July 23, 2022 Letter to PUD Commission
July 23, 2022
Dear PUD Commissioners,
Instead of undergrounding the powerline as originally planned for this year, PUD Manager Streett is now proposing to drastically "trim" the poplars near the powerline.
Let’s review what has transpired over the past year to illustrate the issues with this entire ill-conceived project and frankly, deceptive process.
Last year the PUD and Port declared the proximity of this back-up powerline to the poplars a safety hazard, and an imminent danger. The PUD also claimed the powerline could not be undergrounded without killing the trees, although PUD Manager Kevin Streett operated the backhoe that installed the distribution line in 2018…in some places…mere feet from the base of healthy poplars with no long term ill effect. This claim played into the Port’s desire to expand the boatyard to its property line, cutting this community’s heritage trees in the process. We have yet to see ANY boatyard lay-out plans.
In truth, as Kevin Streett declared to the PUD Commission on 2-15-22, there is no need to remove the poplars to underground the overhead powerlines. This revelation came after we posted and distributed photos of the 2018 work done in basically the same proximity to the trees, and by the vaults only 4’ from the base of a tree that was not harmed.
In addition, come to find out, the Port has serious operational equipment constraints due to the proximity of this line to the boatyard, and will benefit from its removal. In fact, the Port hit the powerline with a sailboat mast. The Port asserts it dodged what could easily have been a fatal accident, and has a consultant's report detailing the Port's violation of a national electrical safety code.
Yet despite these serious safety and liability issues, the PUD and Port have taken NO ACTION to underground these lines.
Incredulously, the City’s project website STILL claims the impetus for this entire project is the proximity of the poplars to the powerlines!! Again, let’s review the facts: 1) the trees do not need to be cut down to underground the powerlines, and 2) the powerline is a significant constraint and safety hazard to current Port operations, or vice versa.
One of the sole responsibilities of the PUD is to provide power to this community, and safely. Based on the lack of action to address this serious safety issue, our confidence in the PUD is shaken in this particular matter.
For this and a plethora of other reasons including a significant level of misinformation, many members of this community question the necessity of this project in its entirety. We obtained an email John Mauro wrote to Berg and Streett in December 2021, claiming that a majority of this community is very vocal about removing these trees, yet Mauro cannot produce any document, per our public records request, documenting this overwhelming community support.
On the contrary, based on the documents we have obtained from these three public agencies, the most vocal and few members of the community have been some members of the Admiralty Audubon Society, and other native plant enthusiasts like Forest Shomer. It is these special interests that are driving this project through the Parks Board and now, the hand-picked “Stakeholder” committee; a committee formed with a majority of members on record to cut the trees down and anticipated to rubber-stamp whatever the Port, City and PUD approve.
Contrary to what Mr. Berg and Mr. Mauro have claimed, there was no “open” selection process for this committee. We were not invited nor was there an open community process when it was formed. Late in the process in June, we were blind copied on what appeared to be an invitation to serve on this committee. Ironically, our prior email to Steve King asking for clarification for the stated purpose of the committee, which was to advise on “technical matters,” went unanswered. He told us to attend the meeting to find out! We are happy to share this email.
As we have communicated with you directly, we are not interested in participating in a sham process to lend any credibility to what can only be described as a deceptive, mismanaged and embarrassing project and process.
We believe that these are the appropriate next steps:
1. The PUD needs to underground the high voltage lines NOW to meet its obligations to the public and do so without removing this community’s street trees;
2. The PUD should desist from severe trimming of these Gateway street trees;
3. The PUD should present the Port and community its schedule for the undergrounding of these high voltage powerlines that are a current hazard to the trees and Port operations;
4. The Port has neglected its duty to this community and should present boatyard lay-out options so the community has alternatives to review and select;
5. As appropriate, the driver for this entire project is a boatyard expansion and a planning process should focus on the boatyard, NOT an alteration to the Gateway poplar street trees.
It should be noted that of 7-12-22, when we met with Eron Berg and Matt Klontz, they had yet to come up with publicly available boatyard design options, and didn’t even have a property survey. We did. After our meeting we shared this publicly available survey with the Port. Incredible. In over a year there is no boatyard plan and no record of the Port property lines. This, in addition to the lax plan to address these documented safety issues, should be concerning to the PUD as it is most certainly to us.
We would appreciate the courtesy of a reply.
