Beat Blast: Gold Mountain, the Bremerton ninja and a gator’s head

Bremerton is losing its ninja. Well, kind of. Brandon Duran, the man who’s been dazzling drivers with his staff at 11th Street and Warren Avenue for a couple years, is moving to Port Townsend.

But fear not: he insists he’ll be back here most Tuesdays and will have time for occasional “spin sessions.”

It’s a busy Beat Blast this week (click the video above to watch). Elsewhere on it, you’ll hear stories about:

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A new drop-in music night at Bualadh Bos, where musicians young and old are getting in on the act;

The financial health of the city-owned Gold Mountain Golf Complex, and what its managers are doing to get it in the black;

Some new developments along Wheaton Way, including a new apartment complex and transit center;

And some new video of the historic Astoria ferry, once homeported in Bremerton. (Special thanks to videographer Jeffrey Daly, and, to help out on the ferry’s restoration efforts, click here.)

Oh, and don’t miss the gator head at the end? Send me questions or comments at josh.farley@kitsapsun.com.

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When I say Bremerton and you mark Bainbridge

This boat is bound for Bremerton, even if your receipt says otherwise.
This boat is bound for Bremerton, even if your receipt says otherwise.

You’ve heard this one before. On my way back from Seattle a few weeks ago, the attendant that sold me my ferry ticket to board the Bremerton boat marked me down as heading to Bainbridge.

I politely protested. He said it didn’t matter. I insisted that, as a reporter, I had been told repeatedly by ferry officials that it did matter. He called his boss. His boss told him it didn’t matter.

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My actual receipt.

I left with my receipt and plenty of questions for ferries officials. Once again, a Bremerton rider had been counted as heading to Bainbridge, as I’d heard many times before. Only this time, I witnessed it with my own eyes.

I consulted Ian Sterling, a ferries spokesman, about my receipt. Had something changed, in light of the more careful counts crews are doing to ensure they’re following Coast Guard capacity requirements?

No, Sterling said. The attendants should be marking them down correctly. And his supervisor should’ve voided the sale and started the process again. Sterling said the staff would be getting a “written reminder” to ensure accuracy.

“This is something that comes up from time to time,” Sterling said.

Why it’s important: The ferry system uses those ridership statistics for planning its route capacity. So it is a big deal, and if you find yourself in a similar situation, please let me know.

In my own case, the attendant vowed to count the next two motorists as going to Bremerton regardless, as a consolation prize.

I’m puzzled about why this keeps happening. I can only chalk it up to a disconnect between those managing the ferries and the people selling the tickets. It only applies when you drive your vehicle on the vessel in Seattle; walk-on passengers buy a specific ticket.

But has it affected the statistics? Hard to say.

The Bainbridge route indeed has higher ridership. Bainbridge’s carried 6.3 million riders in 2015; Bremerton’s carried 2.7 million. But of those, 25 percent drove on the ferry in Bremerton, compared with 30 percent on Bainbridge in 2015. This might just be Bremerton’s typically-high walk-on passenger counts but if attendants continue to count Bremerton’s vehicles as Bainbridge’s, it stands to reason it will have an effect.   

But for some Bremerton ferry riders, getting the wrong receipt is a symptom of a bigger issue: That their route is treated differently. Bainbridge has vessels built in the 1990s; Bremerton’s are late-60s era models. Bainbridge has more sailings. One commuter I talked to even feels the terminal in Seattle is nicer on the Bainbridge side. And last week, when the Kaleetan ferry experienced steering issues, passengers to Bremerton were ultimately taken to Bainbridge, where a bus waited to take them home. Generally, when a Bainbridge vessel goes out of service, it is quickly replaced, setting off a domino effect that impacts the Bremerton run.

Even the credit card system at Colman Dock doesn’t acknowledge Bremerton. Regardless of the destination the attendant marks you down for, your credit card statement will say “WSFERRIES-BAINBRIDGE,” as the line item no matter what.

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Here comes Chimacum.

I asked Sterling if he hears such complaints about favoritism.

We hear from most routes from time to time that they believe other routes get more attention,” he told me.

The San Juans routes, for instance, feel Seattle “get more than they do,” he said.

“I can tell you that WSF is focused on the system as a whole,” Sterling said. “Bremerton is one of our core central sound routes.”

He closed with one final point: Guess who’s getting a brand new $123 million ferry next spring?

Bremerton

But when it comes to receipts, it appears the only way to ensure your trip counts to its proper destination is to keep a close eye on it and contact the ferry system if you’re Bainbridged* by mistake. I’ll be happy to help, too.

