By Jeff Switzer Herald Writer
EVERETT — After more than a year of fence-sitting, Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and the County Council are throwing their full support behind building a future University of Washington branch at Everett Station.
The council plans to vote Wednesday on the endorsement, and Reardon said he’ll join in.
“If we want a university in Snohomish County, the time is now to coalesce around the Everett Station site,” Reardon said.
Reardon and the council were noncommittal until Monday. The pressure is on with the first hearing on the UW branch scheduled for Thursday in the state Senate.
Gov. Chris Gregoire warned lawmakers and boosters last week that state funding was threatened if they couldn’t agree on a site.
Now that county officials are behind the Everett Station site, it could be the kind of political weight needed to persuade a divided delegation of local lawmakers and others across the state to vote to put a future campus in Everett, said state Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett. Sells co-sponsored a bill to establish the university at the proposed Everett Station site.
“If people don’t see a lot of unity or at least the community stepping up, it gives them a reason not to want to act,” Sells said.
Competition is fierce between backers of the 27-acre Everett Station site and a 369-acre site in Marysville. In November, a consultant the state hired ranked Everett Station and Marysville second.
County Council members said they were waiting until state consultants weighed the pros and cons of many sites across the county.
“We sat on the fence during the review process,” council chairman Dave Somers said.
Now the council wants to “do anything we can to get the UW here in Everett,” Somers said. The second choice is Marysville, he said.
The county needs to band together, he said.
“If we keep fighting about which site is better, we’ll lose the opportunity,” Somers said. “We could lose this whole thing altogether. It’s now or never.”
Reardon backed different sites for different reasons. He offered county parkland in Lake Stevens for consideration and also said the Marysville site was perfect for an expansive traditional college campus.
Everett is the superior site for a hybrid campus, Reardon said Monday.
“We run the risk as a community of losing the great opportunity of having a university if we do not coalesce immediately,” he said.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and a team of lobbyists were in Olympia on Monday as part of their ongoing push for the Everett Station site.
Democratic County Councilman Brian Sullivan took the lead in pushing the endorsement of the Everett Station site. He joined the council this month representing Everett after six years as a state representative.
He said he called Stephanson and Reardon looking for support.
“The county executive had offered his support for a couple of different locations, but in the end, he supports the process that we went through that made Everett the No. 1 choice,” Sullivan said.
Teaming up like this shows the council and executive are building bridges, Sullivan said.
Even though the first state Senate hearing is Thursday, Sullivan said there’s time to pull the delegation together behind the Everett site. Sullivan plans to testify at the hearing.
“We have to get this county heading in a positive direction,” he said.
The University of Washington did not try to sway County Council members or the county executive, said Randy Hodgins, director of the University of Washington Office of State Relations.
There is value to them taking a position, he said Monday.
“The more there is unanimity among locals I think the better chance they have of there being success this session,” he said.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.
Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or email@example.com.
County Council to back UW branch
The Snohomish County Council is scheduled to endorse the University of Washington Everett Station site during its 9 a.m. meeting Wednesday at the county administration building, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett.