Mayoral, council candidates speak out on Waterfront Connector
Last updated 6/18/2019 at Noon
In advance of this week’s City Council meeting, where councilmembers pondered the future of the Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector, the Beacon sent a question to the eight candidates running for council and four for mayor.
It asked: “Are you for the connector in its current iteration?”
The council candidates are Diane Buckshnis, Jenna Nand, Alicia Crank, Vivian Olson, Susan Paine, Diana White, Laura Johnson, and Nathan Monroe.
The mayoral candidates are Mike Nelson, Neil Tibbott, Kristiana Johnson, and Brad Shipley.
Here are the comments the Beacon received:
Mike Nelson, mayoral candidate
“I do not support the connector and will vote against continued funding. The main reason I voted against the connector is because we have more urgent public safety issues throughout our city.
“We should have reliable emergency access to the other side of the tracks, but the very costly connector is not the answer.
“I am also deeply concerned about the potential environmental harm to the Brackett's Landing Shoreline Sanctuary.
“Let’s re-evaluate more affordable solutions that do not harm our beaches and our waterfront.”
Brad Shipley, mayoral candidate
“Edmonds waterfront is a complicated dance between ferries, cars, buses, freight trains, and pedestrian beachgoers. Each have their own needs for access, and they are often at conflict with each other. I do not deny the value of looking into solutions to improve access to the waterfront to reduce these conflicts.
“In 2015, the City attempted just that. Mayor Earling appointed a task force that included representatives from four major transportation agencies (BNSF, WSDOT Ferries Division, Community Transit, and Sound Transit), three Edmonds residents, and co-chairs Councilmember Mike Nelson and Port of Edmonds Commissioner Jim Orvis.
"Public Works, City engineers, and members of the consultant team were also present.
“Noticeably, representation from the Parks Department or City of Edmonds Planning Division were not included in the task force. Either of which may have paused to consider the human experience. Too often, city government finds itself operating in functional silos. This has to change.
“There was good intent from both the task force and City Council. Discussion was had about how to properly engage the public and which visual impacts they felt the community would not be amenable to. Neither strategy was very effective, as evidenced by the community response.
“The City should rethink its public engagement policy and develop a consistent approach that improves meaningful, equitable outreach.
“The task force tried to meet the goals of all agencies in one project, and they didn’t fairly weigh the community response to aesthetics. Surely, the Edmonds community is a stakeholder in the project on equal footing with BNSF, WSDOT, Community Transit, and Sound Transit.
“Destroying the beach with a ‘freeway’ off-ramp should be considered a ‘fatal flaw,’ just like BNSF considered any track alteration a ‘fatal flaw.’
“Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector is what happens when engineers and representatives from major transportation agencies design things for themselves all function, no form. The community was not impressed, drew a line in the sand, and said ‘not here.’ I agree. We need to find a better solution.
“I am happy to live in a community that is politically active. The City could do a better job harnessing the time and talent of its citizens for this and future projects.”
Neil Tibbott, mayoral candidate
Tibbott, who has voiced support for the connector, wanted his statement from the June 18 City Council meeting to suffice.
Diane Buckshnis, Position 4 incumbent, candidate
“I oppose the current plan for the Waterfront Connector to be located over the Brackett’s Landing Shoreline Sanctuary (ECCCDC 5.32.005). The connector is out-of-scale and would create a massive intrusion on our only public beach north of the ferry, which is home to our internationally renown dive park.
“I have supported a triage center to be built on the west side of the railroad tracks coupled with the Marine One Fire Boat or a similar option. The administration stated council would be committing funding for this medical emergency service to ‘in perpetuity.’
“A massive concrete structure would also commit the council to a colossal eyesore that would create an environmental and/or social threat, more police jobs for safety, traffic congestion from constant ferry off-loading and on-loading, and much more to an ‘in perpetuity’ condition, or until future generations bulldoze it down to create open space.
