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Harper residents share concerns with lawmakers

A group of Harper residents struggling to stop plans to widen the road in front of their houses is now reaching out to state lawmakers — including both district representatives and Gov. Christine Gregoire — to help their cause.

Although Southworth Drive resident Carey Ensign said Gregoire’s office has not responded to her letter asking state officials to “intercede on (their) behalf with the Kitsap County Commissioners ... to put the road project on hold,” Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, did meet with the residents last week.

“I was invited to listen to their concerns,” said Kilmer, explaining that although he did sit down with several Southworth Drive residents to hear their side, he was not sure he could offer much assistance. “My main message to them was that it is not a state road and does not involve state money. But my policy is that when a constituent group has a concern or a suggestion, I will hear it.”

“We were so impressed with (Kilmer) for spending his evening with us,” Ensign said, explaining that the representative listened to the group — which in the past called itself the Harper 17 — for more than two hours as they tried to sum up the project and their opposition to it.

Scheduled to begin this spring, the project is designed to add combination bicycle/pedestrian lanes to the small, winding section of Southworth Drive that offers coastal views and access.

To accomplish this, county officials drew up a $775,000 plan to expand the roadway by at least 10 feet, widening the current 10-foot wide traffic lanes to 11 feet and adding four-foot-wide shoulders on each side.

To move the road upland, the county will have to buy at least five feet of right-of-way from 17 parcels along Southworth Drive, which is just one of the reasons the residents say they oppose the county’s plan.

The Public Works Department held at least two public meetings on the matter, during which the residents aired their concerns about the project — which include them not receiving what they believe is fair-market value for their waterfront property, along with their belief that the county’s plan will adversely affect the area by increasing traffic and motorist speeds and degrading both the environment and the neighborhood.

But the residents were unable to convince officials to significantly alter or delay the project.

Assistant Public Works Director Jon Brand told the residents he understood their concerns, but he felt that the project as a whole was “good.”

“We’re trying to make this as palatable to you as possible because you live there,” he said, “but there are a whole lot of other users to consider, and we have to accommodate all users (including bicyclists and drivers) of the road. This was the approach that we could afford to provide for the community.”

South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel said she felt all along her staff had done an “outstanding job” of listening to the residents and taking their concerns into account.

“This road needs to be safer, and this project is a long time coming,” she said last year.

Ensign said really hoped Kilmer or other lawmakers might be able to help postpone the project for a year to allow her and the other residents to research “similar projects in other communities and possibly look for grant money to do something better,” but she understood his ability to intervene might be limited.

“I told (the residents) that I could talk to the (Washington State Department of Transportation) about them receiving fair-market value for their homes ... and that I would be happy to call Sheriff (Steve) Boyer about speed limit enforcements, but my jurisdiction is pretty limited,” he said.

As of Thursday, Ensign said she had not received a response from Kilmer’s fellow 26th Distrct Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor.

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