Letters to the Editor

Letter to the Editor | A suggestion for the DeMolay Sandspit

Posted on March 25th, 2024 By: Craig McLaughlin

First, let me add a caveat here:  As I said in an earlier Letter to the Editor, the acoustics at the last PenMet Board meeting were terrible for me and for others.  I don’t have the best hearing anyway, but I found it extremely difficult to hear every word being said.  If anything I say below is inaccurate it’s solely because I wasn’t always 100% certain about what was being said.  If I’m wrong on any point, I’m sure the Commissioners will correct me.

At the opening of the most recent PenMet Board meeting, President Hill thanked Commissioner Sehmel for inviting her to the DeMolay Sandspit (the “Sandspit”) to meet with Megan Blunk, a world class athlete who happens to need a wheelchair.  The stated purpose of that meeting was to observe the difficulties Megan experienced getting from the gate down to the beach and back up.  This set the stage for PenMet adopting the final plan for its Sandspit project by demonstrating PenMet’s concern for ADA access at its facilities.  I applaud PenMet’s focus and interest.

During Public Comments, Megan, a very impressive young lady, spoke about her difficulties in getting to the beach. I found her story heartbreaking, but I also found her strength and confidence impressive. I certainly heard her — she spoke right up!  Sara Jennings, a mother of two children who have cerebral palsy, also spoke about her desire to be able to take her two children to the beach as she can no longer carry them. I was also moved by her presentation.

I left the meeting early, but I was told the Commissioners discussed ADA accessibility at some length (which is highly unusual) when adoption of the proposed plan came up. This made it clear that ADA access is a driving force for PenMet. I support PenMet in this effort, but it also raises two questions:

  1. If ADA access at the Sandspit is important to PenMet, why did they wait 14 years to address the issue?
  2. A park district resident informed me that, in a conversation with Commissioner Sehmel, he asked Mr. Sehmel if Sunrise Beach was fully ADA compliant? Was Harbor Family Park? The Fishing Pier? Some of the trails at Sehmel Park? The answer was “no” to these questions. Where is the ADA urgency at these properties?

Regardless of PenMet’s sincerity, I fully support both Megan and Sara and all others who have accessibility issues. The Sandspit being a nature preserve presents a difficult balancing act between access and maintenance of the Sandspit as a nature preserve. It will take massive amounts of grading and hundreds of feet of pathways (and the possible removal of mature trees) and well over a million dollars to comply with ADA requirements. It will also take well over a year, maybe even two to complete since no work will start until 2025. And the Sandspit would, I presume, have to close to all for months during construction.

My suggestion

I’d like to offer PenMet this suggestion: Purchase a golf cart or similar vehicle to transport passengers from the gate to the beach? PenMet would need a staff member as the driver and to provide assistance. I’ve been told that PenMet has staff at Sehmel to assist others so why not at the Sandspit?

What does this accomplish?

  1. The cost of the vehicle would be minimal
  2. The cost of the staff member would also be minimal
  3. It addresses the ADA issue by giving those with special needs an easy ride down the hill and back up again
  4. It helps all those who need assistance with getting to the bathrooms located above the Sandspit
  5. It allows the Sandspit to remain in its natural state (addressing the concerns of the naturalists)
  6. It eliminates the construction traffic on Bella Bella
  7. It eliminates closing the Sandspit for months
  8. It allows PenMet to reduce the overtime it’s paying its maintenance staff to open and close its properties (which the Teamsters estimated at about $60,000 annually).
  9. It might allow PenMet to reduce the tens of thousands of dollars PenMet is paying for outside security.
  10. It proves PenMet’s clearly expressed desire to assist those with special needs:
  11. Far less intrusively
  12. Far less expensively
  13. Far less effort as it eliminates the need to obtain several third party approvals
  14. Far more quickly — this can be done in DAYS rather than in a year or even longer
  15. Finally, it saves PenMet at least a million and possibly well over three million of taxpayer dollars in project costs.

I’m hopeful that PenMet will see the obvious and immediate benefits of this suggestion.

My goal

I’d like to see Megan and Sara and her daughters and others with access issues visiting the Sandspit next week!

Craig McLaughlin

Fox Island

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