“We owe ourselves, our kids, our grandkids, and everyone that visits Edmonds the ability to see unobstructed views of the horizon, to be allowed to play in the warm sun on the beach, and just experiencing the glee of open space and fresh air.”
Jenna Nand, Position 4 candidate
“I have consistently spoken out against the connector. As a longtime resident of Edmonds, I strongly believe that such drastic development on our waterfront is out of step with Edmonds’ small-town charm.
“It was a mistake for our current council to have put this plan forward without consulting the voters. I believe that taxpayer funds should be spent on infrastructure projects on Highway 99, which has had multiple pedestrian fatalities occur every year due to the lack of crosswalks.
“Our beautiful waterfront is also a marine sanctuary and underwater park. There has been no environmental impact analysis done on the proposed connector. Nor, to my knowledge, has the present council consulted with area tribes to be better understand how this radical development would impact their ancestral lands.
“As an Edmonds City Council candidate, I vow to protect our beautiful Edmonds beaches from unwanted development projects.”
Vivian Olson, Position 5 candidate
“Does Edmonds need any above-grade connector? I pursued an answer to this question. My best data came from the study commissioned by the state of Washington Joint Transportation Committee. Every at-grade crossing in the state was included.
“The report published in January 2017, 'Prioritization of Prominent Road-Rail Conflicts in Washington State,' prioritizes Edmonds (and others) for funding of above-grade crossing projects (Page 28 of the report).
“This pre-prioritization explains why state funding came through so quickly on the City-approved Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector. Quoted from the report’s executive summary: ‘At-grade crossings, where roads cross railroad tracks at the same level, can typically function adequately while populations and traffic levels are low.’
“Edmonds’ at-grade crossings, and all others on the state’s prioritized list, are currently blocked an average of two hours daily (executive summary, pages iii and iv). This slows response times for ambulance, police, and fire even during regular train operations, and response is completely stopped along with the stopped train, when the train is unyielding at the crossings. Good government should be looking ahead for infrastructure planning ...
“It will get worse.
“Please read the study. If you don’t agree with the conclusion of the state (and the three consulting companies behind the study: Transpogroup, Parametrix, and Berk) that we need an above-grade connector somewhere in Edmonds after that, let’s talk about it. I am finding this evidence convincing, but am always open to other inputs.
“Help me figure out how we move on from there. On one hand, it is a fundamental job of government to provide public safety the infrastructure to support it is part and parcel. On the other hand, I don’t want the citizens to feel like something is being forced on them.
“I know from spending months with the original solutions vetted by the task force and consultants, and considering nuanced changes to those solutions, that none inspire enthusiasm and all are much more costly.
“If going forward with the next phase of the Edmonds Street Connector (the only way to get to the environmental impact statement that relates to it), we need to collaborate to incorporate a design concept that better fits our seaside town less ‘Jetsons’ and more ‘boardwalk.’ “
Alicia Crank, Position 5 candidate
“I do not approve of the Waterfront Connector project. I fully support needing a plan/infrastructure for emergencies, but the final result needs to make good business and safety sense throughout its planning.
“I know that there were multiple discussions, community input and planning from City staff and council for several years, but there should have been some pivoting as more details, new information, and a bigger picture started to emerge: increased costs, lack of supporting staff resources (police and fire), whether or not emergency access easement would be granted.
“The last item is too big of an ‘if’ to commit so many taxpayer dollars to without having alternatives in place. It is time to pivot and reexamine.
“While an argument can be made for both sides of the living standards issue, I believe it is important to put more weight on how the current project would affect area residents on a day-to-day basis versus the occasional emergency it is being planned to manage. In my opinion, the current plan's inconveniences significantly outweigh the possible benefit it would provide on occasion.
“This alone should warrant discussion/revisiting alternative solutions and resources. I would support reallocating funds and other related resources to more immediate public safety needs, such as adding much needed additional staff to the fire stations as well as safety provisions along the Highway 99 corridor.”
Susan Paine, Position 6 candidate
“The connector, as it is currently designed, will destroy the beach environment and ambiance at Brackett’s Landing (just north of the ferry dock). I can’t support this proposal. It would be terrible for the environment, unreasonably expensive, and unattractive.