*Not a real word.

How long will the construction cones linger?

Riddell's new paving. Photo by Larry Steagall.
Riddell’s new paving. Photo by Larry Steagall.

Road construction typically declines as summer ends and the rains of fall return. But around Bremerton, have you noticed the construction cones are lingering?

Here’s a roundup of road construction projects, and when you can expect things will wrap up.

Riddell Road: A joint venture between the city and Kitsap County got this road, on the northern edge of Bremerton, repaved. Work was completed this week (pictured) though Bremerton crews still have to add markings to the roadway itself. The city paid $60,000 to the county to complete the effort, which came from the Transportation Benefit District.

Austin Drive: The city received about $700,000 in federal funding to repave the entirety of the  roadway, between Kitsap Way and Erland’s Point Road. An agreement was reached with the Navy to also repave a portion of Higbee Road, which goes to the Naval Hospital. Plus, in a nod to pedestrians crossing the road inside NAD Park, a “tabletop” intersection will be added that slows cars.

Work will begin Monday and last about two weeks.

Kitsap Lake Junction island: This sounds more exotic than it really is, but if you’ve ever tried to cross runway sized Kitsap Way near Harlow Drive, it can feel like a real-life game of Frogger. No more. A pedestrian “refuge” island means you can go halfway across and stop and a crosswalk will guide the way. The concrete work here is nearly complete but there’s one more component that remains: a “rapid flashing beacon” that will light up to alert motorists that pedestrians are crossing.

The poles and electronics won’t be installed until late December, City Engineer Tom Knuckey said. But in the meantime, most of the construction cones should go away.

The project, part of five total intersections being improved in Bremerton, is being paid for by $692,000 in federal funds.

Here’s what’s happening at the other four intersections those federal dollars are enhancing. In each case, construction cones should go away by early October but expect crews to return to erect poles and the electronic aspects at the end of 2016.

6th Street and High Avenue: The intersection is getting a “HAWK” signal that will allow pedestrians to stop traffic to stop Sixth at the push of a button.

1st Street and Charleston Boulevard: The crossing is getting a rapid flashing beacon like the one on Kitsap Way at Harlow Drive.

11th Street and High Avenue: Aside from the new concrete curbs, the intersection will get “countdown clocks” that inform pedestrians how long they have to cross.

11th and High.
11th and High.

Kitsap Way at 11th Street: The new concrete curbs are in, and the intersection will get “countdown clocks” that inform pedestrians how long they have to cross.

Tracyton Guardrail: City officials cannot seem to get a bid — at least yet — from a construction company to construct a $100,000 guardrail along Tracyton Beach Road. They’ve vowed to keep trying, and that construction would happen in the fall. “We just need to get it done,” Knuckey said. A young woman was killed there early this year.

Also: if you’re wondering about projects in wider Kitsap County, Sun Reporter Ed Friedrich has you covered here.

Last but not least, Lebo: One more quick note about Lebo Boulevard, which will be reconstructed with wide sidewalks, lighting and bike lanes in 2017. A community meeting will be held at 6 p.m.Oct. 11 at the Sheridan Community Center, 280 Lebo Boulevard. A $6 million state grant is funding the work.

SOLVED: The mystery of the missing fire hydrant

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Photo by Kim Demko.

If you’ve spent time at Pendergast’s “Bark Park,” you know about the charming fire hydrant to which countless visiting dogs have, shall we say, laid territorial claims. 

That is, until early last week, when the hydrant mysteriously disappeared.

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The old hydrant.

Kim Demko, a frequent visitor to the park with her dog, was saddened to find it gone. The hydrant was the only permanent “ornament” at the park, one she was told might be one day incorporated into a water system should one be installed there.

“It was also a friendly confirmation that you had actually arrived at the location of the dog park,” she told me. 

I had to wonder: who steals a fire hydrant? The thing weighs about 500 pounds, so whoever did it came prepared. Demko circulated word on Facebook about the theft. I inquired with the police department.

As it turns out, it was no thief at all — just its original owner bringing it out of retirement. Bremerton Public Works crews snagged it to take some parts and repair a hydrant damaged in a crash Sept. 2 at Almira Drive and Sylvan Way on the east side.

“It was the only one left that we had,” said Bremerton Public Works Administration Manager Milenka Hawkins-Bates.

