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Winlock officials turning efforts back toward repairs to SE First St.

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SE First St., in Winlock, contains a large section of road in need of re-paving, and the city has decided to again start repairing the road after similar efforts were abandoned by city officials two years ago due to political discord. The City of Winlock has begun focusing again on improvements to SE First St. after gridlock among previous officials led to the project being halted two years ago.

A large portion of the street, running through a residential area just south of Winlock's downtown core, is in considerable need of repaving, and the city is obligated to replace aging water fixtures under the street before repaving can begin.

Though Winlock had begun repairing the road in sections during the last several years, the upgrades stopped in 2013 when then-mayor Glen Cook and members of the City Council were unable to agree on specific elements of the project. That May, in light of the discord, Cook withdrew Winlock from eligibility for a $76,500 repaving grant from the Transportation Improvement Board (TIB), and work has yet to continue since then.

Among the issues contested at that time were whether or not each water meter should have their own pipe connecting to the main, and whether or not each meter should have its own pressure relief valve (PRV) to protect against surges in water pressure, rather than a PRV regulating the entire main.

During the present council's Jan. 26 meeting, Public Works Superintendent Gregg Robinson asked if officials would clarify how they think city policy should apply to the project in order to avoid similar uncertainty.

"In our design guidelines, it shows that a PRV will be installed on the customer side of the meter," he said, stating the guidelines only include a diagram of the valve's relation to the system rather than specific verbiage. "The mayor would like to start work on SE First St. and, to avoid any confusion, we should have in writing what our policy will be on installing them in the future."

Robinson said past practice has been for the city to install the valves at their own expense, which he estimated may cost between $100 and $150 per connection, and while it was assumed the city would maintain them, he said he has not found documentation between the city and property owners supporting this officially.

He told the council they could adopt this practice as policy or could adopt options such as: Not installing the PRVs at all; installing the PRVs at the homeowner's expense with homeowners maintaining them; installing the PRVs at the city's expense with homeowners maintaining them; or giving the homeowner the option to either install them or sign a waiver absolving the city of liability if lack of a PRV were to damage their pipes.

Robinson also stated the city needs to confirm if installing the PRVs at Winlock's expense would be gifting of public funds, as the valves are installed on the homeowner's side of the meter and fixtures on this side are considered the homeowner's property.

During previous discussions about the issue in 2013, then-City Attorney Mark Scheibmeir said he believed such a practice would constitute gifting, which is prohibited in the state constitution, and during the Council's Jan. 26 meeting City Attorney Erin Hillier said she would confirm if this was the case.

"This doesn't need to be done right away," said Robinson of the matter, stating he would not object to the council taking a couple more meetings to make a decision.

The council said they would like to discuss further details of the matter during a workshop scheduled for Feb. 9 at 5:30 p.m., during which time they also intend to discuss the status of the city's law enforcement resources.

When asked why Winlock was deciding at this time to resume work on SE First St., Mayor Lonnie J. Dowell said he felt leaving he street as it sits is "unfair" to residents frustrated by having to drive over potholes on a regular basis.

"I just want to show we're working on some improvement," he said, stating there is not currently funding set aside in the Public Works budget for the project, but the city will find some way of funding the repairs given their urgent need.

Dowell added it is Winlock's intention to again seek a TIB grant when a large enough portion of the water system is replaced, adding the city will continue working section-by-section.

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