There’s something missing in the county’s recommended population projection to plan growth for the next 20 years, according to almost all of the eight islanders who spoke at the June 16 public hearing.
“This is a population projection,” said Fred Klein of Orcas. “It doesn’t take into account the seasonal population that has an enormous impact in San Juan County.”
The permanent population projection will be used to determine future county infrastructure plans — from the number of roads needed to emergency service providers. Seasonal residents should be included, said Kein.
County officials said that is the plan. The first step to estimating the population, said San Juan County Councilman Rick Hughes, is to count the permanent population, then the seasonal. Both figures will be used in planning.
“We are at the starting point for the rest of the numbers,” he said.
The state only requires counties to look at permanent population projections as part of the comprehensive plan, explained Community Development Director Erika Shook, but the community can choose to look at more. Department officials will review seasonal population once a visitor’s study by the National Parks Service and the county parks is completed.
Marcia deChadenedes with the San Juan Island National Monument told council the survey will be completed by December. However, said deChadendes, the NPS survey focuses on environmental impact and not the infrastructure needs county officials will use for planning.
The population projection is part of the county’s comprehensive plan, which will be updated this year. The comprehensive plan sets the county’s goals for growth over the next 20 years and is regulated by the state.
Klein and three other islanders asked county officials to use the highest population projection suggested by the Washington State Office of Financial Management when making future plans.
Klein requested the higher figure to account for the large number of seasonal residents, who he said develops most of the island. Using the highest figure would create conversations about growth limits, he added.
“Development, some would say, threatens the visual character and lifestyle here on the island,” said Klein.
County officials must choose a population projection that lies between the OFM’s suggestion of the lowest population, at 13,123, to the highest population, at 24,303.
In May, planning department employees suggested to county council that 19,423 people will live on the islands by 2036. They reached this number by performing a statistical analysis of the percentage of the county’s state population, according to their May report to council. An average .23 percent of Washingtonians lived on the islands over the past 36 years, according to the report. Colin Maycock of community development said using average annual growth rates to project the population created a “less valid number.”
Shook reminded hearing attendees that the county is mandated by the state to create the infrastructure to meet the needs of the selected population — even if the figure is higher than what the population actually reaches.
Stephanie Buffman, executive director of the Friends of the San Juans, said seasonal residents on her home island of Shaw, use community resources but don’t contribute to programs, like the volunteer fire department.
“I haven’t seen Bill Gates show up to a firefighter practice,” said Buffman, who also requested the high OFM projection to be selected.
Janet Alderton, of Orcas, said the population influx won’t be slowing down thanks to stronger on-island internet connections. This enables residents to be employed at jobs, off the island, instead of at the more limited employers on the island.
Another population projection hearing will be held at the July 11 county council meeting at 55 Second St. in Friday Harbor.
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For a brief overview of the comprehensive plan, read this article.