And there’s good news for dog park users: the city was able to place another hydrant out at the park Wednesday. Its artful design (above, at the top of the page) was painted by Darrell Clauson, a lead in public works’ wastewater and stormwater division.

Oh, and lest I forget, some improvements are coming to the bark park. I’ll have more on that in an upcoming story in the Kitsap Sun.

COUNCIL SCORECARD: Police promotions and LED lights

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The street lights will stay on in Bremerton, and, city officials hope, they’ll save some money too. At a brisk meeting Wednesday night, the Bremerton City Council approved the retrofit of 531 street lights with LED technology, meaning they’ll last longer and require less maintenance.

The cost: $268,000. A state grant and a rebate from Puget Sound Energy drops the cost to the city to $140,000, which officials say will pay for itself in six years. The $194,000 installation cost will be paid to the Consolidated Electrical Distribution company, which has a Bremerton location.

You might remember the demonstration project on Dr. ML King Way that spurred the latest purchase, one spearheaded by Public Works Director Chal Martin. There are a total of 1,619 street lamps in the city, so many will still be of the traditional variety.

Also at Wednesday’s City Council meeting:

Lt. Mike Davis is sworn in by Bremerton Judge James Docter.
Lt. Mike Davis is sworn in by Bremerton Judge James Docter.

Sworn officers: Bremerton’s newest lieutenant, Mike Davis, was sworn into office Wednesday night. Davis, who grew up in Kitsap County, became a Bremerton officer in 1998; he’s trained fellow officers, instructed on defensive tactics, been a detective and K-9 officer and, more recently, was promoted to sergeant.

Put simply, Davis has been an integral part of criminal cases that jolted the community conscience — murders, assaults, the Arnold’s Fire and the killing of Buddy the police dog. Police Chief Steve Strachan read an email from retired Bremerton Police Sgt. Bill Endicott at the meeting, who said Davis would provide the “professional, ethical, and moral” tutelage for a new generation of officers.

Three sergeants — Tim Garrity, Aaron Elton and Keith Sargent — were promoted Wednesday. (And, as Strachan pointed out, that means the city now has a Sergeant Sargent.)

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From left to right: new sergeants Aaron Elton, Keith Sargent and Tim Garrity are sworn in.

Also on Wednesday, Officer Jeff Schaefer was promoted to corporal (for background on the position, click here). Former Poulsbo Officer Jennifer Corn and former Bainbridge Island Officer Mike Tovar were sworn-in as new officers in Bremerton as well.

Chromium-6: Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent addressed new fears that the chemical has been found in unsafe levels in most every state in the country. She claimed Bremerton’s drinking water is well under federal limits. “We have a much lower (level) than current standards,” she said. To see the city’s water quality, click here.

Public Works Turmoil: Councilman Greg Wheeler talked about the investigations that led to discipline among personnel in the Public Works Department during his report. He said the Council learned of the investigations because the Kitsap Sun was set to publish a story, and that, though he’s the chairman of the City Council’s Public Works Committee, the situation was appropriately handled by Lent and the city’s administration.

He did add he was “very concerned about the morale of the city staff and our employees” and that he hoped to see more “communication and trust” being built. “This change starts at the top,” he said.

Beautify Bremerton: The annual city “Beautify Bremerton” day is from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Residents here, as well as landlords, can take all yard waste free of charge to a disposal site near Legion Field off Sheridan Road. There’s also an army of volunteers and workers that will clean up parks and plazas around the city, including the Pat Carey Vista, Madrona Trails and medians near the Navy’s Farragut gate off Charleston Boulevard.

To see the full minutes and agenda of the City Council meeting, click here.

An infuriating night for Bremerton’s ferry commuters

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A Washington State trooper had to hold back passengers upset they could not get home from Seattle Tuesday night.

Commuters to Bremerton at the ferry terminal in Seattle faced a infuriating evening Tuesday night. The Kaleetan ferry broke down due to steering issues the same afternoon, triggering the Coast Guard-mandated 600 passenger cap on vessels capable of holding double that.

With the 5:35 p.m. sailing canceled, the numbers waiting stacked up. The Hyak’s 6:45 p.m. could only go with 600, and troopers with the Washington State Patrol had to hold people back.

“It was mayhem,” said Dr. Robert Bullock, a commuter to Seattle, who added some people were screaming.

“We are second class citizens in Bremerton,” added Art Conrad, another commuter.

It took most commuters many hours to make it home, on a night it usually takes about one.

