Pacific's long-awaited road project gets under way

Breaking ground on the Valentine Avenue project in Pacific are, from left: Rick Maurstad (ICON), Pacific Mayor Leanne Guier; Pacific City Councilmembers Clint Steiger and John Jones; Ted Hill, Sumner city engineer; and Sumner City Councilmember Kathy Hayden.  - Rachel Ciampi, Auburn Reporter
Breaking ground on the Valentine Avenue project in Pacific are, from left: Rick Maurstad (ICON), Pacific Mayor Leanne Guier; Pacific City Councilmembers Clint Steiger and John Jones; Ted Hill, Sumner city engineer; and Sumner City Councilmember Kathy Hayden.
— image credit: Rachel Ciampi, Auburn Reporter

It was the day Pacific Councilmember Clint Steiger had feared might never come.

Yet this past week, dignitaries from the cities of Pacific and Sumner actually took up shovels and pitched ceremonial dirt, thus breaking ground on the Valentine Avenue Southeast/136th Avenue East project and clearing the way for construction to widen and improve the heavily-used arterial shared by both communities' commercial sections.

"It's been a long time coming," Steiger said. "With these two projects – Pacific is also widening the intersecting Stewart Road – we can improve our commercial area."

More than a decade in the works, the $12.4 million project will widen the street – a mile-and-a-half two-lane road heavily used by 18-wheelers – to three lanes, with a center turn lane.

"It'll make it easier for people trying to get out of their places or trying to make a left hand turn," Steiger said. "It will be a 100 percent improvement."

The improvements are to add sidewalks and a bike lane in the one-third of the road inside Sumner city limits and a pedestrian and bicycle trail in Pacific's two-thirds.

If not for the efforts of Steiger, fellow Pacific Councilmen John Jones and others, however, the project would likely have been scuttled. According to Steiger, Sumner's City Council had been days away from pulling out of the project because of the bumbling and interference of former Pacific Mayor Cy Sun.

In a little more than a year in office, Sun – who was recalled by voters in July of 2013 – managed to botch the handling of the job to such a degree that he put funding at risk, including a crucial grant for more than $4 million from the Community Economic Redevelopment Board (CERB).

Having taken office as a write-in candidate, Sun immediately seized control of the City's road projects, including the Valentine/136th project and the Stewart Road improvement.

"We kept asking him about the project and would never get any response at all," Steiger said. "One day I decided to make some phone calls. So I called Sumner and talked to (City Engineer) Mike Dahlem down there. He suggested that I get a hold of the Mayor (David Enslow)."

That conversation with Enslow revealed the worst, Steiger said.

"I found out that ... they had made up their mind to scrap the project (at their next council meeting), and they were going to vote to back out," he said. "And they were going to sue the City (Pacific) for non performance, which would have cost about $500,000."

Even worse was that Sun knew about the impending pull-out and possible law suit.

"We were in the dark. They had informed Cy of this, but he never told anybody," Steiger said. "The only thing he told Sumner was 'go ahead and try, you can't do that,' or some smartass-type response. He and Mayor Enslow couldn't communicate at all."

Steiger and Jones soon got together and convinced Mayor Enslow and the City of Sumner to delay abandoning the project.

"(Enslow) said he would talk to his people and give us a little time to get our feet on the ground and do what we could to try and save the project," Steiger said. "He said he would help us and make his legal people available to us."

After parleying with Sumner's legal staff, Steiger and Jones received advice on how to take the project out of Sun's hands and put it in the council's.

"As a matter of fact, they assisted us in drawing up all the necessary paperwork to do this," Steiger said. "This took us about a month or so to get it out of the mayor's hands."

Once the project was again under the council’s control, Steiger said, they realized that because of Sun’s decimation of city staff, which had left the City without a public works director, Pacific simply didn’t have the manpower to oversee the multi-million dollar project.

"We went to CERB to ask for an extension, but they said the only way they would work with us anymore was if we turned around and had the project headed by Sumner," Steiger said. "The Council agreed, so that's what happened."

"It was just an incredible combination of people who worked very, very fast to get this done," he said. "Up until the end, Mayor Enslow was calling us up every day asking, 'are you sure you're going to be able to do this?' He was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. They were looking at losing $500,000."

Now in the hands of Sumner, nearly two years later the project is underway. Costs are expected to exceed $20 million all told, once right-of-way acquisitions and design work are factored in, according to Sumner Assistant Public Works Director Ted Hill, who is in charge of the project.

"We've got funding sources from all over," Hill said. "Both of us have local improvement districts set up. We have Federal highway money, we've got Ecology money. There is state Department of Commerce money. There are about six or seven sources, let alone our own utility money that's going into from both jurisdictions. Knowing I'm charging the right thing to the right spot is going to be the big hurdle at this point."

Hill urged commuters and anyone who uses the road to be patient.

"Any construction takes time and patience," Hill said.

For Steiger, it's just a joy to see the construction begin.

"I'm glad we saved this," he said. "I was lucky – it wasn't because I'm so intelligent this happened."

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