Imagining Prune Alley

by Toby Cooper

Sounder contributor

“Imagine all the people …” crooned Beatles legend John Lennon in 1971. His dulcet ballad meandered through peace, hope, selfless sharing and the “brotherhood of man” before confessing to daydreaming. Today, a half-century later, Eastsound residents are imagining something much simpler and hopefully more attainable – life after the county’s construction on Prune Alley.

The $6 million sidewalk-and-gutter project is a big deal for Eastsound, which only has three north-south avenues. The 260-yard-long construction corridor is currently dominating the diminutive village, wiping out regular traffic patterns and any hope of parking for the duration. With the completion and full reopening still months away, impacts on local businesses has been severe.

“John Lennon was right,” said The Barnacle’s Tara Anderson. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one who just wants to imagine – next year!!”

The Barnacle seems to have been stranded in a desolate hinterland of gravel beds and machines. Despite her creative measures to offer alternative parking and beguiling strings of lights to lead pedestrians to The Barnacle’s door, Anderson reports business depressingly down by half.

“It’s frustrating — travel, tourism, cruise lines, they all did well in the post-COVID rush. But for us, it did not happen,” she said.

But Anderson, like most Eastsound residents, sees the greater good. Tomorrow’s Prune Alley will soon be silky smooth to drive, well-drained in storms and replete with parking choices. But for now, the goalposts elusively creep away when supply chain woes – even for staples like concrete – confound the projected timelines. Still, project managers report paving to begin in less than two weeks.

Perhaps those most looking forward to a re-born Prune Alley corridor are the parents of school-age kids. After school in winter, it’s already getting dark. Kids traipsing to the park or library have a way of “popping out” from between parked cars. Actual sidewalks and 11-foot night lamps will provide a welcome margin of safety for all.

Like safety, stormwater management ranks high for Eastsound. Director of Environmental Stewardship Kendra Smith, formerly with Public Works, drew the early plans for “Nature-Based Stormwater Treatment” that became part of the Prune Alley design. Although constrained by space and capacity, passive nature-based solutions rely on “services that nature provides.” Stormwater from the upper reaches of the project, especially early in a rainfall event, makes its way to the existing so-called “treatment wetland” tucked between the Village Green and the Athletic Center complex, where “soil and tree roots filter water, microorganisms break down contaminants, water plants absorb nitrogen from automobile emissions, and cattails suck up nutrients, sediments and heavy metals,” according to civil engineering sources, all for free.

Lower down, from about A Street to Main, the design calls for a series of large filters – “wetlands in a box,” Smith calls them – plus Island Market’s bioswale between its parking lot entrances, adding capacity to the natural system. Ultimately, it all flows to Fishing Bay near the Outlook Inn. Smith is confident in the resulting water quality — even in storm events.

“We appreciate people’s patience as we work to upgrade infrastructure, protect the environment and seek long—term benefits for the community,” she said.

And with patience, sufferance, plus a little imagination, Eastsound, once again, “will live as one.”