By Ann McCreary

Commissioners are continuing deliberations over the best location for a proposed new fire station for Okanogan County Fire District 6 in Winthrop, focusing on two potential sites.

One is a 5-acre property the district already owns on Horizon Flats, and the other is a 3.25-acre lot on White Avenue next to Little Star Montessori School.

Commissioners are examining the pros and cons of each location. Both sites were identified as suitable by a citizen advisory committee that evaluated potential fire station locations for the district last year.

Continuing their discussion of possible sites at their monthly meeting on Monday (April 9), commissioners said the White Avenue property’s location within Winthrop’s Westernization zone is a key concern. Complying with the Westernization ordinance would significantly increase building costs, they said.

Commissioners have said the least-expensive building design would be a metal structure. But the town’s Westernization code requires wood siding on the exterior of buildings. Commissioner Darold Brandenburg was assigned the task of researching the financial impacts of that requirement, and said he expected them to be considerable. 

The White Avenue property is also “low,” said Commissioner Jerry Palm. It would require as much as 3,000 yards of fill material, which would add around $25,000 to construction costs, he said.

The Horizon Flats property has its own issues, including complying with the town’s critical areas ordinance and possible mitigation requirements for wildlife on the property, which is heavily wooded with Ponderosa pines.

The district has already completed a required environmental checklist, and a 2-acre habitat mitigation area has been tentatively identified, according to a report prepared by the site advisory committee. However, a formal assessment of the property by a wildlife biologist must still be completed.

A mitigation plan would specify what part of the property is needed for mitigation and how that part of the site would be managed. Structures would probably be prohibited in the habitat mitigation area, limiting the district’s use of the property, the report said.

Commissioners decided to proceed with completion of the critical areas ordinance process to clarify what restrictions might apply to the Horizon Flats property.

Palm said the difference in response time to fires from either site would be minimal. He said he timed the drive between the two sites and it was 58 seconds.

Paul Sisson, a member of the site advisory committee, encouraged commissioners to consider retaining the Horizon Flats property and purchasing the White Avenue property, to ensure the district has adequate space for a new station, training facilities and potential future expansion.

“Nope,” said Brandenburg in response.

Citizens objected to previous plans developed under former Chief Don Waller for a 12,000-square-foot station that would have cost about $3.5 million to finance and build. Voters rejected a tax levy increase in 2014 that would have funded the new station.

“We need a new building and it’s always been about money,” Palm said.

Fire Chief Cody Acord will attend a conference in Texas next month on fire station design, and commissioners are hoping he will bring back ideas for a new station.

District officials have advocated for several years for construction of a new fire station as an alternative to the district’s current rented facility on Englar Street in Winthrop, which the district says is so cramped that it jeopardizes firefighter safety. The district purchased the Horizon Flats property for $325,000 in 2009 with the intention of building there.

The district created the site advisory committee in 2016 to evaluate other potential locations after citizens complained that the district did not adequately involve the public in planning a new station. Citizens also raised concerns about the Horizon Flats property, particularly the steep, curving road that provides access to the site.

In other matters Monday, commissioners approved five-year renewals of wildland fire response agreements with Washington Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.