Clallam mulls Striped Peak Road improvements

PORT ANGELES — A majority of property owners along Striped Peak Road favor a road improvement district to reconstruct a 2,180-foot gravel section with a paved road near Freshwater Bay.

Nearly 30 neighborhood residents attended a 90-minute public hearing Tuesday on the proposed taxing district, after which the three Clallam County commissioners said they would review the issue, possibly making a decision in an Aug. 2 work session.

Property owners have petitioned the county to reconstruct the private road from the end of county jurisdiction to Ocean Cove Lane.

The road, which is used by recreationalists, logging trucks and 49 property owners, would be paved with 2 inches of asphalt and widened to 24 feet.

A turnabout would be added at the end of the improved road to help emergency response vehicles turn around.

The newly paved segment would then become a county road.

Property owners pay

Property owners within the proposed taxing district would pay the estimated $664,500 cost over 15 years.

Each lot owner would pay the same amount under the current proposal.

Nine people spoke in favor of the proposal in Tuesday’s hearing. The proponents’ central argument concerned safety.

Four spoke out against it, citing disparities in the cost-benefits ratio and concerns over the lot-based assessment method.

One public speaker said more study is needed, and another said a survey to gauge public support, which was sent out a couple of years ago, was flawed.

A major sticking point in Tuesday’s discussion was the amount that each lot owners would pay.

“There are some great discrepancies,” Commissioner Mike Chapman said.

“There are properties that may only pay $5,000 (per year) under the area method, and they would be paying over $13,000 under the lot method,” he said.

“So that’s a big decision for me and I’m nowhere near prepared to make a decision on that.”

A stack of new written arguments, including state Supreme Court decisions, were added to the record Monday.

Commissioner Steve Tharinger noted the absence of a formal staff recommendation on what type of property assessment should be used.

Five-acre lots

Dave Bibler, the county engineer leading in the project, said the lot method is fair because the area is zoned for five-acre single lots.

The assessed value of the entire taxing district is $21 million, Bibler said.

Bibler said 34 of the 49 property owners favor the road improvement district.

According to a preliminary assessment, each property owner would pay $13,561.22 in the first year.

“I particularly would like to have our civil deputy prosecutor go over a couple of those issues that were raised,” Commissioner Mike Doherty said at the end of the hearing.

The state Department of Natural Resources owns a 65-acre lot off Striped Peak Road. It was used for logging operations.

Ross Tyler, Clallam County engineer, said the road department remains neutral on the proposal.

“It [the paved road] will increase the safety for people that are walking along the road,” Tyler said.

Tyler said studies have shown that traffic speed does not increase with road improvements, which was a concern raised by landowner Dave Ventura.

“A gravel road has an automatic speed limit to it,” Ventura said.

He questioned the fairness of the survey because he said he never received one.

Rusty LaFerney opened the hearing by saying the lot method of assessment is “fundamentally wrong” because it ignores the distribution of special benefits.

He cited three court cases dealing with special benefits in taxing districts.

LaFerney noted that the state Department of Natural Resources’ 65-acre parcel is the same size as 13 five-acre private parcels.

“I seriously doubt the Legislature intended for the DNR to be able to out-vote 13 homeowners who have five acres,” said LaFerney.

He and others urged the county to conduct a special benefit study.

Jim Pfaff, who has filled potholes and cleared brush along Striped Peak Road for years, said a paved road will make Striped Peak safer for motorists and pedestrians.

“I’m not in favor of gravel roads,” Pfaff said.

“It’s really a safety issue with us.”

Lynda Phillips read a letter from neighbors who were not able to attend the hearing, who described “pervasive summer dust and winter mud” on Striped Peak Road.

“I am personally in favor, 100 percent, of this RID [road improvement district] for safety issues,” Phillips added.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at rob.ollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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