Consultant’s pick for UW site to be revealed Thursday

No one knows which of four Snohomish County sites will emerge this week as a consultant’s choice for a future University of Washington campus.

Already Marysville leaders are questioning whether the recommendation will be based on accurate assumptions about the properties involved, especially their own.

And state legislators are readying for the political battle of making the choice with some now endorsing a site and others urging neutrality until Thursday, when the consultant, NBBJ of Seattle, issues its report.

This bustle is expected when you consider that what’s at stake is creation of the first new public university in quite a few years.

“All this action is no surprise,” said Deb Merle, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s point person in the process.

“Once the report comes out,” she continued, “the governor will encourage everyone to sustain the momentum and channel their energy toward the goal of expanding higher education opportunities in the region.”

This year, the Legislature and governor agreed to open a branch of the University of Washington somewhere in Snohomish, Island or Skagit counties. They set aside $4 million to deal with site selection and developing an academic program.

NBBJ received a $1 million contract to guide the search for a site.

A stack of 70-plus proposals was whittled to four: Marysville off Smokey Point Boulevard, Lake Stevens off Cavalero Road, Everett Station and the former Kimberly-Clark property next to the Snohomish River in Everett.

On Thursday, the consulting firm will provide a report to the governor and members of the higher education committees in the Legislature detailing each site’s merits and naming the one it considers best suited as a permanent campus.

What eventually will end up deep in the back of that report — in the technical appendices dealing with subjects such as sewer services, land contamination and transportation issues — is what has some Marysville leaders hopping mad.

Representatives of Marysville, Everett and Lake Stevens were allowed to pore through the materials and raise concerns about what they read.

Marysville chief administrative officer Mary Swenson said they had enough concerns she decided to identify a few in a follow-up letter Nov. 8.

In it she pointed to what she viewed as undocumented allegations of pollution, unsubstantiated accounts of contamination and inaccurate information on the needs for fill and sewer service.

Swenson wrote that the report relied on conjecture of water pollution causing the death of cows whose carcasses were found on the property in 2005. Authorities investigated it as possible animal cruelty, she said.

Including the material in the report “calls into question the bias of the consultants and the professionalism of the evaluation,” she wrote.

Everett and Lake Stevens officials didn’t find many problems.

Pat McClain, Everett’s government affairs director, said they provided “updated” information on the sites’ contamination and “corrected assumptions” on handling of storm water runoff.

Lake Stevens city administrator Jan Berg said what she read “accurately reflected our site. We did not see any major impediments with what they produced.”

Marysville’s reaction exemplifies the emotion swelling around the selection process that will become the focus of legislators and lobbyists once the report is out and the 2008 legislative session begins in January.

Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, e-mailed fellow senators Thursday, asking them to not rush to judgment.

He said they should consider the information and appreciate the passion of site proponents but “to make a decision based on the most polished presentation would be a disservice” to the future students.

A week earlier, Reps. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, and Mike Sells, D-Everett, made a similar plea for restraint to House Democrats.

“People are worked up and fighting over the dirt location,” Dunshee wrote in his Oct. 31 e-mail.

He asked each to read the analysis “before you take sides in this little tussle. It will sort out and we will have a great site.”

Sells, in his e-mail sent the same day, wrote: “I don’t intend to let the ‘hustle merchants’ hijack the process.”

Among those who have made up their minds is state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, who is behind the Marysville site.

Though Haugen is partial to that spot, she said area lawmakers will eventually need to get behind one site.

“We don’t want a free-for-all,” she said. “People need to understand we need to get a suitable site and we need to move forward in this session.”

She is arranging a Nov. 19 bus tour of the four sites for state lawmakers from Snohomish County and the leaders of higher education committees.

“I’m eager, but the real debate goes on here in Olympia,” she said. “So that’s why it’s so important to make sure that people see the sites up close.”

Reporter Eric Stevick contributed to this report.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfieldheraldnet.com.

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