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Will Little Norway become Little Kent?

POULSBO — A monorail in the simplest terms is simply a metal track and some cars.

But for Poulsbo, a monorail also contains the future of a town at a crossroads.

This was the discussion Wednesday night as Poulsbo City Council members traded jabs in a discussion that will likely continue for some time. Two council members have been forging ahead in the hopes of securing a transportation fix like fast ferries or a monorail from Bainbridge Island. But their fellow council members said Wednesday night that their concerns were great enough that they wanted to see the project’s momentum at least slowed.

The heated debate this week centered around Port Angeles inventor Karl “Jerry” Lamb, who recently said he would like to build his first LEVX magnetic levitation system monorail in North Kitsap if he were allowed by the involved entities. An initial community presentation on Lamb’s technology was slated for this week but postponed at the last moment. Council members Kathryn Quade and Jim Henry, who have been talking with Lamb about his technology, said coordination with Kitsap Transit was the primary reason for the postponement.

But Council-man Dale Rudolph admitted Wednesday night that concerns he raised may have also contributed to the cancellation. He said he worried that Quade and Henry’s efforts might commit Poulsbo to a project before the full council had made a decision about monorails in general.

“I’m the one that started this up in the last week,” Rudolph commented. “What I’m hearing and what I’m reading in the paper is how we can get it. My question is, do we want it?”

Henry, an ardent proponent of transportation solutions for North Kitsap, said he saw talking to Lamb as simply staffing the issue to find out more information. He explained that since he’s been on council, he’s seen a number of fatality accidents on State Route 305 and has felt a strong need to find a way to make it stop.

“I didn’t think there was any harm in at least putting that out,” Henry said of his efforts to bring Lamb to Poulsbo for a presentation. “I had no intention to preempt anyone’s prerogative. If I have given that opinion to my fellow council members, I sincerely apologize.”

Rudolph said his biggest concern was that the public appearance could be that Henry and Quade were working on behalf of the council. Rudolph said for that to happen, the council needed to make a formal decision and he, for one, believes a monorail is wrong for Poulsbo.

He explained that many Seattle-area workers are already moving to North Kitsap for cheaper cost of living and better amenities. He said he felt a monorail would encourage more people to relocate, creating a strain on Poulsbo’s ability to manage growth responsibly.

“I think it would turn Poulsbo upside down to have that convenient of transportation to the front door of downtown Seattle,” he commented. “We’ve talked about how to get there. We haven’t talked about what it will look like when we get there and I think that’s Kent Valley.”

Councilman Mike Regis said he, too, had issues with the possibility of a monorail’s impact on Poulsbo. He said something of such a magnitude would need studies in concurrency done to make sure that things like streets, housing, water and sewage capacity were able to handle a potential influx of new people.

“Monorails work when there’s capital mass in big cities and all the infrastructure is already there,” Regis commented.

But Quade countered that just because the Kitsap Peninsula does not yet have a monorail does not necessarily preclude the technology from being built here. She said she felt LEVX was “innovative” and had the potential to ease the commute for the many North Kitsap residents who already travel SR 305 daily. And new developments like residential areas planned at Olhava, she added, lend themselves perfectly to more rapid transit.

“We want to keep the feeling of Poulsbo being a small town atmosphere but we’re not going to stay a small town,” Quade said. “People are going to move here whether we have a monorail or not.”

But more than being an argument about whether or not to build a monorail, Rudolph noted that he felt at issue was the council’s very goals for transportation improvements and future growth. He suggested a public workshop be scheduled as soon as possible so that those issues can be discussed in more depth.

Quade mentioned that the LEVX presentation may be rescheduled for Jan. 26, 2005. A location has not yet been determined, however, Bainbridge Island and the Olympic College, Poulsbo campus have been listed as two possibilities.

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