Because the vessels on the Bremerton run don’t have enough life rafts, the Coast Guard has capped runs when only one boat is present at 600. On Tuesday, that left lines of passengers waiting in Seattle to catch what looks like a ferry with ample space. And this is certainly not the first time this has happened.

The state ferries and Kitsap Transit worked out an emergency deal Tuesday that allowed commuters to take the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry — and their larger capacities — to Winslow. From there, a Kitsap Transit bus would haul them the 45 minutes to Bremerton. But commuters told me they also had to transfer buses in Silverdale, making the trek even longer.

A lunch date for Emily and her baby, Cecilia turned into a late ferry and bus ride home to Bremerton. Photo by Susan Digby.
A lunch date for Emily Berta and her baby, Cecilia, turned into a late ferry and bus ride home to Bremerton. Photo by Susan Digby.

Elissa Torgeson, another commuter, said she rushed to wait in the area past the turnstiles so she could guarantee herself a spot on the soonest boat to Bremerton. And then, ferry officials announced they could take the Bainbridge and board a bus.

She said some ferry employees did not empathize with the situation and did not keep commuters waiting informed of what was going on.

Buses were “standing room only,” at the Bainbridge terminal, according to local resident Susan Digby.

Ian Sterling, a spokesman for the state ferry system, said the Kaleetan would not likely be fixed Tuesday night. It’s unclear what will happen Wednesday morning at this point.

“We sympathize with those commuters who have endured a long night,” he said. “That’s the reality of an aging fleet.”

Sterling added that the addition to the Bremerton run of a new ferry, the Chimacum, in 2017, will allow 1,500 people to board the boat at all sailings, due to its safety enhancements.

But it was a long night Tuesday. And with a game at Safeco Field and only one vessel working the route, it became a Wednesday morning for some.

Here’s what the ferry system sent out at 8:30 p.m.

Due to mechanical issues, the Kaleetan is temporarily out of service. This cancels the 9:05pm sailing from Bremerton. There will be three sailings departing Seattle: 9:05pm, the 10:30pm will depart late and the sailing at 12:50am will also depart late. The next sailing from Bremerton will depart with a late 11:40pm. Until two boat service is restored on the Seattle/Bremerton route the Hyak will only board a maximum of 600 total passengers, this includes vehicles. The vessel is unable to board additional passengers for safety reasons. We apologize for any inconvenience. Updates will be provided as conditions change.

Below is a video showing the chaos (OK fine, chaos isn’t quite accurate) people  in the terminal as the night began.

UPDATE: Repairs were made to the Kaleetan and it was set to sail again on the 6:20 am ferry to Seattle.

Beat Blast: Crossing guards, ferry receipts and a Big Bird-like bike

Students walking to Naval Avenue Early Learning Center Tuesday morning got special escorts to cross the street. The Bremerton Citizens Advisory Patrol, a volunteer group that helps provide additional eyes and ears to the city’s police department, brought hot chocolate and a helping hand to crossing guards. (You too can sign up here to volunteer, if you so choose.)

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Check out our best impression of The Beatles’ Abbey Road. I hope you’ll be impressed.

Elsewhere on the Beat Blast this week, you’ll find out about:

The $10.2 million Fred Meyers’ remodel in East Bremerton;

Gov. Jay Inslee’s promise to keep the new $123 million Chimacum ferry on the Bremerton run;

That your ferry receipt may still say Bainbridge even if you’re traveling to Bremerton. I last wrote about this issue in 2013 but in the video, you’ll see it’s still happening.

And how a bike with Big Bird-like accouterments ended up at the Goodwill on Wheaton Way.

Also, there’s been turmoil in the public works department, which we chronicled in a story last week.

And, if you don’t have any plans Saturday, come take a Story Walk with us at Olympic College’s Secret Garden.

Questions? Comments? Send them to me at josh.farley@kitsapsun.com.

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First look: East Bremerton grocer wraps $10.2 million renovation

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Those passing by Fred Meyer on Highway 303 might not notice that a $10.2 million overhaul is wrapping up. The store’s exterior hides a transformation on the inside that includes new departments and products, has made the 204,000 square-foot location much greener and gives the grocer a contemporary look.

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Sushi now has its place in the East Bremerton store.

Since March, construction crews have been gutting the store section by section. Aside from some finishing touches to the jewelry department and children’s play area, the work is done. Kroger, which owns the store, wanted a renovation that revolved around the customer experience, and store manager Axel Strakeljahn is confident they succeeded.

“We believe that this community is committed to growing,” he said. “And we’re committed to being part of that.”

