Another Bremerton beach house bites the dust

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That little blue house perched under the Manette Bridge is soon to be demolished. 

The Bremerton City Council recently approved purchasing the home for $132,000, plus closing costs, and for the residence to be torn down.

It’s one of the few waterfront homes left. There was a day when the Bremerton waterfront was filled with such beach houses. They’ve been slowly disappearing over time. One particular day in 1990, eight of them were condemned by the city after one collapsed.

The reason you also don’t see many today is because state environmental regulations forbid building over Puget Sound. Only one now remains habitable on the Bremerton waterfront, which I wrote about last year.

The reason for the demolition this time around has to do with the city’s sewer system.

As part of the Washington Avenue project, an aging and problematic sewer line along the beach — between the boardwalk and Manette Bridge — will be closed down. Instead, sewer systems in houses along Washington Avenue now have “grinder” pumps, which pull sewage up into lines being constructed on Washington, rather than falling to the beach line below.

To install a grinder pump to the little home at 646 Washington would’ve cost around $40,000, Bremerton Public Works Director Chal Martin told the City Council. And in buying the house, the city will have a small slice of waterfront that could one day be developed.

“It could be beach access in the future,” Martin said.

The other reason the city bought it: officials said the house would give them something called “mitigation credits.” That’s a fancy way of saying that in the future, if there are objections to a city project for environmental reasons, the city could proceed with the project anyway because it mitigated environmental problems elsewhere.

Only Councilman Roy Runyon objected to the purchase, while the other six on the Council approved it. Runyon said he did not believe it was worth the city’s money.

UPDATE: Martin told me Friday that the home couldn’t be moved because it just wasn’t “economically viable.” Also, the city has condemned the yellow house that remains on the beach but there’s no timetable yet for demolition. The other beach house — soon the lone one left — will remain.

 

Astronomers to swoop in to Bremerton

The Crab Nebula (NASA)
The Crab Nebula (NASA image)

Q: What happens when you bring 300 of the brightest minds in astronomy to Bremerton? 

A: Dunno. But we’re gonna find out.

For the first time ever, astronomers who are working on a groundbreaking telescope known as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will swoop into Bremerton for a weeklong workshop at the Kitsap Conference Center in August.

Bob Abel, a physics professor at Olympic College, was instrumental in bringing the astronomers here. They’d been holding their annual workshops in Arizona. When talk came to bringing them closer to the University of Washington — where some of the astronomers work — Abel saw his chance. Its team, made up of scientists across the country, agreed to come here.

And what about this enigmatic telescope they’re meeting to talk about?

For a decade starting in 2020, the LSST, perched in the Andes Mountains of Chile, will rapidly scan the sky with a 3,200 megapixel camera. Over the telescope’s lifespan, it will collect untold numbers of stories in the night sky: supernovae, asteroids, and billions of galaxies as they evolve.

“It will obtain more data than all of the telescopes in history combined in its first month,” Abel said.

And all that data will be open to anyone to review, Abel said.

The astronomers will be busy during the day, but Abel hopes to introduce them to the community in the evenings. The conference has reserved a theater at SEEFilm downtown and will also use the Pacific Planetarium on Pacific Avenue for TED-style talks each night.

As this is a global affair, Abel has also managed to get the soccer field at Kiwanis Park reserved for the scientists to play on. (Kind of fun imagining these incredible minds from all over the world kicking a soccer ball around, don’t you think?)

 

The conference will be held Aug. 16-22. We’ll have more coverage as we get closer to the main event. Abel is excited about the chance to show the astronomers Bremerton; he hopes Bremerton we’ll be excited for the chance to meet them too.

“For one week in the middle of August, we’ll be hosting 300 of the best astronomers in the world,” he told the City Council Wednesday.

Story Walk: Come walk the new Westpark with me

Saturday's Walk; hope you can join us!
Saturday’s Walk will start at 1 p.m.; meet at Bay Vista Commons, 191 Russell Road.

One of my first times in Westpark was riding shotgun in a patrol car, trolling for suspects with warrants for their arrestThe officer I was with would simply ask for identification to run a background check. On more than a few occasions, warrants would turn up.

