In the spirit of trying to be responsive to member concerns and explain the thinking of trustees in Surfside, I'd like to respond to the recent letter to the editor regarding the footbridges in Surfside. First let me thank the author for taking time to attend the meeting and become informed, hopefully more light can be shed on the subject.
The author questions replacing the bridges at all and notes that tsunami escapement was not listed as a rational for the bridges; he goes on to offer the tongue-in-cheek solution of requiring rowboats for residents west of the canal.
The roughly three miles of canals that cut Surfside in half were necessary to drain the land to make the development possible. The canals are a permanent feature that will have ongoing future costs for water quality and weed maintenance as well as the issue of getting across the canals. In the narrowest sense only those living on the canals enjoy them, in the broader sense they offer aesthetic and recreational value to members who choose to enjoy them. In any case the canals aren't optional.
Taking a narrow view one might argue that any bridge is optional. Even the Astoria-Megler Bridge is optional. Two economies could have grown up on opposite banks of the Columbia and as in centuries past those who wanted to cross could get their own rowboat or canoe. In a larger view the connections and convenience of most bridges (I'll exclude Sen. Ted Stevens' Alaska bridge to nowhere) add value by connecting people to other people or valuable places. So it is in Surfside. The pedestrian friendly bridges allow walking access to the beach and are a significant component of the value of a large number of lots on both sides of the canal.
As for escapement from the west to higher ground in a tsunami they may or may not be critical depending on the event. Surfside's tsunami committee together with Pacific County Emergency Management identified the high back dune with 'J' Street as one of the few areas of the Peninsula with enough elevation to provide shelter from a major tsunami event. People have a tendency to think of disasters in terms of the big one. That may facilitate some planning but in reality the more likely scenarios are events shy of the 9.5 subduction mega disaster.
Planning for any structure in an earthquake is a tradeoff. Earthquake codes try to identify more likely events and build to them. Surfside's bridges will be built to those county codes. As such they are likely to survive many contemplated events and depending on the scenario could save lives by providing escapement. Could they be even more earthquake proof? It is a tradeoff of higher cost against increasingly unlikely sized events. Since cost and benefit are always weighed, the trustees elected to bet on the county codes - let's hope we were right. At any rate we are hoping residents are committed to replacing the bridges for the good of the community, not just out of fear of events with low immediate probability, albeit inevitability.
Do people living east of 'J' Street benefit from the bridges? One of the great conundrums of Surfside is its diversity. Permanent residents who have chosen Surfside largely because of the economies it offers over surrounding communities seem to be less interested in the amenities that attract out of town recreational and second-home owners. Could we make cost the only factor in decision making? That would keep some residents happy but so far the board has tried to walk the line of tradeoffs between amenities and costs and continues to look for ways to bring value to all neighborhoods.
Could costs for bridges rise? Please don't confuse a "hard bid" with unanticipated circumstances. All construction contracts grant some opportunity for the builders to seek additional compensation should the unexpected be encountered. Not to do so would require them to build potential unanticipated costs into the bid resulting in a bid that would be higher than necessary should things go well. The "hard bid" commits the builder to meet his estimate as opposed to a "time and materials" where there is little motivation to achieve economy. The proposed contractor has substantial experience and has expressed confidence in the bid as the result of that experience.
Regarding the questions of transfers of reserve funds, could the money have been used to reduce the 8% operating budget increase? The answer is not without having a different effect on the organization's finances. In the end, all the bills must be paid and the members are the ones responsible. The effect of reducing the operating budget increase by using reserves would be to increase the assessment for Bridges. The effect of not funding capital reserves is to leave the association short of funds in the future to replace necessary equipment and infrastructure. Lowering operating reserves leaves the members vulnerable to emergency assessments.
What is the right balance of capital reserves, operating reserves, and operational expenses (many of which prevent higher future costs)? The board struggles with these questions on a regular basis and has professional accounting help to recommend levels based on the experience of ours and other homeowner associations. The answers are too complex for a short editorial.
I'd invite members to keep asking the difficult questions and become informed. Informed opinions always carry more weight. That is why associations are typically run by boards - members want representatives to spend time, become well informed and make sound financial decisions. Get to know a trustee and share your opinions with them. We are making a more concerted effort to connect with constituents. We appreciate the members who show up for public comment at the beginning of board meetings; however, I've noticed that eight hours into the meeting very few remain in the room. The cost of becoming well informed and balancing the interests of all the members takes long, difficult meetings - but that's what volunteer boards get paid the big bucks for.
President, Surfside Home Owners Board of Trustees