Benton County commissioners reject proposal to pave roads near West Richland

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 6, 2013 

Benton County commissioners Tuesday rejected a controversial proposal to pave almost two miles of road near West Richland through a County Road Improvement District.

The vote was 2-0, with Commissioner Jerome Delvin sitting out.

Commissioner Jim Beaver said the proposal essentially asked residents of a neighborhood to foot the entire bill for constructing what amounts to an arterial street, "and that I don't like. Collector streets and arterial streets -- they usually are supported by the government." He was referring to 38th Avenue, one of the roads proposed for improvement through the CRID.

Beaver said he's "in favor of doing something" in the area, noting he's driven the streets there. But he said the county should discuss contributing road money to "at least 38th, and we should be talking to the city of West Richland about how we can partner to have that collector-arterial constructed."

Commissioner Shon Small said the decision wasn't easy, adding commissioners invested significant time in research. "We did truly look at the great big picture of this CRID" and tried to be fair to all, Small said during the meeting.

The proposal came from a group of property owners and would have replaced almost two miles of privately-maintained dirt roads in the Willamette Heights area with paved roads built and kept up by the county.

Proponents said the new roads are needed badly, primarily for safety, and would benefit the entire CRID area. But opponents argued the benefit would be disproportionate, with some landowners within the CRID paying thousands of dollars for roads they would never or hardly ever use.

The proposed CRID covered almost 100 parcels; costs were to be spread out through per-parcel assessments, estimated at $21,500 each.

Commissioners heard extensive public comment on the proposal last December. The matter came back to commissioners last month, but a couple of issues -- whether the county should build 38th on its own dime and a possible legal hang-up -- delayed a decision.

The legal issue involved whether the CRID assessments would meet state law. Under the law, assessments can't exceed the value added to the property by the improvements.

Public Works Manager Steve Becken wrote in a memo to commissioners that "without the county making a contribution to the CRID (thus lowering the overall cost to landowners) and/or hiring an (appraiser) to do a before-and-after appraisal, we do not know if the requirements (of the law) can be met."

He wrote it that would cost the county an estimated $950,000 to construct 38th Avenue and part of Mt. Adams View west of 38th, and that West Richland won't help with the costs for 38th outside of its city limits.

Beaver asked Becken to bring back a resolution starting the process of classifying 38th as an arterial -- something, he said later, that would open up more pots of money for improvements.

Commissioner Delvin recused himself from the CRID discussion, apparently over an appearance of fairness issue. Last year, while he was still a state senator, he wrote a letter supporting the CRID.

After the meeting, some CRID proponents said they were disappointed in the commissioners' decision. Darren Curtis said there was a lot of support in Willamette Heights for the road proposal.

"We'll regroup," he said. "We're not going away."

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