“Just want to make sure you’re not an ax murderer or anything,” the officer jokingly told one resident after checking his ID.

A lot has changed in 82-acre Westpark, now known as Bay Vista. Put simply: It’s not the crime haven it used to be. It took $80 million in state and federal funds to transform the place into a mixed-use development the Bremerton Housing Authority hopes will soon be filled with private investment as well. There’s already a nonprofit senior living facility and WinCo Foods. But there’s still a lot of green space to fill in.

The old Westpark sign remains in The Summit.
The old Westpark sign remains in The Summit.

On Saturday, come see it for yourself. With the help of Kurt Wiest, Bremerton Housing Authority’s executive director, we’ll walk roughly a mile or so of the development, exploring its new buildings and talking about how Wiest — a planner and housing authority veteran who came to the job primarily for redeveloping Westpark — chose to proceed on each project.

As it is the housing authority’s 75th year, we’ll also talk about the development’s past as Navy housing, its present and its future.

We hope you’ll join us for this Story Walk.

Here’s the details:

When: 1 p.m. Saturday May 23

Where: Meet at Bay Vista Commons, 191 Russell Road.

Cost: It’s free. But come ready to learn, be ready to walk and wear sturdy shoes.

For links to our previous Story Walks:

The new Lower Wheaton Way

Washington Avenue, past and present

The meandering Madrona Forest

Redwood Rendezvous in West Bremerton

Fourth Street’s Economic Divide

 

Arts commission restarts Thursday

Cover me with art!
The traffic cabinet at 11th and High. 

For the first time in nearly four years, Bremerton’s seven-member arts commission will meet Thursday afternoon.  Mayor Patty Lent declared earlier this year that the commission, which seeks out and recommends public artwork for installation in the city, would reconvene following a hiatus due to lack of funds.

Their finances will be limited. The arts commission was supported by dedicating one percent of funding from capital projects in the city. There are no such projects on the table right now. Their budget has about $50,000 left but that’s likely to be left for ongoing maintenance of current pieces, according to Cynthia Engelgau, the arts commission’s staff member from the city’s parks department.

So what can they do? Plenty, Engelgau says.

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An art-covered utility box I found in Vancouver, B.C.

 

For starters, Lent has directed the commission to help decorate the city’s traffic cabinets. You know, those rather rectangular metal cases you see at every intersection with a traffic light (pictured). They’re frequent targets of taggers. For $1,800, the city can have a cover for the cabinet custom made, with any artwork of its choosing.

And if a cabinet with an artsy cover is tagged? Public works crews can easily wash it off. The covers will be paid for out of the city’s street fund, Engelgau said.

One to two will be funded each year. The first two will be the cabinet at Sixth Street and Washington Avenue and the one at 11th Street and High Avenue. The latter of which will likely be designed by students at Bremerton High School. But the arts commission will get to have that discussion.

Engelgau said the commission is also hoping that “art advisory panels” from different arts disciplines (like, say poetry) will form in the city and can offer input to the commission.

She’s also created an ideas journal she’s calling the “Possibilities Book.” Any idea that comes into the city for art will be included. Know that old concrete wall where the Maple Leaf Tavern used to be on Lower Wheaton Way? Manette resident Robin Henderson may have the distinction of being the first in the “possibilities book” for his idea to decorate that wall.

Thursday’s meeting is open to the public. It starts at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Sheridan Community Center on Lebo Boulevard.

The members of the commission are: Emily Russell, Sheridan Mosher, Joanie Pearson, Angela Perryman, Blair Schuetz, Jacquelyn Speare and Deborah Woolston.

Steelheads played right here in Bremerton

Photo from nlbpa.com

If you watch tonight’s Seattle Mariners game, you’ll notice the team isn’t wearing its usual uniforms. In honor of African American Heritage Night, the Mariners are dressing as the Seattle Steelheads for the game, a team from the West Coast Negro Baseball League.

The Steelheads, it turns out, played some games right here in Bremerton at Roosevelt Field, the site of what is now a parking lot at Olympic College (the field was demolished in 1992). Aside from Seattle, the team also played in Bellingham, Spokane and Tacoma, according to Major League Baseball.

