Snow-covered flowers sit on the edge of the eastern Eighth Street Bridge in Port Angeles on Wednesday. The state House and Senate draft transportation budgets include funding to help build suicide barriers on both of the bridges. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Snow-covered flowers sit on the edge of the eastern Eighth Street Bridge in Port Angeles on Wednesday. The state House and Senate draft transportation budgets include funding to help build suicide barriers on both of the bridges. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Lawmakers seek funding for Port Angeles suicide barriers

PORT ANGELES — State lawmakers are fighting to find $350,000 in state funding to help the city build higher fencing along the Eighth Street Bridges.

It’s not a done deal, but the funding is included in the House draft Transportation Supplemental Budget and could be included in the final budget following House and Senate negotiations, officials said Wednesday.

Mayor Sissi Bruch said the $350,000 in state funding would be crucial in the city’s effort to build the suicide barriers and that she is optimistic the funding will be approved.

“We really need the help to be able to afford this,” she said.

City Engineer Teresa Reed-Jennings said the design for the fencing, which features curved sections representing the Olympic Mountains, is nearly finished.

The fencing would be higher than the 4-foot, 6-inch railings the bridges now have.

The project is anticipated to go out for bid in March and would be constructed this spring and summer.

The city has moved swiftly on plans to build the suicide barriers following the death of 15-year-old Ashley Wishart, who jumped from the eastern bridge in November.

She was the the seventh person to jump from one of the two, 100-foot tall Eighth Street bridges since they opened in February, 2009, and the third person since June 4, 2017.

The city considered funding suicide prevention barriers in 2014, but it was determined at the time to be too expensive.

Wishart’s death sparked protests calling on the city to add fencing. Flowers still remain on the bridge she jumped from three months ago.

The fencing is just one of 11 projects that would be funded in the House budget, said state Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles.

“It’s important for me that we make our community safer and we send a message that we take this issue seriously,” Chapman said. “I am honored to be working with the city.”

Chapman said there is still plenty of work to be done, adding he also is looking for more funding to help Peninsula Behavioral Health.

State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege said Wednesday evening the funding was not included in Senate’s transportation budget, but that he hopes to see it in the final budget.

He said the Senate transportation budget includes safety turn lanes on U.S. Highway 101 near the Hoh River, while the House budget includes funding for the suicide barriers.

“Neither of those are a real high-cost item, so we’re working hard on trying to get everything into the final budget, which I think we might have a chance at doing,” he said.

It’s money that is critical to the city’s efforts. City officials said last month the city would need $350,000 — exactly what is proposed in the House transportation budget — to complete the project.

The city has pledged $442,000 in real estate excise taxes, $434,000 in general funds and $50,000 deferred from capital projects for the fencing.

An additional $124,370.11 in donations, including a $100,000 pledge from an anonymous family, has boosted the total dedicated to the project $1,050,000 — and left $350,000 more to be raised.

City Councilwoman Cherrie Kidd pleaded with the Clallam County Board of County Commissioners in January, requesting some funding for the project, but county officials said they don’t know where that funding would come from.

City Manager Dan McKeen said the city is thankful for efforts in finding state funding by Chapman, Van De Wege and state Rep. Steve Tharinger’s, D-Sequim. The three represent Legislative District 24, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.

“Without their assistance and the state’s contribution, it would be difficult for the city to move forward on this project,” McKeen said.

“Our local representatives — and especially Rep. Chapman — have been extremely dedicated in helping us see this funding request through the state budget process.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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