Councilmember Rick Hughes says San Juan County has long been at the forefront of solving environmental issues.
“We have a very pro-climate change council, and we spend a lot of time in Olympia fighting for positive changes,” Hughes said. “We live in a very progressive state that is trying to make a difference. … It’s all about our local environment and what we do every day. What sacrifices are we willing to make for our children and grandchildren?”
The San Juans were the first county in the country to adopt Leave No Trace principles. In April 2016, the county council adopted the following seven principles: plan ahead and prepare; stick to trails and camp overnight right; trash your trash and pick up poop — pack it in, pack it out; leave it as you find it; be careful with fire; keep wildlife wild; and be considerate of other visitors.
SJC was also the first in the state to ban styrofoam, and since 2017, retailers have been banned from providing single-use, carryout plastic bags. Hughes says the solid waste advisory committee is considering banning plastic silverware county-wide.
“San Juan County has been forever a zero-waste goal community. We need to push the state and ecology to get food waste out of our waste stream,” he said. “How do we tie all this together into a climate policy platform? No matter what political side you are on, you love the beauty of the San Juans. And it could be deteriorating.”
Hughes will soon be proposing to his fellow council members the installation of solar panels on council buildings.
“We can make all of our county building energy independent – at least when the sun is shining,” he said. “It will help offset the energy consumption of the county. … We are working on creating a small electric fleet for the county. We currently have a Leaf, and are looking for other high fuel economy or electric vehicles.”
According to www.PlugShare.com there are 17 electric vehicle chargers available to the public in the San Juan Islands. Both the San Juan County Conservation District and Orcas Power and Light Cooperative have an electric vehicle charging station rebate incentive (https://energysavings.opalco.com/energy-savings/electric-vehicles-evs/).
In the fall of 2017, the park and ride at the Orcas Ferry Landing – a joint project between Washington State Department of Transportation and the county – was completed. It provides 100 free parking spaces, which encourages travelers to leave their car and walk onto the ferry. Hughes is part of the Northwest Transportation Alliance, which consists of elected officials and transit representatives from Island, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties. Its goal is to provide consistent travel up and down the I-5 corridor to anyone without a vehicle.
“We are trying to reduce some of the barriers that prevent cross-county transit,” he said. “One of the first steps was the park and ride on Orcas.”
Hughes commends youth activists around the world who are raising awareness of global warming. He encourages community members to share their ideas with him on how the county can participate in the movement.
“There are so many layers to climate change and it all starts locally. I applaud the young people on Orcas, Lopez and San Juan who took the time to make their thoughts and feelings known,” he said. “A lot of it comes down to our choices. We all have improvements to make. …Global warming is happening and we need to take big steps locally. When you recycle, wash the items. Even if you fly and drive a car, there are things you can do every day.”
According to Hughes, the biggest polluters in the state transportation system are the ferries even though they have the “cleanest diesel you can run.” The first hybrid-electric ferry is slated to be completed by 2022 and will be stationed down sound. Washington State Ferries’ ultimate goal is to electrify the entire fleet in order to reduce fuel usage, emissions, noise and costs of maintenance.
Hughes says he “fully supports” a state carbon tax, and has testified in Olympia for it in the past. The proposed carbon tax was rejected by voters in 2016.
“We need to be working forward every day on transitioning to renewable energy,” he said.