West Richland mayoral race: All contenders say Red Mountain interchange a priority

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldJuly 21, 2013 

Getting the state's approval for a proposed Red Mountain interchange off Interstate 82 is a priority for each of the three candidates running for West Richland mayor in the August primary election.

Councilman Brent Gerry faces two former city council members in the primary election in the race for the mayor's seat -- Nancy Aldrich and Merle Johnson.

The candidates agree direct access to the highway will bring in more tourism dollars and encourage businesses to move to the city.

"Without it, we need to go through somebody's backyard to get to our city," said Gerry, 57. The only way in or out of West Richland is through Richland, Kennewick and Benton City.

Nancy Aldrich, 60, believes one way to make it happen is to forge partnerships with the wineries and other businesses in the Red Mountain area.

"Highway access will bring everyone economic progress, we all have a stake in it," she said. Aldrich is a former city councilwoman who been on and off the council for 12 years and has served as mayor pro tem.

This is Gerry's fourth year serving on the council and he's eager to see the council's vision for the city continue forward as Mayor Donna Noski retires at the end of the year.

Aldrich also wants to see her city grow and improve, especially along Van Giesen Street where there many empty store fronts. The re-development of Van Giesen is key, she said, to establishing West Richland as a separate entity.

To do that, Aldrich said it's important to have a long-range plan for the city. She believes the existing homes and businesses along the street shouldn't be disturbed, but as they become available, the city needs to have a goal. She'd like to see a variety of development along the city's main drag -- boutiques, condos, motels, restaurants.

"What people don't realize is there is money out there in a multitude of areas but without a plan, as it becomes available, we won't be considered for it," Aldrich said.

Gerry agreed, saying the council worked hard to create a vision for West Richland's future asking for input from residents through town hall meetings and a city-wide survey.

"I'm committed to transparency in city government and believe participation of the citizens is of utmost importance," he said. "It's something I'm very passionate about."

Aldrich would also like to see the city build more amenities for residents including a community center, a spray park, perhaps a community pool.

She called West Richland a "family oriented community" that needs to stop sending its youths to Richland and other cities to do activities they could very well do at home.

Johnson, 59, wants to see more small government accountability and see the city build better relationships between citizens, the chamber, the fire district and the business community.

One example, is to have the county's firefighters in Benton Fire District 4 -- which provides fire protection for the city -- inspect homes, businesses and fire hydrants in the city limits.

"Public safety is a top priority for me. If they did the inspections they would be familiar with the city and be confident, when they hooked up to a hydrant, that it would work. That's not always the case," he said.

Johnson, who served on the council for six years before losing his bid for re-election in 2011 expects future development to happen in the Red Mountain area but says right now, the city has 100 acres of commercial land available along several roads: Paradise, Kennedy, Van Giesen and Keene.

"I fully welcome any business to develop in our commercial districts. But I'm not behind turning residential land into commercial land when it's not needed," Johnson said.

Johnson would also wants to reestablish the D.A.R.E. program in schools to teach students the pitfalls of using drugs, drinking and gang activity.

"To me, if the program deters even one child from getting into drugs or gangs, it's worth it," Johnson said.

He also wants to see the city establish more walking/biking trails and access points to the Yakima River for rafters and fishermen.

"On a 100 degree day people flock to the river and they have a right to get to it," he said, acknowledging that the issue of parking will be an ongoing problem for years to come.

The mayor's position -- a nonpartisan office, four-year term -- pays $6,000 a year.

The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary advance to the November general election.

For more election stories, visit tricityherald.com/election.

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