Staff photo/Hayley Day Bill Watson, District 1, is sworn into San Juan County Council on Jan. 10.

Councilmen sworn in, Community Treasures and orcas discussed at SJC Council

The first San Juan County Council meeting of the year, on Jan. 10, included about five hours of public comment and agenda discussions, with a newly elected councilman.

New councilman

Councilmen elected in last November’s race were sworn in at the start of the meeting. Bill Watson, District 1, was sworn in for his first council term and Rick Hughes, District 2, was sworn in for his second consecutive term.

“It’s been an honor to serve you for the last four years and it’s an honor to serve again,” said Hughes.

Hughes was voted as council chairman and Watson as vice chairman by unanimous votes. Hughes welcomed the new council with county flags.

“I look forward to representing all of you — whether you voted for me or not, that’s all under the bridge now,” said Watson, who urged islanders to contact him with issues.

Orcas protection zone

Janet Thomas, San Juan Island coordinator with Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance, sought council support during the public comment section for the organization’s petition to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create a whale protection zone on the western and southern coasts of San Juan Island. NOAA is responsible for the conservation of Southern resident killer whales, according to the alliance. Commercial and private motorized whale watching would be prohibited about a mile from the shoreline, from April 1 through Sept. 30, in the approximate 10 square miles from Mitchell Point to Cattle Point, according to the petition.

Thomas compared the petition to the Washington Supreme Court’s decision to uphold San Juan County’s 1994 ban on jet skis to protect orcas.

“‘It defies logic to suggest an ordinance is unduly oppressive when it only regulates the activity which is directly responsible for the harm,’” read Thomas from the court’s ruling.

NOAA opened a 90-day public comment period on Friday, Jan. 13 to help them determine whether the petition will be approved. Submit comments by searching for the document “NOAA-NMFS-2016-0152” at www.regulations.gov and clicking the “comment now” button. The public can also write to Lynne Barre, NMFS West Coast Region, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

Ferry relocation

Council moved to help draft a letter to prevent the relocation of the interisland ferry from Friday Harbor to Anacortes, by Washington State Ferries. It will be sent to the state governor, senators and Washington State Department of Transportation.

The Chief Administrator of San Juan Island EMS Jerry Martin said he’d like the boat close to the island in case of emergencies to load apparatuses like a fire engine and personnel to other islands. County council said at a recent meeting that they would work with Martin to keep the ferry on San Juan Island.

The Salish is the current interisland ferry until March, then it will be Chelan and then the Tillicum. In October, the islands will have the Sealth. Hughes said WSF told him the Sealth could eventually be based in Anacortes overnight to serve the interisland route.

“We’re trying to prevent that from happening,” said Martin.

According to Martin, the ferries were used to move apparatus in the fire at Downriggers in August 2013.

“It’s important to keep a moored boat here,” said Hughes.

WSF spokesman Ian Sterling said there are no imminent plans to move the ferry.

He added that WSF is always looking at ways to relocate boats to make it easier for crews, dispatched out of Anacortes and Friday Harbor or if the move can cut costs.

“There are a lot of considerations to make (moving a ferry) happen,” said Sterling.

Community Treasures

During the meeting’s public comment section, Francine Shaw, a land use planner from Friday Harbor hired by the Community Treasures board, presented council with over 1,100 signatures on a petition, requesting the organization’s property be rezoned from non-conforming to commercial.

“We all know non-conforming areas are meant to go away,” said Shaw.

Seven community members at the meeting requested council rezone the land to ensure Community Treasures’ longevity.

“It’s important that you make it a permanent commercial zone, not just that you support it,” said Ron Hanson, of Friday Harbor, to the council.

Hughes said the county would not hinder Community Treasures operations and would not perform any code enforcement.

“They can continue to operate as they are,” said Hughes.

He added that council is still planning to update Community Treasures’ status in the Comprehensive Plan Update 2017-18. Council will have a meeting in the next 30 days to further discuss the issue.

The owner of the Community Treasures property, Frank Penwell, wants to relinquish the property’s lease to the nonprofit’s board, but the board wants the land designation to change before the purchase, as the liability to operate it under the non-conforming status is too high. The thrift store and recycling center’s land was originally designated as commercial when purchased in 1978. Land designation has changed since then, which makes running a business on the property illegal without purchasing county permits deeming the land non-conforming — meaning it doesn’t conform with the land’s current zoning regulations. Penwell previously told The Journal he has been fighting to make this change since 2008.