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Racetrack foes say many questions loom

More than 50 people who oppose construction of a NASCAR racetrack in Kitsap County met in Poulsbo recently, underscoring traffic, environmental and social concerns to support their arguments against the facility.

“This is a very big issue that requires careful analysis,” said former Kitsap County Commissioner Tim Botkin. “We need to look at all the costs and benefits. But it seems to me we’re dealing with humongous costs and speculative benefits.”

“This is a transformational issue of the community and will determine its theme and direction for years to come,” said panelist Ray McGovern.

Moderator Beth Wilson admitted at the outset that the gathering was “a biased forum, that will allow us to get educated and get empowered.”

But many of the speakers encouraged participants to search out documents on their own and determine what questions needed to be asked. This included reading off the Internet addresses of the pro-racetrack Checkered Flag Club and Great Western Sports.

Botkin questioned the wisdom of constructing a track in the face of rising gas prices.

“As gas prices go up, it’s amazing that we’re investing our community character on something that depends upon its continued ingestion.”

State Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) said she was initially against the public funding aspect of the track, and once thought she could go along with the proposal if no public money was used.

Lately, however, she has developed “angst” about environmental, tax and bond issues as they relate to the track.

“I was open until I read the proposal. I still have a lot of questions that need to be answered,” she said. “You need to read all these documents, and the legislation, and ask questions of your own.”

In response to a comment by panelist Tom Donnelly, who said International Speedway Corp. “had the best lawyers that money could buy,” Appleton said ISC actually borrowed the work of some other lawyers who walked the same path.

“If you dig down into the language, you can see this is the same proposal they used for baseball financing,” she said. “And on the later pages, you can see that they left the word ‘baseball’ in several places.”

In its proposal, the ISC has stated the racetrack will not require any direct public assistance. The Legislature is charged with the creation of a racetrack commission which, in turn, would issue the bonds. Construction costs would be covered by these bonds, along with sales tax generated by visitors who use the racetrack.

Still, the panelists interpret this as a use of “public money.” Appleton said the existence of the bonds would affect the county’s ability to borrow money and “the county’s ability to build a university or a hospital in the future.”

Added McGovern, “I don’t think we should be using public money for this in any way, shape or form.”

Appleton said the county should not loan money to ISC in any way simply because its yearly profits exceed the county’s yearly budget 10 times over.

Among the other disadvantages cited:

• The racetrack would have a negative impact on the Hood Canal watershed, and the use of portable toilets instead of sewers could create a health hazard. •Â The traffic created by the event would debilitate the region, and would represent the only ISC track to have only three lanes of traffic to handle ingress and egress.

• The environmental impact cannot be adequately judged until the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement, and the noise levels cannot be adequately forecast until the track’s actual construction.

Representatives of Great Western Sports and the pro-racetrack Kitsap Economic Development Council attended the gathering but did not address the group or submit questions.

While the purpose of the meeting was a call to action and panelists encouraged attendees to verify the facts on their own, the presentation was predictably one-sided. However, there may be some relief for those who want to see both sides in the same room. Appleton said a legislative meeting to review the proposal is tentatively scheduled for May 31. This meeting was requested by ISC.

Additionally, the Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce is planning a forum on June 5 at North Kitsap High School during which both the Checkered Flag Club and racetrack opponents CHECK would make individual presentations and then answer questions from the audience.

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