Station’s impacts on Horizon Flats need review
Okanogan County Fire District 6 may need to help pay for improvements to Horizon Flats Road, if it builds a fire station on the 5-acre property it owns in Winthrop.
Fire district commissioners learned at their Oct. 14 meeting that more traffic studies are needed before the town can approve an environmental permit for the fire station. The results of those studies will help determine what types of road improvements are needed, and how much they will cost the district.
Improvements could be required anywhere on the 2,000-foot stretch from the fire station’s future driveway to the intersection of Horizon Flats Road and White Avenue, Winthrop Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said.
The environmental permit, or checklist, required under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) asks applicants to summarize their projects’ impacts on everything from threatened species to light pollution, stormwater runoff and parking needs. Getting developers to pay for the wear and tear their projects will bring to nearby roads is a standard part of the SEPA process.
The fire district’s engineer, Storhaug Engineering of Spokane, submitted a short report last December that said Horizon Flats Road, which is 22-feet wide and has no shoulders, could handle the wide turns made by the district’s longer vehicles, and that any road wear would be minor.
“Additional improvements to the existing Horizon Flats Road are not warranted,” Storhaug’s engineers wrote in their letter to Winthrop.
More info needed
Culp said the Storhaug study was “anecdotal” and “not a comprehensive assessment.” She and Winthrop Public Works Superintendent Jeff Sarvis asked the fire district to provide reports that meet certain national and international standards for traffic engineering.
“The standards we referenced, those are the gold standards in the industry” and are typically required with SEPA checklists, Culp said in an interview.
“In order to figure out what should happen there, we need good information about … what impact (the fire station) would have to our roadway, and what their needs are as emergency responders,” Culp said.
Culp questioned whether Horizon Flats Road was wide enough to enable cars to pull over safely so emergency vehicles could pass. And she raised a scenario: What if a fire truck is leaving the station on an emergency call at the same time a loaded cement truck is passing in icy conditions?
“This is a really huge project on a road that is inadequate,” Culp said. “Arguably, the road was probably built inadequately from the beginning.”
Firefighting vehicles would pass through the intersection of White Avenue and Horizon Flats Road on virtually every call. Culp said the town isn’t sure the intersection is up to the task of handling a regular run of larger emergency vehicles.
Forthcoming reports from the fire district should address issues such as road width, turning movements and sight distance, Culp said. They also would need to consider the deteriorating condition of Horizon Flats Road.
Heavy vehicles use that road regularly. An industrial zone south of the fire station site includes a construction company, a cement company, a mechanic’s shop and a city maintenance shop, the Storhaug Engineering letter states.
Fire commissioners grumbled over Winthrop’s letters requesting the new reports at their Oct. 14 meeting. They read the letters for the first time in front of the public.
Commissioner Les Stokes mentioned the heavy truck traffic that routinely passes up and down Horizon Flats Road, and he estimated the fire station’s contribution to that would be around 2%.
“It would be very minimal,” Fire Chief Cody Acord agreed.
Commissioners voted 3-0 to undertake the required traffic studies. Acord said the new reports would delay final approval of the environmental checklist until the spring.
The town and the fire district appear to be in agreement over several elements of the environmental checklist. Stormwater runoff would not leave the property but likely would be stored onsite in underground tanks. The fire station would minimize light pollution and set aside at least 1.65 acres for the western gray squirrel, which the state classifies as a threatened species.
Fire district officials have been trying to build a station on the Horizon Flats Road site ever since they bought the property in 2009. A property-tax levy that would have raised funds to build the station was voted down in the 2014 elections. Commissioners tentatively plan to ask voters to approve a bond or levy sometime in 2020.
The current plan calls for a 11,954-square-foot station that would include bays to hold six firefighting vehicles, living areas, administrative offices, meeting and training rooms, and an outdoor training area.
Also at the Oct. 14 meeting, fire commissioners set a date for a public hearing on the district’s 2020 budget. The public is invited to comment on the budget at 7 p.m. on Nov. 19 at the Twisp Fire Station, 434 Second Ave. Commissioners will convene a meeting immediately after the hearing is concluded, in order to approve a budget for 2020.
A draft of the budget will be shown to commissioners at their regular meeting on Nov. 11 and will be available to the public after that meeting.