Property owners get their say about draft bridge policy

There was a crowd of about 20 property owners who came to hear about the Central Kitsap Fire District’s proposed policy on crossing questionable bridges and culverts. But when it came time for them to speak, only a handful did.

And those who did voiced concern about the cost of having their bridges and culverts inspected, and whether they’d even be able to replace them if they were deemed not crossable.

“Many of these homes where there are bridges that are in bad shape — the homeowners can’t afford to have work done on their bridges and culverts,” said James Auspach. “And in some cases, even if they could have them replaced, it would take years to get (the Washington State Department of) Fisheries to approve the work.”

Several of those in the crowd agreed with him about the lengthy permitting process involving their creeks because they are salmon-bearing creeks.

Auspach explained that his culvert was damaged in previous floods and that the fisheries personnel have told him that there will be no more repair done to his culvert. He’ll need to add a bridge, he’s been told.

“They’ve told me next time something happens, I have to replace it,” he said. “But

don’t think I can afford that and I know it could take months to get the permits and meanwhile, I won’t have access to my property.”

At issue is a draft proposal from the fire district that calls for private property owners with bridges and culverts to have them inspected to determine that they can hold the weight of large department vehicles, including trucks up to 60,000 pounds.

If they are deemed secure by a licensed structural engineer, then the fire department will post that and trucks will cross if emergencies happen.

If not, fire department officials will do their best to fight fires and respond to emergencies on foot.

The district has identified 91 bridges and 44 culverts that need inspecting. More than 200 property owners are affected and 400 letters were sent out about Monday’s public meeting.

Fire Chief Scott Weninger said the limited access roadways and bridges policy is just a draft and the department wants input and will consider all comments before setting the final policy. But he also said he is not willing to risk personnel and equipment and does not want his firefighters to have to make the call at the moment of need.

“That’s the reason for this,” he said. “We need to be pro-active. I don’t want our people to have to make the call on whether to cross something that may be unsafe when an emergency is at hand.”

Another resident with a bridge on his property questioned what his liability would be if he did nothing.

“Right now, I don’t know whether it’s safe,” said Daryl Schruhl. “But once I know, if I can’t afford to fix it, would I be liable for anything that might happen there just because I now know it might not be safe?”

While there was no answer given to that question, it and others on getting or keeping fire insurance and homeowners liability insurance were raised.

These questions and others, such as whether Kitsap County’s public works department might participate and do some of the inspections at a more reasonable cost, were left for the fire district to research and review. The district also was asked to see if there is any state grant funding for a program such as this one.

Terry Shiffman, a property owner who has built several small private bridges in the area, said he thought it was unfair that he may now have to have his bridge inspected when it was just built three years ago.

“When I put my bridge in I checked with the fire district and there were no specs for it,” he said. “So I built it to the specs that were used in Bellevue. I don’t have any concerns about it. But now you’re telling me I have to have it inspected. I think you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

Some said the fire district look at county records to determine which bridges might be safe, based on whether the structures were permitted.

But fire district officials said they thought that would take a great deal of man-hours that the department didn’t have to spare.

County officials have said that the county does not inspect bridges and culverts that are on private property and that many of them were built prior to any regulations being in place that governed the safety of bridges and culverts.

One property owner said he didn’t think it was fair to ask every property owner to have their bridge or culvert inspected and that the fire district should only deal with the bridges or culverts that they know are in question.

But officials said that the policy has to be enforced equally.

Fire District Commissioner Ralph Rogers said he supports the idea of putting a policy in place. He spoke about situations where fire equipment was damaged when small bridges and culverts collapsed.

“These homemade bridges are going to kill a firefighter or destroy a vehicle,” said Rogers.”Being a fire commissioner, I’m not willing to put my people in that situation anymore.”

Fire District staff is expected to look into whether there is any funding with either Washington Department of Transportation of the fisheries department to assist residents in making improvements to privately owned bridges that cross waterways regulated by state fisheries.

The district will have a second public meeting on the policy at 4 p.m. Aug. 26.


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