Edmonds, Washington City Council to citizens: We hear you
Council vote defeats controversial Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector that would have increased public access and use on a quiet city beach, killing the $27.5 million project
In a victory for those who want to keep a sparsely used beach in Edmonds just the way it is – it doesn’t even have an official name – the City Council voted Tuesday not to proceed with the next phase of the Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector.
It was assumed by many that Councilmember Kristiana Johnson would be the swing vote for phase 2, which would authorize Mayor Dave Earling to give consultant Parametrix the OK to proceed with a $2.35 million design, permitting, and collecting of environment documents.
It turns out that the swing vote was councilmember and mayoral candidate Neil Tibbott, who previously indicated he was in support of the $27.5 million, single-lane vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle bridge – extending from Edmonds Street and Sunset Avenue to Brackett’s Landing North – that would expedite fire and emergency access to the east side of the railroad tracks from the westside in the event the tracks were blocked by stalled trains or police activity.
With chants of “Save our beach!” frequently drowning him out – and a chamber full of connector opponents looking on – Public Works Director Phil Williams rehashed the history of the connector, which included a 14-month study from citizens and public officials, four in-person and online public meetings, and an investigation of 51 alternatives.
There were also briefings with business owners, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Ecology, and BNSF, as well as six meetings with tribal governments, among others.
After councilmembers discussed the project – some citing environmental and aesthetic concerns while others stressed the importance of beach access in the face of future train and ferry traffic – councilmember and mayoral candidate Mike Nelson made a motion to halt Earling’s OK of the next steps.
Earling has repeatedly expressed his support of the connector.
Before a vote on Nelson’s motion, Councilmember Dave Teitzel offered an amendment, in which members could vote to proceed with Parametrix’s environmental studies.
Councilmembers Nelson, Diane Buckshnis, and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas voted “no,” as expected. Councilembers Tibbott, Johnson, and Thomas Mesaros voted “yes.”
Tibbott, the last to cast his vote, voted against Teitzel’s amendment, which led to an audible gasp among the audience. (For those keeping score, mayoral candidates Tibbott, Nelson and Brad Shipley are against the connector placed on Edmonds Street, while candidate Johnson is for.)
Nelson’s original amendment, at that point, was a foregone conclusion, as it passed 4-3 with the same votes.
After the cheering stopped, Earling spoke to audience members, many with protest signs and ready to speak out against the connector.
“With that vote,” he said, “unless you all want to hang around to do your three minutes, I don’t see any reason for it.”
After a break, however, many spoke out, anyway.
Earling, in his closing comments, later added: “With the action the council has taken tonight, I will be notifying our state and federal legislators that the interest in the connector has been withdrawn.
“And I’ll also notify the Legislature that we no longer have the need for $7.05 million, and I’m assuming that the Port (of Edmonds) will hear soon enough, and probably will withdraw their $1.5 million also.”
To date, the City had amassed $8.55 million, a significant local match to seek federal funds for the $27.5 million project.
Despite Earling’s comments, many in the audience said they would continue to monitor the City’s actions when and if further connector issues are brought up.
“A diversity of voices”
On Wednesday, Tibbott said the reason he changed his mind on the connector was because of comments councilmembers received, as well as comments he’s heard while meeting a wide variety of people in Edmonds over the last couple of months.
“I heard from a diversity of voices from across our city,” Tibbott said. “The opposition to the connector did not come from one group, and it wasn’t just one reason. But when I put them together, I could not justify spending more money to study an option that was clearly not going to be acceptable no matter what the design or who paid for it.”
Tibbott said he also disagreed with the characterization made by some councilmembers that the administration favors one part of the city over another.
“It’s simply not accurate,” he said. “We have infrastructure projects in various phases of design and construction happening constantly. We’ve actually secured more grant funding for Highway 99 than we have for the connector.”
In order to move forward, Tibbott said he wants to review the work of the connector task force and sift through the 51 options they studied.
“I want to know if anything has changed since the study was done, and what new information we have now. One of the co-chairs changed his mind shortly after the recommendation was made, and I think it’s important for us to know what happened.
“We also need to summarize the concerns that were raised about the connector because they represent values that will drive whatever solutions we implement in the future. The concerns I heard had a unifying theme, and we need to capture that input to make better choices for the future.”
Before Tuesday’s meeting, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Public Safety Complex, which houses City Council chambers, to rally against the connector.
The rally was the result of efforts from Edmonds resident Cam Tripp, who created the Save Edmonds Beach website and Facebook page, as well as a Change.org petition.
Before he spoke and introduced speakers, Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” – “paved paradise, put up a parking lot” – played on a loop through a Bluetooth speaker.
Speakers included mayoral candidate Mike Nelson and City Council candidates Laura Johnson, Alicia Crank, and Susan Paine.
Also speaking were Pamela Bond, a member of the Snohomish Tribal Council, and Paul Wagner of Saanich First Nations. Both spoke against the connector and sang a song. Later, during public comment, Bond said the City did not obtain her tribe’s approval for the connector.
Chants of “Save Our Beach” peppered the 45-minute rally, and the chants continued outside council chambers, which frequently stopped Public Works Director Phil Williams as he gave a presentation on the connector leading up to public comment.
“Don’t Block Our Beach”
It was back in July 2012 that a number of citizens gathered on the grass south of the ferry terminal for a “Don’t Block Our Beach” rally in response to increased train traffic from a proposed coal train terminal in Bellingham. The proposal for the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point was finally dropped in February 2017.
Although that proposal never came to fruition, it doesn’t negate the fact that more trains are coming. It’s no secret that BNSF wants to add a second track through downtown Edmonds to connect to dual tracks to the north and south of the city.
There is unanimous agreement among councilmembers that something needs to be done – it just appears that the waterfront connector is not an option.
“At some point, it’s going to be much worse than it is today,” Williams said during a committee meeting last week. The number of trains passing through town could increase from the roughly 40 today to more than 100 a day within the next 15 to 18 years, he said.
“And during that time frame, probably earlier, (BNSF) is going to want to pursue the double-tracking project through Edmonds, which geometrically increases the complexity of those two at-grade crossings at Dayton and Main streets.”
The City claimed the connector was the most feasible, affordable, and appropriate near-term solution to the growing problem of congestion, safety, and access to the waterfront.
But many citizens, and a majority of councilmembers, disagreed.
So the issue remains.