Standing tall in Warrenton

Warrenton is moving forward with landscape improvements at the intersection of Harbor Drive and Main Avenue and a new veterans monument near the post office.

WARRENTON — The city budgeted a modest amount to beautify downtown around the intersection of Harbor Drive and Main Avenue as part of a master plan.

But after the lone bid from Big River Construction came in at more than $484,000, the City Commission voted Tuesday to move forward with a severely pared-down beautification.

“We’ve been meeting with the engineer and the contractor to look at ways to save money,” Collin Stelzig, the city’s public works director, told the commission.

The urban renewal beautification included landscaping improvements around the intersection and a park near the Warrenton Post Office, where a veterans monument was erected last year. The city is performing other landscaping work near Warrenton High School.

To save money, the city removed much of the landscaping around the intersection, switched from individual pavers to poured concrete, reduced the soil in planting areas, locally sourced supplies and otherwise downsized the scope of the project. The changes brought the cost down to around $287,000.

“When I first saw the bids come in — the bid, I should say, come in — I was not happy, I guess is the better term, the nicest term I can give for it right now,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said. “I have a hard time swallowing value-engineering this project considering it’s importance in the plan, to such an extent that it would remove most of the plantings.”

Part of the removal of plantings was based on the Main Street Storage and the Warrenton Mini-Mart, which both already take care of their properties, said City Manager Linda Engbretson. The city also removed landscaping around Lighthouse Park because it’s private property the city doesn’t maintain, she said.

Balensifer pushed city staff to create a connection from the sidewalk that cuts off northwest of the Lighthouse Park to the Warrenton Waterfront Trail that runs to Tansy Point. City staff agreed to look into the connection as a separate project.

“It’s just kind of pointless to have a sidewalk that goes to nowhere,” the mayor said.

The city could save another $7,500 by having Spruce Up Warrenton, a volunteer group, do some of the pressure washing at the park, Commissioner Rick Newton said.

Commissioner Mark Baldwin, who abstained from the vote on the landscaping plan, shared his concern over the cost of designing a landscaping project out of the city’s budget.

“I was against it to start with, and this is partially why,” he said of the landscape improvements. “I believe somebody built something pie in the sky to look real pretty and charge a whole bunch of money for that we could never see to fruition. I’m not right very often, but I get a prize this time.”

The city has thought of rebidding the project, but has had a lack of bidders on projects because of how busy the construction industry is at the moment, Stelzig said.

“We’ve basically begged other people to bid, and we’re not getting it,” he said.

The City Commission talked about going back to the drawing board. But Engbretson said the city had already spent a lot of money getting the project to the bidding phase.

Balensifer shared Engbretson’s concerns and Baldwin’s frustrations, but said the city needs to keep up momentum on the project. He recommended the city speak with Spruce Up Warrenton about doing work at the Lighthouse Park.

Newton said he hates the price tag but agreed the city needs to maintain momentum.

“I concur that this post office park is going to be a model for how we want to move forward with some of the other projects,” Commissioner Pam Ackley said.

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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