A road paved by community

We all know where the road leads when using good intentions as paving material, but roads built on opportunism don’t get us to the right destination either.

Daily Herald reporters Scott North and Eric Stevick wrote Wednesday about the $85,000 that was paid to one Oso area property owner for a temporary easement across his land. The easement allowed the state to build a one-lane emergency detour around the Oso mudslide that had blocked Highway 530.

The highway is a critical connection between Darrington residents and jobs, goods and services down river, and the state had to move quickly to provide the detour and limit the economic impact from the blocked highway.

The detour used a Seattle City Light access road that already crossed several parcels of private property. Other landowners along the access road agreed to provide access across their properties in exchange for about $500, but Robert Tager of Lynnwood and his business partner and negotiator, Grant Walsh, of Stanwood, drove a harder bargain with the state, telling a state transportation employee to meet their demand or “hit the road.”

The state had little choice but to agree to Tager’s and Walsh’s terms. Building an alternate route around Tager’s property would have neared $1 million in costs and taken another two weeks to complete. Condemning the property through eminent domain also would have added costs and taken months longer. The state did as it should have, swallowed the taxpayers’ pride, and got the road built. For about a month that one-lane road shortened what had been an hours-longer detour through Skagit County.

Rumors of the price the state paid, and now confirmation through a public records request, no doubt, have left some residents, specifically those who agreed to provide access for “market rates,” upset and feeling as if they were the suckers in the deal. They shouldn’t.

Nothing in what Tager or Walsh did in their demand for compensation was illegal. But those who agreed to provide an easement at a vastly cheaper rate did so out of a sense of responsibility to their own community and a desire to protect the economic well-being of themselves and their neighbors. And they got the better deal.

Along with their $500, they have the appreciation of their community. They can go anywhere from Darrington to Arlington and know that they helped commuters keep a lid on their gasoline bills, helped keep businesses open, saved jobs and kept families together during a difficult time until Highway 530 was open again.

You can’t buy that. Not even for $85,000.

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