The league was short-lived, surviving less than a season in 1946, according to the Negro League Baseball Players Association. But tonight, the Mariners will pay homage.

The game starts just after 6 p.m.

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Bremerton’s best kept — and most decorated — military secret

Did you know that the most decorated vessel in U.S. Navy history is perched right here* in Bremerton?

Next time you take a walk downtown — perhaps Saturday for the Armed Forces Day parade — be sure to go to the entrance of the Harborside Fountain Park. There, you’ll find the sail of the USS Parche, a vessel highly decorated but largely unknown.

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Why? As you’ll learn in the above video, the Parche did a lot of spying in the Cold War years. While its missions are still classified, some believe it was tapping telephone cables within Soviet seas, unearthing a wealth of intelligence. Many details can be found in the book “Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage.”

In any case, president after president praised the boat and its crew just about every time it came home. As reporter Andy Binion noted when the sail was installed here:

The submarine earned 13 Expeditionary Medals, 10 Navy Unit commendations and nine presidential unit citations, making it the most decorated submarine in U.S. Navy history.

 

I’d encourage you to check out Mick Hersey’s master list here to check out all of the military memorials in Kitsap County.

Hope to see you Saturday at the parade. Oh, and don’t forget to take our quiz of Kitsap County military history.

 

*It’s the sail of the Parche submarine sits just outside Harborside Fountain Park. The rest of the vessel did not come with it.

Lower Wheaton Way, what are you sinking about?

Photo by Tad Sooter.
Photo by Tad Sooter.

Think you’ve heard the last of the Lower Wheaton Way project

Sink again.

On Saturday night, a mysterious void opened up on the newly paved street, near its intersection with Winfield Avenue. City public works crews have since been able to patch the sinkhole, but have not been able to explain why it happened.

City engineer Tom Knuckey told me that crews sent video cameras into sewer and stormwater lines under the street before the project started and after the sinkhole emerged. While a storm drain was replaced about 10 feet from the sinkhole early on in the project, no other problems showed up with the utilities there, he said.

“We had no indication there were voids below the pavement, and the contractor had no way of knowing,” Knuckey told me.

That means the city will have to pay and patch up the work on a brand new street. Knuckey’s best guess is that, given the road’s age — it began as a state highway circa 1930 — there’s many layers of pavement underneath and more of the stuff was just laid over the top in the current $3.4 million project. Plus, the compacting of the new pavement, which uses those massive road rollers, may have knocked something loose.

“It puts a lot of energy into the ground,” Knuckey said.

Sometimes such holes appear when an old, rotting stump deteriorates in the ground, creating a void. Knuckey can only speculate, but that’s a possibility.

In the next few weeks, crews will tear up the temporary patch and dig down in an effort to find the cause. If they cannot, they’ll fill it up with road and pave it over.

Perhaps this just isn’t that big of a deal to begin with, and we should be happy just to have a rare new street in Bremerton. One of my editors, who happens to live on the west side of town, was nonplussed.

“You call it a sinkhole,” he told me. “We call it a pothole.”

Welcome to a city of ‘mixed nuts’

photo by AARP.
photo by AARP.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation I had with the owner of Bremerton’s Quonset hut last week. Andrew Johnston, the hut’s owner who now lives in Jefferson County, gave a varied review of Bremerton — some good, some bad.

Johnston moved to Bremerton sometime around 2000, an owner in a long line who was drawn to the Quonset hut’s peculiar and industrially-inclined space. He was intrigued by the city’s various neighborhoods and how mixed they were socioeconomically and racially.

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He was distressed, however, by several problem homes nearby. He got tired of the police calls, traffic and noise at all hours and a near certainty that there were drugs being sold and drugs being done. (If you’ve lived in the city for any length of time, you know what he’s talking about.)

Even within that Quonset hut, a nearly indestructible Navy relic, that stuff could get to you. It made Johnston wonder, just as we all have wondered: how could such a pretty place have such seedy elements?

“Bremerton should be a gem,” he told me. “This should be one of the most sought after communities in the entire Puget Sound.”

And yet, Johnston, who is trying to sell the hut, also had a fondness for the place. He saw it as that melting pot — “what America aspires to be,” he told me.