Gateway Poplar Alliance
Bc: 53 Gateway Poplar Alliance members
January 24, 2022 Letter to City Council
(no response from Council as of 7/23/22)
City Council Members and Manager:
INTRODUCTION AND EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The City’s Sims Way and Boat Yard Expansion Project is what brings us as citizens before the Port Townsend City Council and its City Manager, John Mauro. The project is proposed for the district of the Port Townsend Gateway known as the Flats. The project proposal is to remove the poplars and madrones along the Kah Tai Nature Park and Port of Port Townsend rights of way--a major alteration to the Gateway landscape view and functions.
This introduction is of necessity a rather long summary of our understanding of this project. Anyone who has arrived in Port Townsend since 1995 will find a detailed history of the evolution of Lower Sims Way in our up to date “Review and Analysis of the Sims Way and Boat Yard Expansion Project Proposal” attached and available at the website: Gateway Poplar Alliance.
Immediately below is a reprise of our intentions, what we think needs to be done, what we believe has transpired so far and the failure clearly to organize the project, consider its complexity and impacts, and account for its possible detriments. These flaws will inevitably need to be addressed at public expense in the future.
Additionally, we have reconsidered our earlier representations to John Mauro (Mauro) and the city council at Mauro’s request. We share here what we think are the most pertinent parts of Mauro’s 1-20-22 observations of our efforts to date:
Hi Andrea, Julie
I’ve been confused and disappointed by some of the unnecessary accusations and misinformation that I’ve been hearing and reading from you since I last suggested that we connect directly and talk through some of your concerns around the Sims Gateway project. I think you may be confusing or misinterpreting some of the information and events. I fear that this may be fueling your frustrations and an assumption of malintent on the City’s (or my) part. . . . I’m sure we haven’t gotten it perfectly, but we are trying hard. I’d like to clear the air so we can stay focused on progress.
For those reasons, I’m again making the offer for me or a staff member of mine to meet with you in good faith to learn what your intent is, to share what we currently know about the project and to aim for a more productive and collaborative space. I believe your current approach – . . . may simply lead to more frustration on your end and may prevent us from ever discovering solutions that we might all generally support. I understand that you care considerably about our community, the Gateway and the poplars. There’s lots of energy there and it’s great common ground to start with. It’s my hope we can channel that productively and work better together.
Please let me know if you’re up for a brief call or visit. Meanwhile, and if you still choose not to engage directly with me or the City team, for the sake of upholding and modeling respectful and productive civic dialogue, I request and would appreciate your commitment to positive intent and honesty in your communications.
Mr. Mauro and Council: we believe we have been above board and honest in all our communications. We have diligently and with great effort worked to present the facts established in the public record, a record we have cited repeatedly. Neither Mr. Mauro nor any council member has communicated directly with us with responses that indicate we have been heard and understood, nor have we been presented in any forum with specific citations of our errors. In fact, we believe we have modeled how concerned citizens petition their government with a statement of their grievances that is respectful and worthy of respectful response. And might we add that in fact we are the only parties at the “table” who are not compensated for doing so. This is the “price” of citizenship.
Mr. Mauro and Council: we sincerely await a substantive and considered response to this communication and the requests embodied in these presentations. And we expect the same from the PUD and the Port in our relations with them.
The issues carefully delineated in these materials make clear what our intent has always been. We understand that anyone who reads what follows carefully might disagree with us, but it’s unlikely that readers will find us misinformed or confused. We have worked hard to keep our more personal responses, ad hominem reactions, from interfering with our communications with any of you. Of course, we would regret it if any of our responses undermined the possibility of a rational, careful consideration of how this project should proceed to the benefit of the community at large.
We believe this project is currently seriously off track and fails to serve the public health, welfare and safety. It’s more important for us that the community at large be engaged--not just us-- in a genuine planning process that allows for the reconciliation of the competing interests that are well considered and coordinated.
Why are we making this presentation?
The destruction of the planned, established “Gateway” to Port Townsend, claimed to be “economic development,” is based on a mix of false and misleading premises that will cause irreparable harm to the larger community. The community has neither been informed of the most basic facts on the ground nor the history and planning that has taken place for nearly 100 years.
The lack of agency diligence and disrespect for engaged citizens is causing further irreparable harm to trust in local government.
