League of Women Voters Observer Corps notes

Submitted by the League of Women Voters Observer Corps.

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization, encourages informed participation in government. The Observer Corps attends and takes notes at government meetings to expand public understanding of public policy and decisions. The notes do not necessarily reflect the views of the League or its members.

Friday Harbor Port Commission meeting of May 10

The Commission approved resolutions covering the FAA and WSDOT application for the Friday Harbor Airport design, construction, and services during construction for the replacement of existing runway; an FAA and WSDOT application for the Friday Harbor Airport Environmental Study and Environmental Assessment related to the development of the undeveloped southwest airport property; a grant application to buy an electric vehicle for airport operations; awarding to PNW Civil Inc of Bellingham or the runway underdrain replacement project. The project will start after the end of the summer season and will take about 2.5 months. Construction will be mostly done at night, so the airport will be fully usable during the day.

Director Todd Nichols estimated the Jackson Beach Pavement Contract will cost $250,000. The expected start date is the first week of June with completion by the end of July. Provisions will need to be made to give access to those living at the Cannery.

Commissioners granted authority to the Director to execute contracts for the IOSA building above his delegated authority up to 100,000 in the absence of a quorum.

The May 24 commission meeting is canceled due to the absence of one commissioner. The Port plans a special meeting in early June to review applications for the open Commissioner position.

Those planning to run for the position this fall can file at the county until the 19th and have until the 22nd to withdraw. After the 22nd, the Port will confirm who is running.

The Fire Department has a permit to do wildland fire training in the forest area behind the Mullis Street station on June 11. They will issue a public notice. The Port needs to verify that no toxic chemicals will be used and to check liability issues.

Nichols attended a call with the Port of Coupeville which procured Eisenberg Airfield and wanted information on operational and financial impacts of operating an airport and working with the FAA. The Commission discussed a play and paddle area for the Native tribes and proposed a location. A recommendation was made to work through the county tribal leaders to move this forward.

A final citizen comment was made by Les Kempton who is interested in getting his slip back after he had moved his boat to Anacortes to sell it. He would like to try to get his slip back which remains empty. and it is a narrow slip. The Port will review the waitlist to see the buyer of the boat is eligible for that slip.

Board of Health meeting of May 17

The ACH has been receiving project proposals and providing funds for community health projects. A future meeting will have a presentation the projects. The CCC met at the Recovery Café and county employee Kristin Rezabek has joined the CCC. They will try and get the EDC and the Village at the Harbor to coordinate on plans for Home Health Aide training.

North Sound Behavioral Health Organization Joe Valentine presented a summary of the needs assessment of the five-county region, which is well below needs in both mental health and addiction service beds and outpatient services. The State, in recognition the shortfall in the region, provided $40 million in capital fund to add facilities, including one on Whidbey Island and another in Snohomish County, both of which can treat combined mental/health and addiction issues which often go together.

Service shortfalls remain high. San Juan County has no in-patient facilities and very limited out-patient services. Need is growing faster than population. The biggest challenge is staffing. The state has approved funds for a 15% wage increase for behavioral health staff next year. Read the Executive Summary at: https://nsbhaso.org/news-and-events/north-sound-bhaso-assessment/North%20Sound%20BH-ASO%20Assessment%20Executive%20Summary.pdf.

The superintendents of San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez School districts reported on the challenges the schools are facing as mental health and behavioral issues have increased dramatically during and since Covid. This is particularly severe and challenging to address among elementary-age students. Students’ needs and demands for services are outstripping staff availability and capabilities. Parents are stressed and often not able to support their children; whole family services are needed. Covid stalled maturity levels so students often behave in ways typical of younger kids, requiring schools to focus on teaching kids social and organizational skills, how to be students and how to be in the community. Upticks in substance abuse are a response to the stress and anxiety students face. Staff are stressed and turnover is high, resulting in instability.

