City closer to acquiring Martin property

Published on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 by Carissa Wright

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The results of a long-awaited study of an east Blaine property owned by the Robert D. Martin Family Company are in, and Blaine City Council has taken the next step in acquiring the property for utility infrastructure improvements.

The results, presented by Blaine public works director Ravyn Whitewolf and community development director Michael Jones during a study session prior to Monday’s city council meeting, convinced council members that routing utility service through the Martin property would be highly preferable to routing service along H Street. 

The council asked city staff to examine the route – referred to as the Motts Hill alignment – as a viable option for a utility and road corridor servicing development in east Blaine, specifically the proposed Grandis Pond development. Staff was also tasked with examining the H Street corridor as an alternative, and comparing the two options. 

With the help of Bellingham-based Wilson Engineering, city staff determined that the Motts Hill alignment would be significantly less costly and require fewer peripheral improvements. 

Council members voted to hold a public hearing on September 24, following which they will decide whether to acquire the 80-foot-wide, 4,000-foot-long right of way through negotiation or condemnation.

The Wilson Engineering study and city staff identified four main areas of contrast between the two options: sewer infrastructure, acquisition of rights of way, impacts to critical environmental areas and conflicts with other utilities. In each of those aspects, city staff considered the Motts Hill route superior.

The study found that the Motts Hill sewer infrastructure would require no additional pump stations and would need a relatively shallow depth – 7 feet – as opposed to the H Street route’s 16 feet or more throughout most of its length. 

Running sewer and other utility lines along the Motts Hill route would also have no impact on an existing street. If the city chose H Street, recently completed $1.9 million improvements would be mostly dug up to run new sewer lines, as the current lines aren’t large enough serve the proposed development. 

“About half the street (and possibly more) would need to be rebuilt,” Whitewolf said.

Routing improvements along the H Street corridor would also require obtaining rights-of-way from 28 property owners, and for many of those property owners the right of way would run right up to their front doors. While acquiring the Motts Hill easement might be a challenge, city attorney Jon Sitkin said, in the end the city would only be dealing with one landowner. 

Addressing environmental issues, Jones stressed that staff was unable to fully examine potential wetlands areas along H Street due to a lack of access to private property. However, staff found that, at a bare minimum, the corridor includes two streams crossing underneath the road. Both streams are listed in the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) database as potentially salmon-bearing. Jones stated that construction in that area would require permits from the state, and possibly at the federal level as well. Current WDFW regulations, Jones said, generally require that construction affecting existing culverts need to replace them with 12-foot-wide, flat-bottomed culverts to allow more natural stream crossings. The study found no critical areas impacts – wetlands or streams – on the Martin property.

Running water and other utilities that could serve the new development along H Street would introduce multiple conflicts with existing utility lines, Whitewolf said, and likely require a closure of the road during construction. As a “clean slate,” the Motts Hill route would have no such conflicts.

“You can feel the theme a little bit here, but the Motts Hill alignment we feel is the superior alternative,” Whitewolf said. “From a fresh perspective … it makes all the sense in the world as an engineer to work in this Motts Hill alignment.”

The public hearing on the matter will be held during the September 24 city council meeting.