Op/Ed by Tom Davis: Culvert Replacement Smells Fishy

Mason County government has never been the poster child for transparency, but what happened to one rural community should be a wake-up call for us all (see “County road project stumbles” MCJ July 11th.)

No impact study, no community outreach, no regard for public safety, that’s what Commissioner Shutty was apologizing for at the BOCC meeting on July, 2nd , when he took responsibility for failing to notify residents in a timely manner that Highland Rd., a rural arterial and critical emergency escape route in his district was scheduled to close for up to two months to allow for replacement of a “failing culvert”. In his defense, Mr. Shutty resides in the Alderbrook Resort neighborhood, and may not have even known where Highland Rd. is, much less its importance to local residents. What should have been an opportunity to demonstrate he was looking out for his rural constituents, turned out to be a pivotal moment revealing quite the opposite.                 

And speaking of oblivious, six and a half years ago Mr. Neatherlin rode a wave of public anger around construction of the Belfair Sewer System all the way to a county commissioner position, so you’d think he’d be a little more sensitive about a public works project poised to upend the commutes of residents and double the response time of emergency vehicles , not only for locals, but for the hundreds of 4-H campers at nearby Panhandle Lake. With so much at stake, how is it that the chronically intervening and perpetually loquacious Mr. Neatherlin decided to remain silent just when we needed him most? 

The official excuse given for this operational screw-up was that there was no policy in place to guide staff in a community outreach effort. Really? We need a policy for public employees to notify citizens in a timely manner that their lives are about to be disrupted and safety compromised?

In the end it all turned out as good as can be expected: residents got their emergency escape route and an additional week to prepare for the road closure, but only because they stood up and fought for it.

As a final note, there remain some questions around whether replacement of the Highland Rd. culvert is even necessary or if the county is simply following blindly through with a recommendation made some years back by a prior employee. When the current project engineer was asked if she had ever visited the project site she said, “No, but I have great faith in the process on which the decision was based.”

I wish I could say the same.  

Tom Davis, Shelton