Search This Blog

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Ripple Pulls a Few Strings…

Waning August

For a good five months last year we lived adjacent to a construction zone while the DOT and their cronies worked to squeeze a left hand turn lane into the middle of SR 203. There was far too much activity out in front of our house those days. Construction trucks, clanking machines and shouting workers descended upon our otherwise relatively quiet (true, we live on a State Highway) household (“Encroachment,” 3/28/’10) and held us hostage for the spring and summer.

The turn lane project was not unexpected; in fact it had begun five years earlier when the initial surveys left green paint sprayed on our driveway. From time to time we would receive a letter from WSDOT informing us about the impending project and how it might impact us. (Our mailbox, for instance, would be moved and repositioned on a “breakaway” stanchion.) As the project drew closer, stakes with pink flags sprouted on the right-of-way. A drilling rig plumbed for ground water. With each new activity we became more apprehensive about what would happen out front, how much right-of-way--which we have mowed and maintained for thirty-five years--would become new shoulder and road surface. How would the wider roadway impact egress from our driveway to the highway? Would the shared turn lane create a “suicide” lane when north and southbound traffic merged to the center for their turns? So many questions, and whenever I saw someone fussing about in front of the house carrying an official-looking clipboard, I would prod him for more information. One project manager, Manuel Quintem, told me there would be a public meeting and we would receive a letter informing us of the time and location.

No letter ever came. No questions were ever asked. None were ever answered. Then came the excavators. They ditched the entire right-of-way in front of Cascade Meadows’ horse barn, put in a French drain and a culvert extension. (I was relieved to find the drain would not impact our right-of-way.) How would the new drain affect the hydraulics of the next Valley flood? Who knew! Still no answers. In exasperation I sent an email to Senator Val Stevens posing my questions, sharing my concerns about the project’s final impact on the citizens affected by the SR 203/Tualco Rd./N. High Rock Rd. turn lane project. I told Senator Stevens that the locals most impacted by the project had had no input, had been told we would and that was the upshot of it all. Yes, The Ripple squeaked its way right to the top. Senator Stevens emailed back, informed me she had passed along my email to WSDOT and I could expect an answer within the week. Yeah, sure….

But I did hear. I had pulled the right string. An email from Ms. Lorena Eng, Project Manager, and not just any project manager either, but the Mother Superior of project managers, addressed my concerns, and while I was not entirely satisfied with her answers, at least someone had listened to me and responded. I rolled up my strings and put them away for safekeeping should the occasion arise for me to pull them again. When our mailbox remained high and dry and empty after the new road surface was striped and I tired of playing daily games of mail tag, I unraveled Ms. Eng’s string once more. That tug brought a crew of four later the same morning and after a veritable comedy of errors, our forlorn mailbox was poised to accept the next day’s mail (Send Us a Letter; Better Yet, Make that a Check, 7/23/2010).

This week out came Ms. Eng’s string again. The turn lane project is nearing its first anniversary, and I’m happy to say the new “shared” turn lane appears to be working: not a single rear-ender to my knowledge since the striping and signage were completed. Other than Gladys and I have a slimmer, more precarious shoulder to negotiate—and while the French drain has yet to be tested—I’ve been served up crow and have to say the turn lane intersection is a much safer place today. Our right-of-way, however, still has that ugly compost tube snaking along in front of the hedge.Unsightly sock Last fall I took an ax to the portion of the tube that had jumped our driveway and coiled around the mailbox. I chopped it into sections and thinking it would make good mulch, dumped the tube’s contents under our fir trees. Now this meshed sock of compost, laid there to protect adjacent property from construction effluence, was supposed to be compostable, “green,” environmentally-correct—a friendly sponge to sop up toxic materials. Imagine my surprise when I spread its contents under the trees and found a mulch of considerable non-biodegradable stuff: shards of plastic shopping bags, milk jugs and their lids, thick splinters of PVC and assorted other non-compostable stuff, rocks included. When I stepped back and looked under the trees, it appeared someone had spread their garbage there.Toxic trashNow I have enough problems collecting and disposing of fast food trash tossed on the right-of-way and didn’t need more unsightly litter from that untidy compost sack drifting about like thistledown.

“Dear Ms. Eng,” I began, and not wanting to sock it to her right from the onset, went on to praise the turn lane project and applaud DOT’s efforts to make SR 203 a safer place for those who wish to turn. “But wait…there’s just one issue, and a minor one at that… about that compost tube that is still squatting in front of our hedge like a well-fed anaconda….” I go on to explain to Ms. Eng what you already know. “Do you suppose,” I plead, “that little white DOT dump truck with the empty bed, the one that sashays aimlessly up and down the road,  yellow caution lights twirling away, might stop, pick up the sock and haul it away?" Por Favor?”

At this point I have to digress, which as you know is quite often the case with The Ripple. We have had, at best, an adversarial relationship with WSDOT the years we’ve fronted SR. 203. When we first built our house, we experienced frequent visits from a squad of orange-vests, demanding we comply with WSDOT’s code for installing a driveway. (Something about drain tiles…but there’s no ditch, sillies, nothing to drain or drain into…no matter, it’s drain tiles or else…the else being a very nasty, condescending official letter from WSDOT threatening to tear up the portion of our driveway that crossed DOT’s right-of-way and allowed us taxpayers access to a public highway paid for, incidentally, by our taxpayer dollars unless we complied with code….)

One Labor Day weekend years later I was selling honey in front of the house when I was accosted by another DOT thug, flaunting his orange vest like it was a badge belonging to a Federal law enforcement agency—and pulling down overtime, holiday pay, to boot. He swaggered up and shared this bit of official bluster with me: “You can’t sell things on DOT’s right-of-way. Creates a distraction.” I share with His Excellency that I had been selling honey on that very spot for years, had maintained the right-of-way on which we stood even longer than that. “If you continue to sell here,” he threatens, “We’ll (taking liberty with the royal “we”) fence the property!”To which I replied with all the sarcasm I could muster: “If DOT is as serious with its threats as it is at maintaining its right-of-ways, then I’ll take that as a sign the bad place is about to freeze over.” With that the orange-vest climbed into his truck and drove away (slowly, of course—holiday pay, remember).

Now back to Ms. Eng and that toxic sock constricting our hedgerow for nearly a year. Mind you I have not heard from her since the mailbox issue, but within an hour of my request, she replies and I quote her here: “Dear Mr. Johnson, I’ll get someone to remove and dispose of the sock. I also thought they were fully compostable--maybe in 200 years! Thanks, Lorena.” Her reply warms me all over, and I bask in the glow of understanding that if you pull the right strings, not only will a government official listen to you, but extend a helping hand as well. What a kinder and gentler WSDOT we have these days, thanks to Lorena.

“Bless you, Ms. Eng,” I email her back, “Bless you!” To which she promptly answers, “Hopefully no one will consider it an endangered species before we remove it!”

Ah, and a government official with a sense of humor! A rare find indeed!

Still, there’s that snake in the grass out front. Nothing funny about that…. Nothing funny at all.

Print this post

No comments:

Post a Comment