By JESSE BURKHARDT
Whether or not to pave a 1.7-mile portion of Oak Ridge Road in Husum -- for approximately $1.4 million -- continues to be a hot issue in the community.
On the evening of Dec. 7, about 50 people came to a meeting of the Husum-BZ Corner Community Council to hear more of the debate.
Jake Anderson, chair of the Community Council, said those in attendance at the Husum Fire Hall were pretty evenly split on the proposed paving.
"There were people who spoke in favor, and people who spoke not in favor," said Anderson. "It seemed to be split right down the middle."
The county is considering whether to fund the paving of the rural road from MP 0.44 to MP 2.19. Currently, that stretch of Oak Ridge is a gravel road.
"It was a really big crowd -- the biggest I've seen since I've been on the council over the last two years," Anderson explained. "This is one of those hot button issues. The $1.4 million (to pave the road) is a lot of money."
Don Struck, a former Klickitat County Commissioner who owns property poised for possible development along Oak Ridge Road, was on hand to make a presentation to the council.
Struck said he thought the meeting was valuable and was glad to have the opportunity to clarify the facts of the case.
"There were a lot of preconceived notions," Struck said. "Everyone asked good questions. The factual information is a lot different than what people have been hearing. The facts speak for themselves."
"Don talked about his personal plans for land he owns up on Oak Ridge," Anderson said. "It was really nice of Don to come and talk about his plans as a developer. He came very well prepared, and he came right out and said he'd love to have Oak Ridge paved. But he doesn't have any power with the county any more."
Struck said he owns roughly 500 acres that is accessed via Oak Ridge Road.
"I freely admit I'd love to see the road paved," he said. "I've owned land up there for many years, and I'd love to see it paved for that. That's just business."
Although some of the concerns about paving appear to be related to fears of over-development, Struck pointed out that those fears were overblown.
"There are three new houses on the land, and I plan to do three more lots," he said. "I think there is a concern there could be 200-300 homes on the land, but the zoning is structured to minimize housing. From now until 2020, we could do a maximum of 15 parcels."
Struck pointed out that almost everyone located along Oak Ridge Road wants to see the road paved. He explained that the owners of five parcels along Oak Ridge oppose the paving, while the owners of 41 other parcels support it.
One of the paving backers was Carol Stockwell, co-owner of the Husum Highlands Bed & Breakfast. She explained in a letter to The Enterprise that the current road is often dusty and not as safe as driving on a paved road.
"The reason drivers hug the center is that the loose gravel on the edges of the road causes them to slide and lose control once their car's wheels are driven into a patch of gravel," she explained.
Struck added that Oak Ridge Road has long been on a priority list of roads deemed unsafe or in need of attention.
"People who know all the roads are the people you want to talk to -- EMS folks, mail carriers, the school bus drivers," he said.
According to Anderson, some Oak Ridge Road residents have been requesting that the road be paved since 1997.
"That's how it continually got moved up the six-year road program priority list," he explained.
One man who attended the Community Council's meeting said he believed the county should focus on more important priorities.
"I'm not a real happy camper about what I'm hearing," said county resident Bill Morris. "The Husum Fire Department can't communicate with anybody, but the county is about to spend a million plus to pave Oak Ridge Road. We're in penny-pinching mode, and I don't want the fire chief's complaints to fall on deaf ears."
Anderson pointed out, however, that the Community Council has already prioritized a request to the Klickitat County Economic Development Authority (EDA) for about $13,000 to pay for new, upgraded radios for the Husum Fire Department. That request is expected to be granted by the EDA board.
The Klickitat County Board of Commissioners will soon make the final call on whether Oak Ridge Road will be paved in 2011.
"The whole six-year road program is intimately tied up in the budget process," explained County Commissioner David Sauter. "We've made a commitment to be done with the budget before Christmas, but it's going to be a heated discussion on priorities."
Sauter said deciding which roads the county could afford to pave would not be an easy one.
"It's a hot topic. How do we prioritize what to spend scarce dollars on?" he said.
"We're still looking at a decision to approve the six-year road program, but we're not sure what will be in it yet," added County Commissioner Rex Johnston.
Anderson pointed out that the Husum-BZ Corner Community Council itself is not going to take a position regarding whether Oak Ridge Road should be paved or not.
"It is the stand of the council to not take positions, except on zoning and EDA projects," Anderson explained.
Struck was philosophical about the county's upcoming decision.
"Ultimately, the County Commissioners decide on which roads get funds," Struck said. "We made our case. It's up to them."