By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Clallam County commissioners Tuesday postponed action on a resolution that would have rescinded the Striped Peak Road Improvement District, which was formed in 2010 to fund improvements to the narrow road near Freshwater Bay.
A subsequent lawsuit that challenged the validity of the formation of the junior taxing district was dismissed in April 2012.
After further analysis by the County Engineer Ross Tyler and Prosecuting Attorney William Payne, the three commissioners are now debating whether to scrap the idle project and start over.
“If you do away with it and we have to start it over, I don't think I'll live long enough to see that road done,” said Dale Barker, a Striped Peak Road property owner.
“I just would like you to know that we're really kind of disappointed in the county for not moving along to get this thing going.”
The $664,000 project, which was supported by a majority of affected property owners, would pave and widen a 0.41-mile stretch of the lower road to 24 feet.
Liability to county
Commissioner Mike Doherty, whose western district includes Striped Peak, said he was prepared Tuesday to rescind the road improvement district because of liability to the county and the prospect of starting fresh with a better proposal.
“So the risks are very high,” he said. “The costs are very high also.”
In the end, Doherty deferred to second-year Commissioner Jim McEntire's request for more time to study the issue.
“We discussed some things in executive session, and there are some questions about this item,” McEntire said.
“But there is a pretty strong sentiment that I've heard from the involved community that wants us not to rescind it. So I am not willing to vote either in favor or against this today.”
Payne recommended that the board move the item back into a closed-door executive session, perhaps June 23, for further review.
Commissioner Mike Chapman said he was prepared to vote Tuesday to keep the existing district, which he, Doherty and former county Commissioner Steve Tharinger voted unanimously to create in September 2010.
“I supported it four years ago, and I continue to support it,” Chapman said.
“People change their minds. I haven't.”
Barker and his neighbors have said Striped Peak Road is dangerous for motorists and pedestrians.
“If you guys do away with the RID [road improvement district], what the hell do the public have, what recourse do they have, to get some help to fix our road?” Barker asked during public testimony Tuesday.
“We just had another accident on that road on that corner. So it's in the same condition it was before, and it's not getting any better.”
Barker said about 70 percent of the property owners in the affected area support the road improvement district.
“Then one guy filed a lawsuit,” he said. “Bingo.”
In a complaint filed in Clallam County Superior Court by Fred and Ursula Ross in October 2010 — and cited in the resolution before commissioners — Port Angeles attorney Craig Miller argued that his clients would receive no special benefit from being part of the road improvement district.
Property owners within the district would pay $13,561 per parcel over 20 years to fund the road improvements.
Miller wrote in court papers that there was no documentation to support the county's assertion that the benefits of the road improvements would exceed their cost.
“More particularly, there is no testimony or documentation in the record to demonstrate that the plaintiffs' property receives any special benefit from the RID, while there is competent and sufficient evidence that no special benefits are conveyed to plaintiffs' property,” Miller wrote.
Clallam County Superior Court Judge George L. Wood signed an order dismissing the complaint in April 2012.
Doherty said the county would remain liable “in taking a rather substandard situation and trying to turn it into a standard county road.”
Doherty, who drives along Striped Peak Road at least once a month, said the road department is reluctant to take ownership of additional mileage because of a lack of maintenance funding.
“The basic facts are still in play about the turning, grade, the ballast, the narrowness of the road, some of the winter conditions,” Doherty said.
“There's still some serious questions about turning that rather substandard situation to try to meet a county road standard,” he added.
“It's very costly. And then at the end of the day, the way it would be proposed to be done, it still would be a liability to the county.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.