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Residents Respond
Winthrop fire station proposal

A dozen neighbors of Winthrop’s proposed new fire station turned out Tuesday (Feb. 11) to voice concerns and complaints about the project to Okanogan County Fire District 6 commissioners.

The commissioners said they hope to put a property levy lid lift measure on the ballot this fall to pay for the station but do not yet know how much the building will cost. Fire Chief Don Waller said he expects it to be between $2 and $3 million. The plans for the 11,000 square-foot pre-fabricated structure are drawn and the commissioners already have purchased five acres of property for the station on lower Horizon Flats Road.

photoDon Waller, Chief of Okanogan County Fire District 6. Photo by Solveig Torvik

Residents of Winthrop will not vote on the levy to raise taxes to pay for the new Winthrop-based station because the town does not belong to the fire district. It contracts with the district for fire services. The same is true for residents of Twisp, who also receive fire services by contracting with the district. Only residents of the county who are within the fire district’s boundaries will be asked to vote on higher taxes to build the new station, which will serve both town and county residents.

Fire district officials have said they would like to have both towns annexed into the district, but only the towns, not the district, have legal authority to seek annexations.

A major complaint at Tuesday’s meeting was that the public had not been kept adequately informed during the process of locating the new fire station. “This just looks like you got a piece of property and it’s going to be ram-rodded through,” said Jim Bishop, who questioned the planning process that led to choosing the present site.

“It’s a done deal,” said Bishop, adding that he thought the public meeting was just a pro forma step to allow citizens to vent. “What I’m worried about is an apparent lack of planning.”

“We have not committed to this building at all,” said commissioner Darold Brandenburg, who explained that the commissioners are waiting to see the final cost figures before determining if the project is feasible.

“We may have dropped the ball on that a little bit,” said Brandenburg in responding to accusation that the fire district has not kept citizens fully informed on what it was doing about locating the Winthrop station. He added that the commissioners have attempted to keep the public informed, but “Typically nobody shows up to give us input.”

Kristen Smith told the commissioners that “This is the second time you’ve bought land without the approval to build on it.” After the commissioners put $15,000 in earnest money on eight acres across Highway 20 from the post office, the town council voted not to allow the fire station on that property because the town would lose potential tax revenues from future commercial development. The $15,000 in earnest money then was forfeited.

photoA conceptual design for a new Winthrop fire station. Image courtesy Okanogan County Fire District 6

Waller responded that the district had gone ahead with the transaction, knowing the land would need to be rezoned, on the advice of town planner Rocklynn Culp. But Culp has previously told Grist that a letter on file from Waller indicates fire officials had entered into the sales transaction and paid the earnest money before they approached her about the prospects for a rezone. “I believe they acted before they even approached me about it,” Culp said.

Smith told the commissioners that she believes the most important area that needs fire protection is downtown Winthrop but she noted the new station would be further from downtown than the old station.

Commission chairman Roy Reiber said the station needs to be within 15 to 20 minutes’ response time to effectively fight fires. Typically homeowners who live outside that response time boundary find their insurers charge more for fire protection coverage, Waller noted. The Winthrop station last year responded to 110 fire calls, he said.

Smith and others also questioned the wisdom of putting the fire station in a location where there’s just one road available for access and asked what would happen if the road were blocked by an accident. It’s heavily used by large trucks en route to and from the industrial area on top of Horizon Flats.

photoFire Commissioner Darold Brandenburg said the commissioners are waiting to see the final cost figures before determining if the project is feasible.

Ardis Bynum asked the commissioners why they do not think the sharp curve on lower Horizon Flats Road that fire engines will have to maneuver in icy conditions poses a safety problem. Waller indicated that the curve can be engineered to make it safer. “That’s truly not a bad hill,” he said earlier in the meeting.

Winthrop volunteer fire captain John Owen advised the audience: “I’d be putting input into the decisions on what you’d like to see, not why it shouldn’t be there.”

Bynum responded that she’d like to have subdued exterior lighting, as many trees left standing as possible, and not have all the property paved over.

“I can’t apologize for buying a piece of property in your neighborhood,” Reiber told the group. “We want to be good neighbors. We want people to like us where we are,” he added. “We won’t be bad neighbors to you.”

The effort to relocate the overcrowded Winthrop fire station from a residential area on Englar Avenue at the top of Pool Hall Hill has been fraught with difficulties. In 2008, voters turned down a request for a tax increase to pay for a $5 million fire station. In 2010 Don White of Winthrop offered to sell the property the fire district now owns, according to district officials’ account. However, the land was in the county and did not have adequate water, and the Winthrop Town Council would not grant water rights to entities outside the city limits. So the council annexed the property.

“We don’t have hardly any options,” said Waller of the effort to find a useable site.

When the Horizon Flats property was acquired, grant monies were available for “shovel-ready” fire station projects, according to Waller. The fire district applied for a grant to build a fire station estimated to cost about $5 million but did not receive any grant funds. Waller defended the decision to proceed with that plan, saying it had been “worth taking a chance” to go through the grant application process.

The building’s current estimated cost has been reduced by $2 to $3 million because of the district’s decision to consider a pre-fabricated steel building, according to Waller. Among the savings are not having to pay “prevailing wages” on some of the labor, said Brandenburg.

read an eariler news brief with comments about the proposed station here >>


Have a comment? >>

I believe the County Treasurer pays FD6 accounts. A budget has to be submitted to the Treasurer. Has the budget been made public ? 10 days ago I asked for a FD6 financial statement, this has not been received yet? If we are to vote for this levy voters are entitled to be provided with an operating statement, annual budgets, comprehensive financial statement.

Duncan Bronson


I sent the documents to you yesterday morning and apologize for the delay. Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions. Sincerely, Don Waller, Fire Chief

Don Waller