“There are better options that should be considered. These options should include a smaller profile, something that doesn’t connect onto the waterfront; a design that is supported by local emergency responders; and is ADA compliant without needing to accommodate a full-size vehicle.
“Many communities, inside and outside Edmonds, enjoy our waterfront and the local businesses that are nearby. We all deserve an open and welcoming beach experience. The preservation and restoration of our beaches will serve our future generations.”
Diana White, Position 6 candidate
“I am in favor of providing emergency access to the waterfront and a transparent public process to ensure that goal is reached.
“Emergency access is vital with the coming addition of a second train track. The waterfront area continues to grow with a new senior center, businesses, and robust recreational activities. First responders need time and equipment to do their jobs properly, and emergency vehicle access is a critical component to saving lives when every minute counts.
“To date, the process has cost $1.7 million of taxpayer dollars and over 15 months of intensive study by industry consultants and others. The public process included two City-led work groups, four open public meetings, two online surveys, and several City Council votes. In the end, 51 alternatives have been considered.
“However, it is too early in the process, and City staff needs more information to know whether the connector is feasible from an environmental and engineering standpoint. If the connector is not viable, keep reviewing the options until one is found.
“Doing nothing is not an option. If the City knowingly identifies risk and does nothing, the council leaves the Edmonds community and its visitors without equal access to emergency services and therefore jeopardizes public safety.
“It is uncertain what the future emergency access will look like, but to cancel and delay the process now will only make the project more expensive in the future. The current studies and surveys will become obsolete and taxpayers will pay twice for information that is viable now.
“The environment and beach preservation are important to Edmonds residents. So is the safety of our community. These important goals can be accomplished simultaneously.”
Laura Johnson, Position 7 candidate
“I believe that providing for public safety is a crucial role of government. My position regarding the Waterfront Connector project is that we should invest more of our infrastructure dollars in the Highway 99 corridor and work to prevent the injuries and deaths that are already documented and look for a less costly, less invasive, more environmentally friendly option to provide emergency access to our waterfront.
“I am thankful for the previous work done by the citizens and leaders who came together to preserve the waterfront and beach we enjoy it today. According to the City's website, ‘A group of concerned citizens, the Brackett’s Landing Task Force, rallied community support to save the waterfront from destruction ... the first goal was accomplished in 1980, when the Edmonds City Council voted to declare Brackett’s Landing a marine sanctuary.’
"Also on the city's website, this ‘means that marine resource area lying between the inner harbor line and the westernmost boundary of the railroad right of way and between the ferry dock on Main Street and a line extending due west from the end of Caspers Street.’
“The current plan would be built on top of, and encompass much of this protected area! Like those before us, we need leaders who will continue to protect and preserve the natural beauty of the waterfront for the generations to come.”
Nathan Monroe, Position 7 candidate
“I believe that responsible planning establishes the need for something to maintain access to the waterfront in the face of increasing train traffic.
“The current design has been chosen after years of study, and I want to respect that process. I appreciate the concept that taking advantage of the existing grade differences limits local area impacts and increases affordability. I also appreciate that the existing concept is just that, a concept and will need refinement through the design and permitting process.
“If everything were perfect, then I think WSDOT, Port, Amtrak, and Sound Transit would join Edmonds in constructing a crossing further south as part of a multimodal development. As a councilmember, I would continue to pursue this discussion with our stakeholders and work hard towards a win-win-win solution.
“For example, this solution could include phasing the development, starting with the crossing and connecting roadways and leaving the ferry dock, parking garage, and train station until another phase.
"However, in the event those conversations proved fruitless (as they have to date) or their outcomes too costly and in the face of having no solution, I would support advancing the design of the connector as a practical and affordable solution to the problem (provided construction cost estimates remain reasonable).
“With my public works planning, engineering, and construction experience, I'm confident that we can shape this project to minimize risks and maximize utility to the city.”