The road stabilization project for Rockaway Beach has proven to be a pathway for a contentious back-and-forth at city hall, and on the council’s dais.
The project to construct a revetment along Rockaway Beach Road was well underway when the city received a letter from a private property owner whose land is intertwined with the project. The fallout from the letter stalled the project, causing the city to change course and pursue an alternate design — one that could have been less effective.
Since then, however, the city has yet again changed course, back to its original plan.
Why all the back and forth?
The city had planned to construct a revetment, or bulkhead, along a slope which has been eroding into the road’s edge toward the shoreline.
But in an April 23 letter to Bainbridge Island City Attorney Will Patton, a lawyer representing Albert and Jola Greiner, the private property owners next to the project’s construction site, raised concerns over the couple’s liability if the improvement project went forward.
Dennis D. Reynolds, the Greiners’ attorney, asserted that a 1958 deed between the property and the city does not cover road improvements such as the revetment.
His letter stated that the “scope and scale” of the project was not within the “easement granted and cannot be undertaken on my client’s property while in their ownership without effectuating a conveyance.”
Citing previous case law, the letter said that a gift, purchase or condemnation of the land was required.
“If it is necessary for the city to encroach into the purported ‘easement area’ for construction/rehabilitation of the highway, I believe the property must be acquired by the public by one means or the other. My clients are willing to meet with the city to go over options,” Reynolds said in the letter.
The letter was not well-received by the council.
Without addressing the property owner by name, Councilman Bob Scales and Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos claimed during a council meeting in June that Greiner was putting the city in a difficult position.
“I think it is no small matter that the property owner we’re talking about lobbied this council individually, and as a body (to do this project),” Hytopoulos said. “I’m not interested in negotiating with somebody who put us in this position.”
“This is a project that would be better for the community were the revetment in,” she added.
Councilwoman Sarah Blossom also regretted the position the city was in, but was wary of entering the fray.
“I just want to make sure we are making the best decision for the community and not getting ourselves involved in a pissing match,” Blossom said.
Scales then followed, echoing Hytopoulos’ disappointment.
“I think we did have a plan that was in the best interest of the community that we all approved. The problem is that we were sandbagged,” Scales said.
“And these issues, if they were issues, could have been raised very early in the process and we could have dealt with them, and unfortunately they weren’t raised until after we had committed to the project,” he said.
“I don’t think anybody is happy with where we are, but to now negotiate with this property owner who sandbagged us, which would delay it even more and cost us who knows how much, is not in the best interest of the community,” Scales said.
Despite the assurance from Public Works Director Lance Newkirk, who said the city planned the project while operating well within its rights, Blossom maintained that the city could have prevented the dilemma.
“Could this not have been anticipated and dealt with months ago so that we didn’t run into this time problem?” Blossom asked. “I agree with Bob that the issue was raised late by the property owner, but there was nothing that prevented the city from raising the issue ahead of time.”
Newkirk offered an alternate plan that the council adopted.
Instead of constructing a revetment along the slope, the city planned to place an underground wall at the edge of the road. The wall would then keep the ground stable and slow the erosion of the slope.
While the previous bulkhead project would offer security to the area for approximately 50 years, the new plan that the city is considering will last an estimated 20 years, according to Newkirk.
Greiner later responded to the council via property rights activist Gary Tripp’s email broadcast.
According to Greiner, he had previously brought up the matter with Newkirk in 2010. But that wasn’t all.
“I also clearly told him that if any award for granting an easement or right-of-way was made to me, I would donate those funds to the city for future mitigation of this repair work,” Greiner wrote. “That offer still stands.”
In his letter, Greiner further claimed that the liability relating to what the city places on his property is his primary concern.
“Money is not the issue here,” Greiner wrote. “Except so far as I desire to protect the city from unnecessarily spending thousands more planning this project.”
The standoff stood there until the council’s final meeting on June 27.
Reynolds, representing the Greiners, spoke to the council during the public comment portion of the meeting. He said it was the only way he could talk with the city as all his previous attempts had been ignored.
“Our client has always offered to deed whatever form of easement or right-of-way without compensation,” Reynolds said. “The letter has never been answered. I’ve never gotten a call.”
Reynolds said that he doesn’t understand how the whole situation was blown out of proportion, but he wanted the council to know they were still available to talk.
“We are willing to meet with the city,” he said. “We are all better than this.”
In response, the city smoothed things out with the Greiners. And with the two parties back on the same page, the council revisited the Rockaway Beach plan.
By unanimous vote, the council switched back to its original revetment plan.