Council, mayor, wrangle over repairs to Butler street


September 14, 2023

Council, mayor, wrangle over repairs to Butler street

By Diana Zimmerman

According to the minutes from the August 21 meeting of the Cathlamet Town Council, when residents living on Butler Street submitted a petition requesting repairs to their thoroughfare the town council passed a motion, voting 4 to 1, to begin a project for an interim fix to stabilize the road. Council Member Robert Stowe was the only vote against. When the council learned that the repairs and costs involved would come to more than $500,000, it was agreed that they did not have the funds. Council Member Laurel Waller then suggested addressing some of the issues without completing the entire project.

Superintendent David McNally said a hole on the street could be patched before Labor Day, but a water service issue was still being investigated. Council Member Jeanne Hendrickson said the project was a priority, because of the high volume of traffic on the street, which included large trucks.

At that time, the town engineer said that an overlay of asphalt could fix some of the issues but even that would cost upwards of $100,000. He added that the Department of Ecology would need to be notified. A more accurate cost estimate was requested, and Waller and Hendrickson said they would try to find the funding in the town’s budget.

Two week’s later at the September 5 meeting, Hendrickson said that they were able to find money in the budget to go toward the interim fix, if the council would forgo immediate plans to paint the Cathlamet Library or to purchase a truck they were looking for, but had not yet located.

“We’ve got to do something,” Hendrickson said, “and to just leave it like this and throw it down the road as we have done for several years, Laurel and I have done our best to put through the facts and it is up to the council to consider what direction they want.”

“I would want us to go forward and get as much accomplished as we could and not delay this any longer than we have,” Hendrickson continued. “If we come up to a fence we can’t get over, so be it, at least we jumped as high as we can.”

“I agree something needs to be done,” Stowe said. He went on to express concerns about taking funds from existing maintenance projects, and having to “rob Peter to pay Paul.” He also admitted that they needed to act before there were more serious problems.

Council Member Kermit Chamberlin said he shared Stowe’s concerns.

Counsel Fred Johnson advised the council to consider the time it would take to move forward, the cost for engineering and bids, and concerns about the time of year.

Mayor David Olson expressed his disapproval.

“Unless the council declares an emergency, I don’t believe it’s possible to do this short of three months,” he said. “The council said they wanted Butler Street to be stable and drivable. Your public works department and your civil engineer, have asserted it is. You are overruling the people you are paying for professional advice and substituting your judgement for professional engineers.”

“Yep, we are,” Hendrickson responded.

“Secondly,” the mayor said, “you are raiding other parts of your budget by putting this ahead of all the other street work that is needed in the town. Only one petitioner has shown up at your council meeting for this so you have no premise saying this is an emergency. It is not wrapped up in the facts of what is happening on Butler Street.”

“That is not to say that I think Butler Street is in good condition, I agree with you that it is not,” he added. “I think it is improvident to turn the town budget upside down for a repair that is not clearly supported.”

“I do think in the long term, this council does not have enough money for street repairs,” Olson said. “We have one of the lowest property tax levies in the state. I think the responsible way to proceed is to look at revenues and talk about proper street funding dedicated street funding in the long term, so that council can afford these kinds of endeavors.”

Council Member Joe Baker pointed out there was no surer way to lose their seats at the next election than raising taxes.

Hendrickson responded to the mayor’s comments about the petitioners.

“The petitioners brought the matter to our attention,” Hendrickson said. “This has been on the council’s list of things to do. We are not doing this for six residents, we are doing this for the health of our town and our streets. The petitioners in their zeal asked us to close the street until it was remedied. It’s stable so we don’t have to close it. Everyone in our community, including visitors and locals need this road fixed, as Mr. Stowe has said repeatedly.”

The mayor then asked for a written proposal at the next meeting regarding the moving of funds, and Waller accused him of using that as a delay tactic.

“It’s just your way of making sure your ‘no’ stays in place,” she said.

The vote was divided but passed with Baker, Hendrickson, and Waller voting to reallocate $50,000 set aside to paint the library building this year, as well as $75,000 that was in the budget for a truck that public works wanted but had not yet found, in order to potentially move forward with the Butler Street interim overlay project. Stowe and Chamberlain voted against.

“It’s just to move money to the project, and we’re waiting to see what you find out from the state and then we can proceed. We’re moving the money, but we don’t have all the answers to the project today,” Hendrickson clarified.

In other news, County Commissioner Lee Tischer talked to the council about the creation of a new ordinance that would allow street legal ATVs to travel across the Puget Island bridge, through town and to businesses along SR 4 in the Rosedale area.

“We have to contact WSDOT and get their approval,” Tischer said. “I would hope you would want to sign on and allow that also. You see them out and about already. It’s a low priority with our police now.”

Olson asked Tischer to forward the information to the town clerk.

Wahkiakum PUD General Manager Dan Kay said an application was submitted to the Department of Health for the water/wastewater system consolidation feasibility study grant, and he expected to learn if they were awarded the monies in October. He believed the study could be completed by next summer if all goes according to plan.

The town recognized Carol Blix, who was retiring after serving as the town librarian for the last 10 years.

Olson said they submitted an application for the National Registry of Historic Places for the Julia Butler Hansen residence, and that it would be heard on October 14 at a state level before going to the national level.


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