One need only look up or down upon entering to find the most obvious changes. The store now has 63 skylights and new lighting, to go with brighter color schemes. On the ground, all the original tiles were stripped off, exposing a concrete floor. It was ground down, sealed and polished, giving the floor a darker, more contemporary look.

The goal was sustainability, Strakeljahn said. Natural light will lower the building’s carbon footprint and its new floor needs none of the chemicals — just water — that the old one required.

Here’s a brief look at many of the changes:

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  • A new Starbucks cafe now greets visitors near the store’s northern entrance, replacing what was a (Starbucks-owned) Seattle’s Best Coffee location.
  • Also near the northern entrance is a floral department and, for the first time, the store has hired a full-time florist.
  • Near that is a brand new sushi bar. (Your Bremerton Beat correspondent, who is quite fond of sushi, sampled a California roll and found it delectable.)
  • The wine section doubled in size, and is now more than 100 feet longer than it was before (And the store already has a full-time wine steward). For local beer connoisseurs, there’s also more room for microbrews, too.
  • New product lines have been introduced, to include Seattle’s Top Pot doughnuts (which are delivered daily), Boar’s Head Premium Deli meats and cheeses and a create-your-own pizza section in the deli.
  • For the first time, there’s a dedicated section for Washington sports teams.
  • A new, larger pharmacy replaces the electronics department, which moved east to the back of the store and is also larger.
  • The nutritional food section, which includes organics and bulk foods, is also about twice the size it used to be.

The store is celebrating its “Grand Re-opening” starting at 7 a.m. Friday. Doughnuts and coffee will be served, specials will run through the end of the month and the first 2,000 customers will get Fred Meyer reusable grocery bags.

Check back to the Bremerton Beat Tuesday for a video of the remodeled store and an interview with Strakeljahn.

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Strakeljahn (right) at the store Monday, as more Top Pot doughnuts are loaded onto the shelves.

Come tour Olympic College’s rare ‘Secret Garden’

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Retired Olympic College Professor Susan Digby checks out a Linden Tree at the college’s ‘secret garden.’ Meegan M. Reid photo.

Down a lonely, one-way road off the Olympic College campus is an historic home teeming with eclectic plant life. In recent years, the treasured estate long owned by Dr. Henry and Elizabeth “Billie” Barner has largely gone unnoticed. But place now known as Olympic College’s “Secret Garden,” whose potential is being tapped by a few professors there, is enjoying new life as an outdoor classroom.

And, on Sept. 24, you’ll have a chance to see it for yourself.

Nestled on the shores of the Port Washington Narrows, the property is home to plant life the Barners imported from around the world. Their beautiful residence, admittedly, has seen better days, but is still a piece of history — its design was the first completed by Elizabeth Ayer, the first woman to graduate from the University of Washington’s school of architecture.

As part of the Kitsap Sun’s latest Story Walk, we will tour the property with special guests including Olympic College President David Mitchell, Kitsap Historical Society Director Dean Tingey, and the professors who are utilizing this now Olympic College-owned resource as a learning environment.

RSVP here. The tour is free.

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Photos by Meegan M. Reid.

Seriously, Bremerton’s getting the nice ferry

I had time to ask Gov. Jay Inslee only one question at the christening of Bremerton’s new ferry today. But I knew what it was going to be.

It’s no secret Bremerton has often been left with the oldest and creakiest vessels in the fleet, especially when ferries break down. Meanwhile, Bainbridge Island, where Inslee happens to call home, generally maintains the largest and nicest of boats through it all. Ferries officials make a logical argument that Bainbridge’s ferry ridership is roughly three times that of Bremerton’s, though Bremerton’s is growing.

In my brief time with Inslee, as you can watch above, I asked him how he’ll feel about Bremerton getting the newest boat and freshest paint job. The governor didn’t miss a beat.

“I think I’m gonna come to Bremerton just so I can ride the Chimacum,” he said. “This is a beautiful boat.”

He added that he has a piece of the Kalakala on his desk, and that the iconic vessel once served Bremerton as its ferry.

I will add this: there’s no promise that the ferry system will always run the Chimacum to Bremerton — these are boats after all. Yet there’s good reason to think she’ll stick around for awhile. For one, the vessel will be adorned with works of Bremerton art and history.

Here’s some more background about the ferry:

When the Chimacum became “whole.”

Why the 1,500 passenger vessel is being named after Chimacum.

When the vessel’s keel was laid.

See you in 2017, Chimacum. Here’s some more photos from the day.

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