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Harper widening project will be delayed

A Harper road project already several years in the making will apparently have to wait at least one more as Kitsap County officials’ attempts to buy the land they need to complete it have hit a dead end.

Public Works Department spokesman Doug Bear said this week the right-of-way acquisition was “taking longer than expected,” and work on a narrow section of Southworth Drive would not begin this summer as planned.

“We’re still in negotiations with the residents, who don’t necessarily want to give the right-of-way,” Bear said, explaining that the county and the residents disagree about the value of the coast-hugging property.

County officials describe the project between the Harper Dock and Olympiad Drive as “a basic and necessary road safety improvement (that) has been needed for quite some time, (and will upgrade) the only remaining section of substandard road from Port Orchard to Southworth.”

They drew up a plan two years ago to widen the road by at least 10 feet to create 11-foot traffic lanes and four-foot shoulders on each side that can be used by both bicyclists and walkers.

But the plan was soundly rejected by most of the nearby residents, who agreed that certain safety problems on the now mostly shoulder-less road need to be addressed, but disagreed with how the county wanted to proceed.

Early on in the process, a group of residents joined forces — many of them who owned at least one of the 17 plots the county needs to buy as much as 13 feet from — to plead with officials to include them in the project’s planning, even asking a regional transportation board to deny the county federal funding for the project.

But while the group’s objections led the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) to temporarily delay granting the money until county officials held a public meeting to address community concerns, the members say the project continued to move forward with neither their ideas considered nor their questions answered.

Knowing they could no longer block the funding, resident Dawn Bove said the group then decided to fight the project the only way they knew how — by digging in their heels and refusing to sell their property.

“We will fight this as long as we can,” Bove said at the time, explaining that she and most of the rest of the group did not want to sell the right-of-way, and were refusing to grant permission for appraisers to enter their property.

Bear said if negotiations between the county and the residents are not successful, the case will move into the courts as an eminent domain proceeding.

But however or whenever the case is resolved, he said the project in all likelihood will not start this year because the summer construction period is already underway, and ends October 15.

South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel was not immediately available for comment.

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