All we have asked for, for the benefit of the community, from the beginning, was an open and honest process. The way to comprehensively address the complexity of the various public agency goals is to engage in a formal planning process.
The community needs:
● A public review and involvement process that is inclusive, transparent, and honest;
● A public retraction and correction of the misleading information perpetuated to date;
● A review of the initial plan and goals for accuracy and intent;
● An honest review of actual policies, inventories, safety needs, priorities, and long term plans;
● A complete scope of the project;
● A unified and complete budget for the entire project(s) so that the community can see the overall budget relative to scope, and which agency is paying for which component;
● At least 4 street section concept views; two with poplars and madrones intact;
● At least 4 boatyard lay-out alternatives; two showing retention of the poplars;
● Aesthetics consistent with The Formula Store Ord., Gateway Development Plan, Urban Forestry policies, etc.
● A community group, self-selected, to work out long range plans for ROW landscapes.
Balance needs to be restored where residents and community members have both accurate information, and an opportunity to participate. Neither has been provided.
The City, the PUD and the Port intend to cut down these iconic, planned and culturally significant trees, an idea fostered by a few staff people, with a significant amount of misinformation, and with no substantive public involvement.
We have a history in Port Townsend:
1930s The Chamber of Commerce planted the poplars.
1963 The Army Corp of Engineers disposed of 231,000 yards of dredged sand into Kah Tai Lagoon. Within a week the salty fill killed the stately poplars.
1973 500 trees were planted including poplars
1976 Kah Tai Lagoon began to regenerate with varieties of grasses, trees, and shrubs and the poplars were replanted.
1988 The Port Townsend City Council adopted the Port Townsend Gateway Concept plan after extensive and model community involvement
1993 The City adopted the Gateway Development Plan, which recommends retaining and caring for the poplars.
The Port Townsend Gateway Development Plan was adopted August 3, 1993 and identified the “Flats”: the Gateway corridor District, and the subject section of Sims Way--located between Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park and the Port Townsend boatyard-- a commercial district whose views are defined by the existing rows of poplar trees.
The Gateway Development Plan recommends retention of these trees.
The Flats Streetscape Recommendation: “The linear corridor quality of the poplar trees can be retained, while enhancing views of the shipyards and Historic buildings. Removal of "sucker" growth of the large poplars, and selective removal of the small, individual seedlings would open up views to the lagoon and the boatyard. New poplars, spaced 20-25' apart, can be selectively planted to fill in "gaps" along Sims Way.”
The City has ignored these stewardship responsibilities on the “Flats” for decades, and regarding the trees along San Juan Avenue, and not just the poplars.
WHAT ACTUALLY CONSTITUTES THE CURRENT PROCESS?
In August 2021 the 3 agencies developed a plan and a month later, in late September 2021, they announced to the community (see Port Townsend Leader article on September 16, 2021 article on September 29, 2021) what they intended to do, with no community brainstorming; no consideration of alternatives; and no community buy-in to the agency conceived plan. The process consisted of:
● top-down messaging from these agencies,
● conflicting information, misleading information,
● lack of consideration of alternatives to keep and/or replace the poplars,
● no meaningful public involvement,
● no analysis of cumulative impacts, and
● an edict that poplars will not be replaced, and 10 professional stakeholders will choose replacement trees.
We question whether the removal of the poplars along the Kah Tai side of Sims Way meets the requirements of RCW 82, sales and use tax for economic development and the statement of intent and eligible activities specified in the Public Infrastructure Development grant that Jefferson County awarded to these entities.[i]
The City does not plan to amend the adopted Gateway Development Plan and claims that this project is consistent with the plan. There is no plan to:
o Prepare an environmental impact statement;
o Conduct an alternatives analysis or weigh the pros and cons of multiple alternatives;
o Review the nearly century old decision to replant poplars in each iteration of the Flats; or
o Allow the public to be meaningfully involved.
Olympic Environmental Council
Gateway Poplar Alliance
The Olympic Environmental Council is a non-profit organization whose work focuses on environmental issues important to North Olympic Peninsula communities in Washington State.
The Gateway Poplar Alliance is an organization of local citizens concerned about the decision-making process in the matter of changes to the Sims Way Gateway and thus the flawed decision to cut the iconic, sentinel, Lombardy poplars that welcome passersby to Port Townsend.
Review & Analysis of the Sims Way Gateway Proposal