“Kind of like mixed nuts,” he said.

Welcome to a city of mixed nuts.

Related nuts note: Just don’t go shucking peanuts on the sidewalk. Or do. It’s not actually against the law. 

Inside Bremerton’s Quonset HutCOMING SATURDAY: Ever wonder what the inside of Bremerton’s Quonset Hut, a residence and relic of the city’s Navy past, looks like? Find out in Saturday’s Kitsap Sun.

Posted by Josh Farley on Friday, May 8, 2015

City losing senior lawyer, planner

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Floyd and Koontz at city hall recently.

Two of of the city’s most prominent employees are departing for new jobs.

Nicole Floyd, a senior planner who has been with the city about a decade, is leaving to become the planner for the city of DuPont. Mark Koontz, the city legal department’s top litigator, recently accepted a position at Levandowski and Morgan, a Tacoma-based personal injury firm.

Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent praised both for their work in the city and wished them well, though she admitted she preferred they’d stay.

“They’re both success stories,” she said. “Both departures are bittersweet.”

Floyd has been the primary planner on the city’s most prominent projects — the new movie theater, downtown apartments, the Washington Youth Academy, to name a few. She also spearheaded the city’s version of the state’s Shoreline Master Plan, which increased but also “cleaned up” regulations for shoreline development here.

The North Thurston High School (Lacey) graduate of 1998 is moving closer to family in DuPont, where she’ll be the single planner for the small Pierce County city.

Floyd said she’s sad to leave town because of the relationships she’s developed here, but also because she believes the city is close to a “tipping point” where a surge of development occurs. During the Great Recession, she said permitting for big developments was pretty quiet. This year has been different, with lots of developers contacting the city for potential projects.

“I believe Bremerton is about to take off,” she said.

Koontz, meanwhile, has been the city’s chief courthouse litigator for the better part of a decade. The Seattle University law school graduate of 1996 worked for a prominent personal injury firm in Seattle before joining the city in 2006.

Koontz recalled his first case litigating on behalf of the city was when a woman arrested for DUI somehow wiggled her way out of a state trooper’s cruiser and ran off. The city police brought in a dog, which bit the woman. She sued, alleging civil rights violations. Koontz said the city successfully repelled the suit.

Koontz, whose wife, Claire Bradley, is a judge for Kitsap County District Court, said he was simply looking for a job where he could be in court more often.

“Frankly, I would’ve left a long time ago were it not for the people here,” he said. “I’ll miss working with them.”

No replacement has been announced for Floyd’s position; the city will cover Koontz’s position with a familiar face — attorney Dave Horton, who has worked for the city before. Retaining Horton is up for discussion by the City Council Wednesday.

Downtown Bremerton project ‘Spyglass Hill’ underway

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I’m often asked about the Spyglass Hill development, a project that will add 80 apartments on Highland Avenue in downtown Bremerton. Since crews bulldozed the dilapidated homes there last year, the most frequent question about it I get is “When will construction start?”

Now, it turns out.

Late last week, the Earth movers started up above the Manette Bridge (see above photo). I happened to run into Wes Larson, its developer, last week at Great Peninsula Conservancy’s Spring Dinner, and so I had to ask. Yes, the permits are in hand and construction on the $15 million project has begun, I learned.

First up is attaching utilities to the property via Washington Avenue. You’ve probably noticed how there’s a gap in the retaining wall on Washington that used to be John Hoffman’s garage/storage space. Now, that gap is helping to provide crews space to underground the utilities into the project. Once that’s done, a new retaining wall will go up and that space will be filled in.

From there, the project will go up five stories.

Its original completion date was January 2016. I suspect that may be pushed back since construction didn’t start quite as early as anticipated.

Spyglass isn’t the only new apartment project going up downtown. You may have seen the 606 Burwell project, which is moving along for an opening date before the year’s up. There’s also designed projects that have not set dates for construction but are ready in theory. Those include “Evergreen Pointe” near the park and the Towers project off Sixth Street and Washington Avenue.

I’ll keep you posted as I hear more on any of these projects.

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What Spyglass Hill will look like when it’s completed.