By Don Nelson
Just how “western” can a flashing digital-readout warning sign be?
Not even a little bit, say critics of a plan by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to install such a device on the wood-framed sign in Winthrop that sends departing westbound visitors off with a “till we meet again” goodbye.
WSDOT wants to install the permanent sign to replace portable digital signs that are placed near the ball field in Winthrop to alert motorists to conditions or closures on Highway 20. The sign could be quickly put into service remotely when needed, but would otherwise not be operating.
In a somewhat hurried discussion at a Town Council meeting two weeks ago that was dominated by the all-terrain vehicle issue, the council signed off on the sign, assuming details could be worked out with WSDOT.
Despite protests at its meeting last week, the council affirmed that decision — after being advised that it was violating the town’s Westernization ordinance, which requires adherence to detailed signage guidelines.
Lynette Westendorf, a member of the Westernization Architectural Committee (WAC), said the WAC unanimously disagreed with the council’s decision to allow the WSDOT sign atop the town’s sign. She called the action “another chipping away at Westernization” and urged that the WSDOT sign be relocated.
Kristen Smith, marketing director for the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed sign is not in compliance with Westernization requirements and would discourage visitors from taking pictures of one of the town’s most-photographed features.
“First and last impressions are important,” Smith said. “After 42 years [of Westernization], do we really need an electronic sign? Is this really progress?”
The council should “take the lead and be a role model” for Westernization, Smith said, rather than flouting the town’s own ordinance.
“Any feature you can find on Interstate 5 should not be found in our town,” Smith added. “Otherwise, we’re Anytown, U.S.A.”
Mayor Sue Langdalen was reluctant to revisit the issue, and council members weren’t inclined to take it up again either.
“We need to follow through on what we’ve done,” Langdalen said. “We can’t please everyone.”
“You are not in compliance with your own code,” Smith said. “This will make it harder next time.”
In other business, Langdalen reported that the town hopes to have two new deputy marshals in place by the end of the month, which would bring the marshal’s office up to full strength for the first time since late last year.
The council also heard a report from Jill Calvert, president of the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink — the nonprofit organization that operates the town-owned facility — on efforts to reduce the glare from lighting at the rink. Some area residents have said the lights are bothersome at night.
Calvert said the rink managers will test some shades that can be attached to the light standards to see if they redirect enough light to reduce glare. She said the rink will make every effort to reduce the lighting problems, but added that “we can’t skate in the dark and we can’t make ice in the dark.”
Council member Rick Northcott urged Calvert to move quickly on the tests. “This has to be addressed … we have to try something,” he said. “Let’s be optimistic about it.”
The council also agreed to begin its 2015 budget discussions on Tuesday (Oct. 14) in a 6 p.m. meeting at the Winthrop Barn, with the goal of completing the budget by early to mid-December after a public hearing to be scheduled in November.