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Fur Flies When Council Oks New Public Works Project

Controversy surrounds budget issue

The stress of trying to fix anticipated budget shortfalls may be starting to get White Salmon city officials and members of the City Council.

Last week, the White Salmon City Council was asked to decide whether to spend more than $23,000 to pay for a stormwater drain to solve an ongoing erosion problem.

Cascading rain water has been creating problems as it comes down the hillside in the area of NW Achor Street and Academy.

"Gravel washes down onto the roadway and creates a marble effect. Cars have slid there," reported Wil Keyser, the city's director of the Public Works Department. "We promised these people we would look into this."

In September, several neighborhood residents came to a meeting of the White Salmon City Council to ask for help from the city in solving the problem.

Debbie Olson, who lives on Achor Street, reported water coming down Achor and taking mud and gravel onto Academy Street.

Keyser inspected the area in September and reported that "the velocity of the water is causing the damage."

"There are no stormwater drains in that area that the runoff can be diverted to," Keyser said then.

Tom Smith, operations foreman for the Public Works Department, said the problem is a serious one.

"It builds up steam as it crosses the road, and creates a heck of a ditch right by Dr. Matheson's office," Smith reported. "Debris runs out on Main Street near a crosswalk there used by kids. It creates a mess."

At last week's meeting, Keyser pointed out that Cascade Equipment & Construction, Inc., a Carson business, has been working in White Salmon on extending a water line along Michigan Street.

"It will save mobilization costs by going with a company on the city's small works roster," Keyser said. "It is an emergency due to property damage and public safety. It's unsafe for children who walk to school, and it's a continuous problem because it clogs drains on Main Street as it comes down the west side of the road."

Keyser pointed out that because the contractor was already in the area, the company could handle the project without needing to haul equipment to the site. He estimated the city would save approximately 12 percent of the normal cost for that reason.

Keyser presented the contractor's estimate of costs to fix the erosion problem on the streets in question.

Cascade Equipment's proposal called for a total of $23,174.85 to install pipe and a catch basin to halt the damage from runoff.

However, because of the costs involved, council member Richard Marx suggested that the project be deferred and other options explored.

"I don't think we need this," Marx said. "In the middle of a budget crisis, it seems strange we approve a $23,000 project. I didn't see this as an emergency. It seems excessive."

Keyser responded that he was not advocating the project one way or the other.

"It makes me no difference," Keyser said. "I'm responding to the request to address the concern. We promised these people we would look into the problem."

When the vote was taken, it was 4-1 to OK the stormwater project. Marx cast the lone vote in opposition.

"I hope a pebble doesn't wash out in that street after this," Marx said.

Penny White Morris took exception to Marx's comment.

"All of these issues are our responsibility. By not taking care of this, we may have to pay double or triple amount in damage if there is a problem," Morris said.

"We can't take care of every single problem that comes along," Marx said.

"That is our responsibility as council members," Morris responded.

"This costs a great deal, and I did not see any other options presented," Marx explained.

Keyser admonished Marx for his comments.

"There is something called trust, and Ricky you need to learn to trust, trust the staff," said Keyser.

"Trust is built," snapped Marx.

Council member Susan Benedict said she supported the drain and pipeline because she has seen the stones washed into the street.

"I have an issue with it because of the kids. It's close to where kids are walking," Benedict said.

"There are substantial savings in doing it this way," said council member Susan Gookin. "It's below the engineer's estimate."

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