Covington, Maple Valley, and Black Diamond work together on regional projects

The three city councils met for an annual joint meeting to get updates on and discuss projects as well as the communities at large.

Regional projects which benefit Covington, Maple Valley and Black Diamond were the focus of the sixth annual tri-city council meeting May 22 at Covington City Hall.

The three city councils met for an annual joint meeting to get updates on and discuss projects as well as the communities at large.

Council members talked over several topics, among them the challenges the three cities face when it comes to public transportation. The King County transportation budget has been running $80 million short a year, according to King County councilman Reagan Dunn who presented at the meeting. One way the county is trying to make up that difference is by potentially cutting 17 percent from the King County

Metro budget. Cutting the Metro budget would include the elimination of 65 routes around the region, including routes in Covington and Black Diamond. Cuts are expected to begin in 2014.

Council members expressed that they believe public transportation to be key to linking Covington, Maple Valley and Black Diamond as well as connecting the three cities with the greater Seattle area.

As the spirit of collaboration was the overarching theme of the meeting, the tri-city regional trail project update highlighted what could result from the partnerships between all three.

Aaron Nix, Black Diamond’s parks and natural resources director, along with King County Parks and Natural Resources Director Kevin Brown, presented an update on the regional trails system project.

The idea to connect all three cities via a large regional trail system first came up during the 2010 tri-city council meeting. In 2010 Nix told the Reporter the concept was embraced by elected officials from all three cities at the time.

Since then King County completed its feasibility study on the concept, which it started in 2011, in October. The study identified opportunities as well as challenges which come with the future development of a trail that would connect the Green and Cedar River trails in two places. A northern segment would connect the Cedar River Trail to Kent-Kangley Road while a southern segment would connect state Route 516 to Black Diamond and Flaming Geyser State Park.

Another segment, known as the Covington Highlands Trail, would create an east-west connection from the Soos Creek Trail to the Green-to-Cedar River Trail through Covington and Maple Valley.

While there are still some issues to work out, county staff said construction — which is contingent on funding and the completion of a lengthy environmental study — could possibly begin in 2015 or 2016.

Brown said the preliminary design phase would begin in 2014.

“It’s a great amenity for the community and the county,” Brown said.

Scott Thomas, Covington’s Parks and Recreation director, told the Reporter in 2010 that a city survey conducted in 2009 showed that 69 percent of residents used a walking or biking trail that year. A regional trail also has potential transportation and economic development benefits, issues which are important to all three city governments.

Another issue of importance to each city is the contract each has with King County for animal control services. A year ago all three cities discussed the idea of forming a regional animal control agency, but decided at a tri-city council meeting in February 2012 to continue with the county through the end of the current contract which expires in 2015 based on recommendations from all three city finance directors.

Both Covington and Maple Valley have contracted with the county since incorporation as cities in 1997 while Black Diamond has used the county since it became a city in 1957.

Heading into the next round of contract negotiations, however, all three cities will have data from other south King County municipalities —  Auburn and Federal Way are two examples — which have struck out on their own to provide animal control services.

Covington City Manager Derek Matheson suggested working this summer to find out what the county plans for its next contract and consider dusting off the Southeast Regional Animal Services proposal discussed last year to see if it would be a more financially viable option.

The meeting wrapped up with members of the respective councils voicing their commitment to continue to work together and collaborate on regional projects. The challenge for the area going forward will be to find the money to bring the vision for these projects — the regional trail system, increased public transportation options, and animal control services — to fruition.