t think the amount of funds set aside for emergencies was sufficient.

Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer, who, before joining the city on June 2, was director of the City of Seattle’s Fleets & Facilities Department, said she considered it a project that had to be done, and done quickly.

“People open up the street and fix pipes all the time,” she said. “If you open it up, you will be obligated to clean up what’s been disturbed. But we need to do it now. The issues won’t go away. The design firm is excellent and the construction manager is top of the line, and those kinds of things mitigate the risk. It’s a fairly simple construction project and I think the contingencies will handle the problems.”

Bauer’s statement seemed to turn the discussion more toward resolution.

“She’s done this in other contaminated areas and that’s been her job,” said Councilor Kirsten Hytopoulos. “I have no reason to doubt her statement, and that’s what I needed to hear. I will rely on her estimations.”

Scales called for a motion about 15 minutes later and it quickly passed.

The next steps toward having a final Winslow Way design sent out for bid in September would include: extension of the design contract and budget adjustment to be determined by staff and presented to council for decision; revision of the LID documentation for property owner approval, followed by a public hearing; and then the council securing the project’s funding sources.

If all goes as planned, the project would begin in April 2011 with the core part of it – from State Route 305 to Madison Avenue – being completed in June. Utility connections between Madison and Bjune Drive would occur in July and August, followed by similar work from 305 to Ericksen in September and October.

Possible lawsuit

The council members had indicated a week ago that they favored the Strawberry Plant Park design phase and voted 7-0 in approval after about 45 minutes of audience testimony and council discussion.

Construction could begin as early as August if the project stays on its projected timeline.

Jerry Elfendahl, who has led the opposition to the park, indicated there may be legal action taken by the Friends of Cannery Cove.

“We had a meeting and the group approved a resolution to establish a fund to support and seek legal action to stop the city plan,” he said Thursday.

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