After nine years, the Tokul roundabout project is still facing major problems in Snoqualmie.
Since 2006, the city of Snoqualmie has planned to make big changes to the intersections of S.R. 202 with Southeast Tokul Road and Southeast Mill Pond Road. According to the city, the planned roundabout, now under construction, will improve safety by replacing angled intersections. It will also give people easier access to historic Snoqualmie and Snoqualmie Falls and open up possibilities for development north of the city.
Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson explained some of the many dangerous elements at the targeted intersections: The driveway to the upper parking lot of the Salish Lodge and Spa is on a blind curve; Tokul Road comes down at a very sharp angle as it meets 202; and bad sight lines and distances from intersections for the bridge do not meet state standards.
In conversations with the owners of the Salish Lodge, the city learned about a possible expansion, Larson said, so city staff tried to think of ways to rework that area to improve traffic flow and safety to accommodate that growth and possible activity at the mill site someday.
“One of the solutions was to do some realignments and put a big traffic light there, but it’s such a beautiful, incredible atmosphere at the falls, particularly in the winter months when it’s often filled with the mist and its own little set of clouds,” Larson said. Adding a traffic light in that mist would produce “this big ugly glow just blinking on and off.”
“It just didn’t seem like a very appealing or attractive option to pursue and we felt that something that would be less intrusive and more respectful to the landscape would be a roundabout that would allow the traffic to keep flowing smoothly. We committed to a Tokul roundabout, even though it was considerably greater cost, more than four to five times the cost as the traffic signal. We wanted to do that because we felt it really spoke to the quality and beauty of the Valley.”
The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe is not happy with the city’s planned development, and held a rally Sept. 2, in opposition to it. Tribe leaders said the falls and the area around them are a sacred place, once a burial ground for their people.
Lois Sweet Dorman, a Snoqualmie tribe councilwoman, said it would be irresponsible for the city to move forward with the project.
“The roundabout is a gateway to development that is in an area that is too sensitive. People wouldn’t dream of going to someone’s cemetery and digging it up and that’s what we are trying to let people know,” Sweet Dorman said. “This is irresponsible development, it shouldn’t happen here.”
According to the project information on the city’s website, the Snoqualmie Tribe did not respond to updates or developments on the site in 2008, and in 2009 the Army Corps of Engineers issued the permit for construction.
Larson said disruptions in the leadership of the Snoqualmie Tribe led to some of their claims that the city did not consult them before development began. He said the city worked with tribe leadership for a year or two and when that leadership changed, the new group said they’d never been consulted.
“If you look at it from the city’s perspective, if we got a new mayor or council members elected, a developer wouldn’t make the claim that they haven’t been dealing with the city. That’s how it’s often treated,” Larson said. “So we end up … going over the same ground.”
Sweet Dorman said the city’s claims that the tribe was unresponsive are untrue.
In August, a projectile point estimated to be from 4,000 to 9,000 years old was discovered at the project site. City of Snoqualmie officials said the archeologists determined it was an isolated find. Snoqualmie Tribe officials said the discovery proved that the land is connected to their history.
Carolyn Lubenau, chairwoman of the Snoqualmie Tribe, said the city’s work with archeologists and other agencies says enough about the validity of the tribe’s claims.
“If it were just a normal place to develop, they wouldn’t have to go through the Army Corps of Engineers to get these special permits to have archeologists on site. Who does that? But because of the way this land is portrayed, it did require the Army Corps of Engineers to get involved,” Lubenau said.
Lubenau also expressed frustration in working with the city, claiming that they were never up front with the discussions and did not notify them when new progress was being made.
“One of the things I found a little disheartening working with the city is understanding what the roundabout was for,” she said. “For me, it’s like, put all the cards on the table so everyone can look at them. What started out as a roundabout for safety reasons quickly turned into the gateway for another housing development, 200 houses for commercial development, so I don’t feel like their cards were ever fully on the table at the beginning.”
Lubenau explained that when the city was working on the roundabout plans in 2009, the tribe was very engaged, but the city eventually lost funding and the project was put on hold. When that happened, she said, tribe members thought the roundabout project died. They did not learn of its return until well into the process. They were concerned that they were never contacted and had to hear about it from a third party in 2012.
There was no ill will behind not immediately informing the tribe of the restoration of funding Larson said. When they shelved the project, the city had already gone through the entire approval process. They weren’t required to redo the process when they restarted the project.
“The protestations you hear from the tribe kind of imply ‘you are trying to sneak this by us so you can get it approved without us giving feedback’ and it’s more (that) we dropped the ball,” Larson said. “Yes, it would have been a courtesy to give (them) the heads up to say it’s moving forward…. Mea culpa. We should have had the courtesy to at least give a heads up that we are moving forward again, but their suggestion was that we were trying to sneak around the process and that wasn’t the case. We’ve already done the process.”
The Snoqualmie Tribe has begun a “Save the Snoqualmie Falls” campaign to gather support against development in the areas surrounding the falls.
Speaking at the Sept. 2 rally, Lubenau said “I feel like a lot of times the public are the last people to know and all of a sudden we wake up one day and there is a big development going on…. Wake up, look around you at what’s happening here. Where are you going to bring your children, grand-children, great-grandchildren? This will be gone.”
Larson said the city doesn’t want to invest in other options already considered, because they want to improve the area in the best way possible.
“We are going to take it seriously and invest more heavily into something that’s high quality and (more) beautiful than a glowing traffic signal close to the river. We try to achieve all the goals but at the same time be respectful and mindful of the values of the tribe.” Larson said.
“In fact we think that’s one of the greatest assets of the Valley, something that gives us a sense of place and distinctiveness, a sense of history,” He said. “It would not serve the tribe well if we stopped the Tokul roundabout. That would just leave a big ugly scar in the ground over there. That bell’s been rung, it’s too late. That project needs to be completed, so we can finish what will ultimately be a huge improvement in that area, it’s going to be so much more beautiful and clean.”
More info on the Roundabout project can by found at http://www.ci.snoqualmie.wa.us/PublicWorksProjects/TokulRoundabout.aspx.