CATT fight breaking out over tunnel

Just whisper the word “tunnel” to some Bremerton residents and you will get an angry earful.

But they are not the only ones bad-mouthing the $28 million plan backed by Mayor Cary Bozeman to dig a tunnel that will start at the Washington State Ferry terminal and end at Burwell Street to reduce traffic congestion.

Ever since the Bremerton City Council approved $4 million for research for the project and alternatives in August, land and business owners have spoken furiously against the idea as well.

The Bremerton Transporation Assessment Project is currently in the environmental assessment phase, according to Director of Economic Development Gary Sexton.

The environmental assessment will determine the impact of the city’s “preferred alternative,” (the tunnel), as well as surface alternatives, Sexton said. This phase is expected to last six months.

The city is planning on hosting some public meetings after the first of the year to get public input.

Now, prominent property owners Louis Soriano and Lou Weir have organized a group called Citizens Against The Tunnel, or CATT, to formally oppose the idea of a tunnel.

The tunnel idea is one of a handful being considered by the Bremerton City Council to ease ferry traffic congestion and make the downtown waterfront area more pedestrian friendly.

The council will make the final decision on whether or not a tunnel will be built in Bremerton.

On Tuesday of last week, CATT members spent roughly $10,000 from their own pockets to mail a form to 10,000 homes in Bremerton, asking for a signature to the statement “I am in favor of a sensible surface alternative versus a tunnel. This will save taxpayer dollars. I am in favor of putting this to a vote of the people and request the City Council place this measure on the ballot.”

The mailing includes a return envelope.

Already, Soriano has received dozens of phone calls supporting his move.

On Monday, Soriano, and Weir organized a press conference to discuss the reasons they opposed the tunnel.

Other group members included:

l Dave Johnson, president of West Sound Bank

l Gene Hart, retired military

l Del Knauss, Shipyard Worker

l Cap DeMiero, business owner

l Paul Zellinski, former representative from the State House, 23rd District

l Don Large, owner of Uptown Auto Rebuild

Weir said he wants the citizens of Bremerton to have a right to vote on this because he doesn’t think they have been given a fair shake for public comment.

“Those hearings were designed so they wouldn’t elicit any response,” he said, referring to meetings on Nov. 13 and Nov. 17 in which project experts laid out the different alternatives for the public.

“From their point of view its already a done deal,” he said.

Weir, who is chairman of the board of West Sound Bank said their Pacific Avenue branch would not be able to survive the construction slated for Pacific Street regarding the tunnel project, and would move outside the city.

Currently, Westsound has 30 employees on its payroll.

“There will probably be no parking on Burwell Street,” said Paul Drnjevich. “The people are going to suffer. Just look at the congestion that is caused by the government center being built.”

The CATT committee also handed out a list of their top reasons for opposing the project.

l It destroys historic and successful businesses

l It removes parking spaces

l The cost of $28 million is too much compared to surface alternatives

l The tunnel is dangerously close to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, and could be a possible terrorist threat

l It will be only used about 90 minutes a day

l It moves traffic directly out of downtown, so it hurts the goal of getting more people in this area

Mayor Cary Bozeman said he is not worried about the CATT group.

“I hate to see that every time someone doesn’t like a project they take it to an initiative process. That’s what got the state in trouble.”

Bozeman was referring to the-Tim Eyman backed I-695, when voters shot down the car-tab tax which helped fund the public transportation system.

“The long-range plan (in the city) is to move from a parking lot for the shipyard workers to a place for people.”

Although Bozeman said he is unwilling to name any names, he blames some property owners in the town for lack of successful businesses and the abundance of paved parking lots near the waterfront.

Although CATT claims the project will slice out current businesses along Washington and Pacific streets, Bozeman would like to bring in a Trader Joe’s supermarket, Old Navy department store and specialty shops. Bozeman has contacted both Trader Joe’s and Old Navy, both of which are gun shy about coming to downtown Bremerton until more businesses have been established.

Bozeman emphasized the final decision about which alternative is best in the City Council’s hands.

City Council President Carol Arends said she was unwilling to respond to CATT’s statements because she had not seen them yet. They have not made a statement at a city council meeting, although a petition of over 100 signatures was handed to the Council earlier this year.

Both Bozeman and property owners like Soriano and Weir agree that the city has been in the economic doldrums for 20 years. Soriano says he has no problem with the mayor, he just doesn’t like this project.

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