Blackjack Creek Trail delayed, City paying back grant

The Blackjack Creek Trail project has been delayed and the City must pay back part of a federal grant issused for the project.

At the March 19 City Council work session, Acting Director of Community Development Tom Bonsell said the City must pay back $10,090 by April 30 to the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO), which funded the project in August 2010.

The City, which received a letter from RCO dated March 13, can appeal the decision.

RCO Director Kaleen Cottingham stated concernes about insufficient progress on the project, along with ground disturbing activities that occurred at the site prior to RCO staff authorization.

In November 2010, the City signed an agreement with the RCO funding board for the trail. The total amount of the trail design was $144,622, while the City committed $84,622 in forced accounts, volunteers and cash.

Bonsell gave an explanation to Council and Mayor Tim Matthes.

Bonsell said he became aware of the uncompleted project in early January and reviewed documents and status. The project was set for completion by June 30.

“During the discovery process, we discovered easements had not been secured that would allow trail construction on private property,” said Bonsell.

Bonsell said after notifying property owners along the trail, one owner said he would not grant permission for an easement.

He said Alison O’Sullivan, biologist for the Suquamish Tribe, and Gina Piazza, habitat biologist of the Washington Department of Fish and

Wildlife (WDFW), made comments to former development director James Weaver about the design of the trial that went unanswered.

A site visit by tribal and RCO officials with Weaver, found unsupervised trail clearing and building occurred and unlikely that the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permit would be approved, said Bonsell.

Bonsell said because federal money was being use, a NEPA permit was required.

Six weeks after the site inspection, Bonsell and City Engineer Mark Dorsey meet with RCO and WDFW officials to try and save the project.

According to the project agreement, Bonsell said, the City had five months to obtain the required easements and property by the RCO funding board agreement.

“To date we have not received the required easements,” he added.

Bonsell said after further review of the project, the $144,000 grant would not be enough to complete the project, but closer to $250,000.

The boardwalk designed prepared by Weaver could not be constructed with volunteers, but would require engineering.

“The boardwalk would had to been professionally constructed,” Bonsell said.

He said unauthorized clearing and trail building may have caused slopes to become unstable.

No NEPA permits were applied for and because of the unauthorized clearing and trail building, it was unlikely a NEPA permit would be approved

Bonsell said the RCO was willing to work with the City, but some problems were “insurmountable” and the project agreement was terminated.

“It was a series of missteps by the City of an uncompleted project,” Bonsell said. “We tried to make it work.”

Dorsey said one of the biggest issue was the conception of the trail.

“What was actually designed was details of a very urban boardwalk,” Dorsey said. “From a cost and engineering design prospective, that was never a viable design.”

He said the Tribe and WDFW had concerns about the trail design.

Councilwoman Carolyn Powers asked if the City can ever go back to RCO with the project.

“They told us, even though they were terminating our agreement, we would not be penalized for future projects and we could bring this project back on a scale-down version,” Bonsell replied.

He said the City may be able to recover some of the money spent, according to RCO.

Bonsell said the City spent $14,600 for surveying and other work of the project.

Dorsey said for the project ever to occur, it needs to be a rural rather than urban pathway.

He said the City could work with a non-profit group that designs rural trails.


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