This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Do the Washington National Guard folks at Camp Murray really want to pick a fight with their closest neighbors – the people who live in Lakewood’s Tillicum community?
That probably wasn’t their intention when they made public their plans to move Camp Murray’s main gate. But it sure has been the result; the plan has Tillicum residents up in arms.
The reason: According to a draft environmental assessment released Friday, moving the gate from its current location near the Berkeley Street Southwest/Interstate 5 interchange will mean 63 percent higher traffic volumes on Tillicum’s residential Portland Avenue Southwest. If the gate is moved, drivers will take the Thorne Lane exit and go through Tillicum to reach Camp Murray.
Residents are understandably worried that the higher traffic volumes will have negative impacts on their quality of life, their children’s safety and their property values – at a time when they were starting to look forward to the improvements a new sewer system and master plan promised to bring.
The dispute likely could have been avoided had the Washington State Military Department brought the community along from the beginning, sought its ideas and actually listened to what people in Tillicum were saying. Instead, it seems intent on cramming the gate plan through to take advantage of $4.8 million in federal money, and it’s shown little interest in what the locals have to say about it.
Harsh? Consider the way the WSMD handled the issue of public comment. The comment period began Sept. 3 – the Friday before a holiday weekend. It ends Sept. 17. The announcement of the comment period was quietly placed in an obscure spot on the WSMD website. (For a shortcut, click here.) The WSMD should extend the comment period another two weeks.
Tillicum residents have ideas for alternatives the WSMD might have considered. They’d like to solve the problem, too, because they’re already seeing a lot of traffic cutting through the community to avoid backups at the current gate. And traffic will only get worse as Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s population increases.
One alternative would be to improve the Thorne Lane interchange and funnel vehicles down a widened Union Avenue Southwest – a commercial street where businesses would enjoy the extra traffic.
The WSMD’s poor communication with the community could deal a fatal blow to its gate plan. Lakewood would have to sign off on a right-of-way permit – which the WSMD applied for on Wednesday – and so far city officials haven’t been impressed by the military’s meager offers of mitigation. They’re hearing a lot from unhappy Tillicum residents – who are also Lakewood voters and taxpayers.
The WSMD could appeal a permit rejection; still, the plan could be tied up for a very long time.
Sometimes, as any good military tactician knows, retreat is the better part of valor. The WSMD should step back and consider its options. At the top of the list should be to actually work with Camp Murray’s civilian neighbors, not just try to roll over them.