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Sept. 24, 2023

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Clark County staff redouble outreach efforts on 179th Street improvement project

Open house scheduled; residents say they feel out process

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Motorists navigate the intersection of Northeast 179th Street and Northeast 29th Avenue, one of two intersections planned for improvements in the county Northeast 179th Street project.
Motorists navigate the intersection of Northeast 179th Street and Northeast 29th Avenue, one of two intersections planned for improvements in the county Northeast 179th Street project. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Residents opposed to some elements of the county’s proposed Northeast 179th Street improvement project are getting another chance to voice their concerns.

Public Works has scheduled an open house for 6 p.m. on Aug. 11 at the Public Service Center at 1300 Franklin St. in Vancouver. The meeting will be held in a hybrid format, with both in-person and virtual attendance possible.

The open house was scheduled at the request of the Clark County Council, which directed staff to revisit and redouble its public outreach efforts after residents told the council they had been left out of the notification process. The council also approved removing the project from the 2022 review cycle at its May 25 meeting.

Andrew Bauman and his wife, Vanny Him, were among those who spoke at the council’s May 3 public hearing about the project.

“Ourselves and our neighbors were completely blindsided by this. We haven’t had meaningful representation in this process,” Bauman told the council. “We received almost no notification of this. In fact, I never received any mailings about it.”

Bauman said he and his neighbors found themselves in the middle of project that could potentially place roads and roundabouts around them — and even put roads on their property — but never received an explanation. Bauman urged the council to review the project with a critical eye toward ethical and financial considerations.

“I’d like to go back and have another open house,” Councilor Gary Medvigy said during the public hearing.

Medvigy noted that neighborhood associations would typically have been involved in the project planning, but many of them haven’t been meeting because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also said he thought the neighbors near the two planned intersections would have been notified before the council was made aware in 2019.

But Bauman and Him said there’s a big difference between knowing a project is planned for some time in the future and knowing the specific details of that project.

“(Public Works Director) Eva Haney actually admitted they had debated internally on contacting people directly impacted by it and they decided not to,” Him said Monday, adding notice to residents living within 300 feet of the project was “only provided to residents after the plan was basically finalized, which was in January. Nobody knew what the final plan was until January.”

The project, which is being done through a partnership between the county’s Public Works department, Washington State Department of Transportation and developers, is really a series of projects along a two-mile stretch of Northeast 179th Street from Delfel Road west of Interstate 5 east to Northeast 50th Avenue.

Residents living near the Northeast 50th Avenue intersection have been especially vocal in their criticisms. Among their concerns are additional housing developments and the number and types of roads needed to support those developments, additional roads planned for their neighborhood which they say are unneeded, loss of wetlands habitat and whether the county is applying planning requirements equally, among others. They also say the county is putting the needs of developers above the needs of those already living in the area.

Him said she and her husband spoke with planners about the project and realized “there was no rhyme or reason” behind the number of roads planned.

“It’s very clear the plans are based on appeasing developers,” Him said at the hearing.

In a letter to the county, resident Dean Hergesheimer said the county has created a public safety risk by underestimating traffic needs in some areas.

“I believe this public safety issue remains and will be a threat to existing and future residents and all users of these streets,” Hergesheimer said.

Haney said it appeared county staff had missed a couple of steps.

“It does seem to me to be the case that the neighbors that are most impacted have not had a chance to provide that input,” Haney told the council.

In the two months since the council hearing, residents say they’ve had little contact with the county. At the council’s June 8 meeting, Public Works planner Gary Albrecht said staff are now working on a public outreach effort. Albrecht said meeting notices for the open house will be sent to a more extensive list of neighbors.

“We will send meeting notifications to five neighborhood associations that will be impacted by transportation improvements and development along the 179th Street corridor,” Albrecht said.

The neighborhood associations include Fairgrounds, Meadow Glade, Ridgefield Junction, North Salmon Creek and Pleasant Highlands.

“We will let all these neighbors know, all the property owners — by addresses — will receive mailings of the heads-up letters. We’ll have more input other than just people affected by the improvements and within 300 feet of 179th Street,” Albrecht added.

A county council work session will be held after the open house to again review the project. The date of that council meeting has yet to be determined. The council could adopt the plan or direct staff to make further changes based on comments received at the open house.

Bauman, Him and Hergesheimer confirmed they received the meeting notice via email on Friday.

For more information about the project or links to the open house, go to https://clark.wa.gov/public-works/179th-st-access-management-and-circulation-plan.