Around Town | San Juan County Council updates

Over the last month, the San Juan County Council has discussed issues including the connector road, county population projection and protection of Southern resident killer whales.

Connector road

After about a decade of planning, the street known as the “connector road,” has a name, but construction hasn’t started yet.

“It’s becoming less likely that construction will begin this year,” said San Juan County Engineer Colin Huntemer.

Huntemer said a few property owners near the proposed construction have filed an appeal with the county due to their “traffic and safety concerns.” Check the Journal for updates.

On July 31, San Juan County Council declared the road will be named Missing Mountain Road, once completed. Town of Friday Harbor Councilman Farhad Ghatan recommended the name and it was approved by the county council after a public hearing.

“The locals have referred to it as ‘Missing Mountain’ because it used to be a large gravel pit, and they worked the gravel over time to the point that the mountain of gravel went away,” said Town of Friday Harbor Administrator Duncan Wilson.

According to Wilson, town council required a connector road to be built from Pear Point Road to Turn Point Road, before construction for parts of developments could begin. This would provide an alternate route to the town and move traffic off Warbass Way.

Warbass, said Wilson, is a residential, narrow road, off a steep rock bluff, that cannot handle existing or additional traffic of large trucks leaving barges from Shipyard Cove Marina on Turn Point Road. Propane trucks are often unloaded at this marina.

Wilson added that county staff will add what they call an “eyebrow” to the connector road, which will allow trucks to bypass Warbass. Town officials, he said, will place a weight limit on Warbass, once the connector road is complete. The eyebrow will allow trucks leaving Shipyard Cove to turn around and head towards the connector road.

According to Wilson, over 46 acres was annexed to the town around 2009 to create the developments, for which the road will be built. The developments will be for affordable housing and market-rate properties.

Population projection

San Juan County Council accepted a population projection to plan for growth over the next 20 years.

On July 11, council decided that the county population will be 19,423 in 2036. To read more, search “population projection,” at

The population projection is part of the county comprehensive plan, which will be completed next summer. Once submitted to state officials, that population will be used for future plans including infrastructure, utilities and land use.

The number was recommended by county staff, last May, based on the average percentage of the state population living in the county. Staff did not recommend using a projection based on the average percentage of annual growth because it was not as statistically valid, said Community Development Director Erika Shook.

The San Juan County Planning Commission unanimously approved to suggest this population to county council after a public hearing and discussion on June 16.

The planning commission initially voted on the lowest population estimate, given by the Washington State Office of Financial Management, but it didn’t pass by a 4-3 vote.

The state requires the selected population to be between the OFM’s lowest population projection at 13,123 and the highest population at 24,303.

According to the planning commission’s recommendation, the figure they selected allows for flexibility when accounting for seasonal populations. Communities can decide to plan for seasonal populations, said Shook, without being mandated to do so by the comprehensive plan regulations, set by the state’s Growth Management Act.

The Growth Management Act was passed in 1990 to curb rapid population and urban sprawl.

The county’s seasonal count is not included in the population projection. The final seasonal count will be calculated this winter in a study by several organizations, including the National Parks Service and the county parks.

Uncashed county paychecks

There is $1,088 in uncashed county payroll warrants, which are similar to paychecks.

The initial report found 88 uncashed checks from 2006 to 2015, totaling about $30,000. Most of those 52 current or former employees cashed their checks after a reminder letter was mailed, leaving about $1,088. One person cashed about $1,700 worth of checks.

The remaining uncashed checks include two issued by San Juan Island EMS, 14 from the San Juan Island Fire Department and three from Island Rec.

A public hearing is set for Aug. 28 to discuss canceling the remaining amount. However, said San Juan County Chief Deputy Auditor Kim Herrenkohl, anyone can request a new payroll warrant to be issued if the debt is canceled. To request a warrant, call the auditor’s office at 378-3356.

Southern resident killer whales

County staff is looking to fund projects to protect Southern resident killer whales. San Juan County Environmental Resources Manager Kendra Smith said department officials have requested about $20,000 in a Marine Resources Committee grant to create a “community dialogue” to support orca recovery.

On July 11, the council and Smith agreed not to apply for a different grant because they did not have the funds to match it.

Smith presented ways to protect the orcas, who partially live around the San Juans, at a council meeting in June. Six Southern resident killer whales died in 2016, leaving only 78 at the start of 2017.

The grant county staff will not apply for included $50,000 to $100,000 to spend over two years, with a one-to-one matching grant. Currently, said Smith, the department has $13,000 to spend on orca protection.

Smith suggested using the lodging tax for the extra funds, but Councilman Rick Hughes recommended waiting to allocate funds through next year’s budget process.

Councilman Jamie Stephens said council sent a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggesting that county staff could create local option and opposing the recent “no-go” proposal.

If that NOAA petition passes, commercial and private whale watching boats would be prohibited from entering the entire length of the west side of San Juan Island, where orcas often feed.

Smith had a meeting with NOAA staff on July 18 to share the county’s plans. Smith told the Journal “NOAA staff expressed full support for a local effort…[to] improve the plight of the resident Orca.” They didn’t explain how local efforts would impact their decision on the petition.

At the July 11 meeting, Smith presented, to council, a budget for the first part of the local plan, which includes public education, including locally disseminating brochures and posters on whale protection zones.

Council also sent a letter to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff to request a currently vacant position be filled to increase enforcement of whale protection zones.

Hughes suggested the county hire another sheriff’s office deputy to patrol Lopez, which is understaffed. Although the deputy wouldn’t be trained in marine protection, the presence would help enforce guidelines and provide employment for an islander, he said.

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