The County Health Department surveyed reproductive health services and their importance to community health, noting the gaps in the county including lack of cultural; trauma-informed; equitable and coordinated care; translations services; after-hours services; ensuring partner sexually transmitted infection follow-up; community outreach and communication and equitable access to pregnancy testing and contraception. The Community Wellness van has a full schedule of events including vaccination clinics in May and all ferry-served islands.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ranked San Juan County number one in the state for health outcomes, though gaps exists: https://www.countyhealthrankings.org/reports/2023-county-health-rankings-national-findings-report. United Way has a report out on working adults with limited assets and income just over the threshold to access many public services: https://www.unitedwayalice.org/county- reports/washington.

The next meeting will be June 28 with an update on the PFAS contamination in Hannah Heights.

Friday Harbor Town Council, May 18

The Council received a letter requesting the town put up a sign at the multi-use court at Cahail Park. A draft sign was approved by the council that will limit each group’s use of the court to an hour at a time, along with other rules.

The trees at Memorial Park were made safe, but no further action was taken to improve the park. The trees have limited life and the park will need to be redone. The original cost of the existing traffic circle/park was $500,000. A traffic study will be done next year and can include potential changes to the traffic circle. Outreach for public input will be needed to determine a new plan. In the meantime, the town will have an arborist to maintain the trees.

The Community Development Department expects to have the new permit tracking system fully implemented in 4-6 months. The Council asked staff to prepare a draft ordinance to apply the COLA that goes to union staff to elected officials in the future. The new amounts will apply to current members only upon re-election. The new ordinance will be presented for discussion/action at a future meeting.

A longstanding effort to get the SJI Grange to pay a fee for the disposal of contaminated soil from several years ago drags on, as the Grange’s attorney stonewalls. The latest claim is that the soil was not contaminated, though the test results were provided long ago. The Council plans to send a letter to the Grange Board members demanding payment.

The men’s public restrooms in Sunshine Alley is closed. Someone damaged the door and an employee got locked inside. Though they managed to get the door to re-open, fears that a member of the public could get locked in forced closure until the door can be replaced.

A meeting with the county to discuss water use at the fairgrounds was postponed. The Council expressed concern about limited communication with the county on several issues and hopes to address water use at the fairgrounds, to get a quarterly update from the Sheriff’s Office, and to have regular contact with the Council member representing SJI.

Administrator Denice Kulseth is looking into options for financing the wastewater treatment. The Council is invited to think of issues to be raised with the State Department of Transportation about on-island transport at the upcoming meeting in the County on June 21.

County Council meeting of May 22

The Council ended the Covid state of emergency and vaccination mandate for county employees. The county has some of the highest vaccination rates in the state.

Public Works briefed the Council on the Douglas/Bailer Hill Road project which will widen, level and straighten the road, reduce flooding and widen the shoulders. Ninety percent of the cost is covered by a grant. Work is expected to start in 2025 and take four months and to keep one lane open during construction. County staff are communicating with affected property owners. A public hearing is scheduled for the June 6 meeting.

Assessor John Kulseth provided an overview of the four open space tax programs Farm and Ag, Open Space, Timber, and Forest Land, for land that is being farmed, produces or is being managed for timber, or preserved as open space for public benefit. The timber and forest programs are very similar; both require that timber be harvested and sold. Kulseth suggested that the Council could consider altering the county code to allow forested land preserved not for harvest but for forest cover to be eligible for the Open Space designation.

The Council will make a proclamation recognizing Juneteenth at the June 13 Council Meeting. Health and Human Services got Council approval for a small state Consolidated Homeless Grant totaling $24k to go directly to the County.

Prosecuting Attorney Amy Vira will be reviewing all Boards, Commissions, and Advisory Committees with the Council, identifying issues that need action for each. When the exercise is complete, the Council can adopt uniform rules to create consistency among all the bodies. She presented a form she proposed using to review the Agricultural Resources Committee.

Superior Court Services Administrator Linnea Anderson and Public Defender Alex Frick reviewed the Law and Justice Council. Originally mandated at the state level for coordination among law and justice agencies to oversee how people are detained in jail, in San Juan County, the Council began with several issues including Court security, public defense screening and establishing a parole body. It is operating without a charter, by-laws or set procedures and has formed an ad hoc committee to make recommendations to create more formal by-laws, goals, and structure.

An interim director for the Department of Community Development, Norm Gallum, will start June 1 for three to four months while a permanent director is recruited.