Kitsap Transit floats its foot-ferry plan to Harper

The struggle to improve the beloved and bemoaned section of Southworth Drive near the Harper Public Fishing Pier is proving that if a battle drags on long enough, a third party will inevitably join the fray.

For months, the struggle seemed confined to county officials wanting to widen the road and the owners of 17 plots on the particularly scenic section between the pier and Olympiad Drive not wanting to give an inch of their waterfront property.

Now, however, a new player has joined the game that could not only change the rules, but the entire playing field.

That player is Kitsap Transit, and last week the agency’s executive director Richard Hayes went door-to-door on Southworth Drive, talking to residents about the plan he is forming to use the nearby pier for passenger-only ferry service to Seattle.

Hayes said the service, if realized, is still about two years out, and would hinge on several key pieces, including Kitsap Transit being able to purchase “the properties on each side of the road at the Harper dock corner and turn that property adjacent to the dock into a bus-only terminal.”

In addition to the doorbelling, Hayes scheduled two community meetings next week to discuss the plans in more detail. The first meeting is limited to immediate residents of the pier, and the second is designed to present the plan and the issues involved to the rest of community on Tuesday.

Following the public meetings, Hayes said he intends to form a citizens’ committee “to work through mitigation and other issues surrounding this site location.”

Hayes said he will also include Kitsap County in the process, “in the hopes that as issues are discussed, citizens will be working with all of the available information and one project will not adversely affect the other.”

On Tuesday, Hayes presented the Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners — which includes all three Kitsap County commissioners — a progress report on the project. Board clerk Cathie Knox Browning said the commissioners approved the idea and gave Hayes “the go-ahead for the plan.”

Another group giving Kitsap Transit’s plan its approval this week was a trio of Harper residents.

On Wednesday, Southworth Drive residents Charles Hower and Jim Kuppler, along with Jim Heytvelt, who lives on Harper Hill Road, said they preferred Kitsap Transit’s plan because it would give the residents of the road the two things they have always wanted — a safe walking path in the form of a boardwalk on the beach, and a lower speed limit than the current 40 mph.

In his handout to residents, Hayes said the ferry terminal would likely justify lowering the speed limit to 35 mph and support not widening the road.

He said he would also “commit to seeking, along with the county’s Public Works Department, an elevated walkway on the water side of (the road).”

Kuppler said residents have been frustrated for years with the county’s response to both lowering the speed limit and building a boardwalk.

At a community meeting last month required by the Puget Sound Regional Council before funding requested by Kitsap County for the widening project could be approved, county officials including Public Works planner Bill Zupancic said his department would continue to look into lowering the speed limit, but that a boardwalk was not an option due to the estimated $2 million price tag.

The residents said they not only preferred Kitsap Transit’s plan because of how it would change the road, but how it was presented to them, as well.

“Hayes is an executive director, yet here he is going door-to-door, talking to us face-to-face,” Heytvelt said. “It’s a perfect example of what to do, versus what not to.”

In contrast, Heytvelt said he felt the county had not been straightforward with the residents.

“Just be truthful. We’re not dumb,” he said. “We can understand numbers, we can understand logic. But we feel (the county’s) just given us half-truths, and is shoving (the widening) project down our throats.

“We realize that change is coming,” he added, “and that the population is growing. Just include us in the process.”

Kuppler said he agreed Hayes’ approach so far had been a vast improvement over the county’s, but he was waiting to see the follow-through before giving his plan a ringing endorsement.

“We’ll let him show us what he can do first,” Kuppler said. “We want to see if he does what he says he will do.”

Browning said Kitsap Transit scheduled a meeting with county officials yesterday to discuss each other’s plans for the area.

On Thursday, Zupancic said he could not speak to how Kitsap Transit’s plan would affect the county’s project, because he said he only just heard about the plan himself when Hayes’ flyers were handed out to residents, and that he was unaware of any meeting scheduled with agency officials.

South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel said she was aware of the meeting with Kitsap Transit, but currently the county was still proceeding with its plan to widen the span to add a bicycle and pedestrian lane, and that last week the PSRC Transportation Policy Board recommended the county’s request for funding.

“I honestly don’t know how those two pieces will go together,” Angel said. “Right now, we’ll have to take it one day at a time.

Angel said she was concerned that Kitsap Transit’s plan included a boardwalk, which county staff determined would be cost-prohibitive.

“We don’t have $2 million dollars, but if (they) do, then fine,” she said, explaining that currently Kitsap Transit’s plan was “conceptual, while our Public Works Department has done a lot of reality work.”

As for the project as a whole, Angel said she was confident that “Public Works has done everything physically possible to make sure they understand all the issues involved and are doing all they can to make sure the citizens’ concerns are heard.”

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