Edmonds citizens, business owners, first responders and elected officials took to the City Council Chambers podium Tuesday night to explain their support or opposition regarding the city’s current plan to address emergency access to the waterfront.
All told, public testimony on the $30 million Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector Project, coupled with an in-depth staff presentation and councilmembers’ comments, took up about two hours of Tuesday night’s meeting.
The presentation included a Power Point with commentary by city staff and consultants aimed at addressing previously asked council and citizen questions about the project, which is aimed at providing emergency response when both the Main Street and Dayton Street at-grade rail crossings are blocked
City Public Works Director Phil Williams ran through a range of statistics highlighting how trains passing through Edmonds overall and train blockages in particular have impacted access between the waterfront and downtown Edmonds.
Among the statistics:
– There are an average of 37.5 railroad gate closures per day at both Main and Dayton Street, for a total of 80 minutes per day and 2:12 minutes per closure duration.
-There are about 50 emergency calls yearly to the waterfront, plus 50 emergency calls annually for firefighters accessing the marine rescue boat. Sixty-seven percent of those calls are for medical response.
-Nearly all of the fire units responding to medical calls on the waterfront come from Edmonds’ downtown fire station 17.
A representative from consultant Tetra Tech went through the process for developing the current project, which included a 14-month study by a task force of public officials and citizens that examined 51 different options to address the problem. The current waterfront connector concept was approved by the city council in 2017, and the city signed a contract with consultant Tetra Tech to begin developing a range of pre-design alternatives for it.
She also described the evolution of the design and reviewed the two concepts for a 16-foot wide, single-lane roadway linking Sunset Avenue at Edmonds Street to Brackett’s Landing Park — known as the Land Bridge and the Promenade.
And she addressed the reasons why those involved in the planning process decided that the Edmonds Street to Brackett’s Landing route was the best location for such a connector. She also went through why the group rejected, after much consideration, two other often-mentioned alternatives — an extension built further south, from Admiral Way or Pine Street — and a mid-block crossing allowing for emergency responders to use an elevator over the tracks (assuming an already positioned vehicle on the other side). Please note that this slide was not included a part of the regular Power Point so a photo of it included below. (Apologies for the poor quality.)
Following the presentation, it was time for councilmembers to weigh in, then the public had their say. Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis and Mike Nelson continued to voice their opposition to the idea, with Buckshnis reiterating her support for a less-costly satellite emergency service on the west side. (This option was also suggested by several citizens during the public hearing.) Buckshnis said she also worried about the environmental impacts of a concrete structure on the beach.
Public Works Director Williams replied that fire officials have no interest in placing a satellite facility west of the railroad tracks. During the public hearing, South County Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Jason Blachly reaffirmed South County Fire’s support for the Waterfront Connector as the best way to address emergency access during train blockages.
Addressing the cost issue, Councilmember Dave Teitzel reiterated that because the project would be mostly grant funded, it wouldn’t be possible to redirect the $30 million from the overpass to other worthwhile city projects, like building sidewalks.
Those speaking during the public hearing offered a range of opinions. Port of Edmonds Executive Director Bob McChesney and Port Commissioner Jim Orvis reiterated the impact that train blockages have on port tenants, marina boaters and visitors, and customers of the whale watching boats. A long-time employee of Arnie’s Restaurant told the council she worried about the safety of her customers when train delays occurred. Edmonds Senior Center Executive Director Farrell Fleming and Senior Center Board member Bob Rinehart talked about the risk that train blockages pose to their members.
Several citizens also offered testimony in opposition. Many were dismayed by the $30 million price tag, give the relatively small number of actual emergencies that have occurred on the waterfront. Some expressed concerns about the possible safety issues related to people attempting suicide from the overpass or setting up camps under the bridge. Still others were generally opposed to the city’s plan to mostly fund the project with federal grants, noting that taxpayer dollars are involved.
Several volunteers who maintain the Edmonds Underwater Dive Park also were in attendance, stating they worried that the parking lot that volunteers use would disappear during the eventual construction.
Following the public hearing, councilmembers weighed in one more time with closing thoughts.
Councilmember Nelson said that while he was concerned about public safety related to waterfront train blockages, he believes the city has other public safety needs it should address first, because they impact a greater number of citizens.
Councilmember Tom Mesaros compared the project to the fire insurance he’s had on his house, even though he’s never had a fire. “I think we are evaluating that risk,” he said. “It’s the risk that I, as one councilmember, am not prepared to bear.”
Councilmember Neil Tibbott said that if the council isn’t willing to accept grant funding for the overpass project, “we shouldn’t ask for Highway 99 (grant) funding as well.”
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson concluded that she would still like to see project costs reduced by using less expensive construction materials and changing the bridge design.
Mayor Dave Earling said the next step is for the project’s advisory task force to take another look at the proposal, and it’s possible that the group may make additional adjustments, possibly even combining elements of each into a new design.
Then the mayor is scheduled to make his final recommendation to the city council for their consideration in mid-October.
– Observed the oath of office/swearing in ceremony for long-time Edmonds Police Officer Earl m. Yamane, who was promoted to the rank of corporal.