Residents fish for maintenance

Salmon prohibit city from working on Storhoff Road.

POULSBO — Poulsbo resident John Crist pauses in the center of Storhoff Road and gestures to its roughened edge, where erosion is whittling away at the gravel surface. Beneath is a show of soil and greenery, and below that Bjorgen Creek, responsible for the trickling overture that lends the thruway its peaceful sound.

But peace, Crist explains, isn’t always found along Storhoff.

In fact, the little thruway can be the cause of just the opposite.

The access road, which provides in and out capabilities to three recently annexed Noll Road-area homes, has been in less-than-stellar condition before, eventually washing away under the weight and velocity of the running water. Now some residents fear the road will once more crumble, and are taking the issue to city hall in hopes against again being “cut off from civilization.”

To them, the matter is one as much about annexation as it is city street maintenance; to the city of Poulsbo, it’s a matter that centers on timing and the environment.

“This is it,” Crist said. “This is our lifeline right here.”

Crist, a 40-year homeowner who lives just beyond Storhoff’s crossing with Bjorgen Creek, said since the late 90s the road has washed out three times, in each case leaving his family and two others landlocked without emergency vehicle access or a telephone line.

He said when winter brings rising water levels and extra creek clutter, the culverts begin to clog while seasonal moisture, which freezes and expands in the ground, threatens to thaw and breakdown the roadway’s structure.

It is under these stresses the road has washed out before, he said, and once again Storhoff is “on the brink.”

“Right now, we have a potential of losing this road in the next month,” said Crist. “This is our major problem here.”

Neighbor June Cotner agreed, and said to her the situation is nothing short of scary.

“The whole road could totally, totally go,” she said.

Both recounted that attempts to have the city solve the problem have been mostly futile. The city inherited the roadway in an annexation a little more than a year ago.

“If the city is not able to support this they should eject us out of the city limits,” said Crist. “They can’t keep letting this water fill up to the top of this road.”

Cotner said the road’s poor state is a sign of “reckless annexation,” and vented her frustration as a taxpaying citizen.

But the issue has certainly made a blip on the city’s radar.

Public Works director Barry Loveless said city representatives have been on-sight, and have verified Storhoff is dedicated as a right-of-way, despite its private road appearance. Currently, Public Works department cones and sawhorses sit near the fraying edge as a warning to drivers.

“There are some signs of erosion on the side of the road,” Loveless said, but he explained due to salmon protection regulations now is a restricted time of year. “We can’t go in there and start removing the culvert or clear it without permission from (the Washington State department of) Fish and Wildlife.”

Fish and Wildlife Habitat program Assistant Director Greg Hueckel said in general conflicts can occur when roadways cross running bodies of water, though there are times that work within a river isn’t threatening to fishlife. During spring and summer months chances of mortality are lessened, and the department encourages cities and their residents to aim for those windows when work is needed.

“Particularly right now you’ve had returning fish go back in the streams and you’ve got eggs that are now deposited in the gravel and you’ve got a high likelihood of mortality if you start driving pilings or increasing sediment, etcetera, in the stream,” he explained. “What we do is encourage local government, citizens, etcetera, if you see a potential problem with your road it’s best to get it out of the way and plan to do it when the chances of mortality for fishlife are lessened.”

However, he added, an emergency can be declared, permitting crews to address an impassable road. That usually only happens, however, if a failure has already occurred.

“It’s normally not categorized as an emergency if it looks like something might happen,” he said.

While the city is now in consultation with Fish and Wildlife, Loveless said the situation won’t be ignored in the meantime.

Though currently able to perform only minor repairs for preservation, the department has already come up with ideas on how to shore up the sides of the road, Loveless said.

“Whatever has to be done to maintain access, we’ll do it,” he said, adding he doesn’t believe it’s in imminent danger of collapse. “If we get a huge flood and it washes out we’ll do what we have to do to maintain access for them.”

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