PORT ORCHARD — In a comprehensive interview with the Port Orchard Independent last month, Mayor Rob Putaansuu handed over a sheet filled with bulleted accomplishments either completed or begun in Port Orchard during 2018.
It included an overflowing list of major projects that the City of Port Orchard collectively has never before attempted to tackle in such a short time. The projects, headlined by the Tremont Street widening work, kept city government employees hustling in overdrive throughout the year.
Tremont nearing completion
“Our biggest accomplishment obviously is Tremont,” Putaansuu said of the road project that first took root in 2005 when Port Orchard received $3 million in seed money from the federal government to design the project.
“We’re well on our way to finishing it in late spring or early summer and having a ribbon-cutting out there. It’s the largest capital project in our city’s history and I’m really proud of the work that staff has put into it.”
But while the vital city arterial is nearing completion of its transformation into a four-lane boulevard anchored by two roundabouts, transit stops and a gateway entrance makeover, Putaansuu said getting to the finish line was far from assured.
“I’ll be honest,” he said. “That was one of the big issues of my campaign [for mayor in 2015]. I said [of the Tremont project] that, ‘We will figure this out.’ And three years ago and six months in, I was a little nervous.
“But things came together. We cobbled together four different funding sources to make this happen. It ended up being monumental.”
The funding search was complicated. The mayor pointed to the federal money’s strings-attached element as the reason for the urgent search for more funding. Unless the city was able to start construction on Tremont in 2017, it would have been required to return the feds’ financial contribution, even though the money had already been spent to design the reimagined Tremont Street.
Much to the relief of Putaansuu and the City Council, an $8 million lifeline from the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board, along with $1.7 million from the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council and $6 million in bond funding by the city, enabled construction to begin last year.
McCormick Village Park finished
Other notable city projects in 2018 included completion of the two-phase McCormick Village Park; a study of the clogged Bethel Avenue and Sedgwick Road corridor and preliminary measures to alleviate congestion on those two major arterials; completion of design work for the Rockwell pocket park at the waterfront; ground broken on the Bay Street Pedestrian Pathway’s phase 3 work; establishment of a mixed-use development pilot program; and completed design work and a contract awarded to build Well 13, which will transition the city from having to buy water at retail rates from the City of Bremerton to tapping into its own water aquifer.
If that wasn’t enough to strain city planning resources, the City Council slogged through the tedious work of revising Port Orchard’s zoning and ordinance statutes, which it says will better equip the city to accommodate business and residential growth while protecting property rights and ensuring the community retains its existing lifestyle.
There was one notable disappointment in 2018, Putaansuu acknowledged: the city struck out in its grant request for funds to build a roundabout at Anderson Hill Road. But the project, however, is ready to construct once a funding source is found. The mayor said the roundabout has been fully designed.
“It’s almost a $2 million project,” he said. “We’re at the 100-percent design stage and ready to roll with it, but we just have to find a source to fund it. We have some money for it, but not enough.”
No new projects
As Port Orchard moves forward with its capital projects and initiatives through the first quarter of this year, Putaansuu said the city’s top priority is to finish the projects it started last year — and not introduce new ones.
He said city employees who have been working on major projects over the past year have been given direction to keep their focus on finishing them before being asked to take on new efforts.
Other capital projects nearing the finish line this year include the third phase of the Bay Street pathway and a series of well-water systems that are in various stages of design and construction, including a treatment system for Well No. 9; drilling and a conveyance system for Well No. 13; a pump station for the Port Orchard Marina area; and work on the McCormick lift station No. 2.
Putaansuu acknowledged that Well No. 13, while not a “sexy” project like a park or boulevard, is a vital civic infrastructure project. He expects the work to be completed late this year so that Port Orchard can begin to draw its own water source.
“In 2020, our ratepayers should see the benefit to that. This will allow us to control our own destiny and set our rates based on our own costs, which we will control.
“It should prevent significant increases in the future,” the mayor said.
2019 initiatives to the finish line
Looming large this year is the anticipated progress toward establishing a proposed public-private, mixed-use community events center at the waterfront that will tie into a planned mixed-use construction project for 640 Bay Street being planned by Sound West Group, led by Port Orchard businessman Steve Sego and a consortium of Kitsap County developers.
That project is dependent on the developer receiving funding support from the Kitsap Public Facilities District later this year. The agency received a formal request last month for $14 million in funding from KPFD to buttress the estimated $21.4 million cost for the community events center portion of the project.
Putaansuu said he expects discussions with the state on the recently completed Highway 16/Highway 3 corridor study — which impact future plans for the Sedgwick-Bethel corridor — will continue this year.
Perhaps the overriding “ask” the city plans to request from the state Legislature this session is $1 million in capital budget funding to help it build a new $2.85 million McCormick Woods sewer lift station. A second lift station at the site is under construction and being built and paid for by a private developer.
Also underway this quarter is the process to identify and select a new police chief to take the place of retiring Chief Geoffrey Marti.
The mayor said it will be an important hire for the city. He said an experienced department manager who has community outreach skills will ultimately be selected from a group of candidates curated with the help of recruiters from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
Also on the horizon is the implementation of new accounting software for the city’s Finance Department, upgrades to IT support and new GIS software, which is expected to create efficiencies for designers and engineers in the Public Works Department.
The mayor was pleased with what he said was an improved and expanded effort by city government to reach out to the community — in ways planned and unplanned.
Fitting into the unexpected and unwelcome category was the December EF-2 tornado that hit a slice of East Port Orchard with lightning-quick fury. Putaansuu said a town hall meeting for residents impacted by the tornado was part of a wide-ranging effort to quickly respond and mitigate the storm’s impact by joining with Kitsap County and state agencies to help residents with emergent needs.
Putaansuu also pointed to other significant community outreach initiatives, including a community service day; a town hall meeting discussion about a possible ban of single-use plastic bags; ongoing homeless committee meetings and assuming directorships on state and county governmental boards.