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Saturday, September 30th

Guest Column


By Lincoln Bormann

As my first full summer in the Islands gives way to fall, and visitors retreat to the mainland, I am taking stock.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the largest gathering in Orcas' history; the Rally to Save Turtleback. For a moment, we all set aside other things, drank wine and laughed and looked out across the Coffelt's fields to the mountain. The day was glorious, and spirits were high with the feeling that our goal was within reach, that we were unified in a single purpose. Any lingering doubts I may have had about buying Turtleback, or its staggering cost, seemed to evaporate in the crowd's enthusiasm. Truly, it was a celebration.

There will be other gatherings leading to the closing deadline of November 15. And the funding gap remains daunting. Fall will be the time for people to step up to save us from what could be a very long winter. Lights up on the mountain's ridgelines no doubt will not warm us much. Hint: Write your check to the Preservation Trust now!

A week later, I found myself on Lopez to celebrate the official opening of the Land Bank Fisherman Bay Spit Preserve. While the event was attended by only a couple of dozen folks, it was no less significant than the Rally. The Spit has been a focal point for Lopezians through history. The salmon reef net fishing boats moored off shore are descendants of the first boats used by native peoples hundreds of years ago. Seemingly, the fires of the Coast Salish created actual landforms on the Spit itself, obscured now by wind, sand and water. Today, anyone who pleases can wander this site and perhaps envision fish drying on cedar racks or the gathering of berries and roots to be packed into wooden boxes or baskets.

The Spit was protected through the dedicated efforts of many people. It remains the largest purchase the Land Bank has made to date (state funding reimbursed about a third of the cost). But it was an impassioned plea by a woman in honor of her lost husband that cinched the deal. It was her will that staved off the inevitable partitioning of the property into private fiefdoms. Rita, we are grateful.

That same week I spent a morning at American Camp and the property recently acquired by the Land Bank to the north. With a small group, we were looking for remnants of the old military road. After several hours and many rose and hawthorn scratches we conceded defeat. Not surprising, given that many others have embarked on the same search. But standing in the field by Cattle Point Road and looking toward Mt. Baker in the east, I could see a beginning too. A place where perhaps new agricultural fields will emerge together with a trail heading toward Friday Harbor. While a portion of the property will be sold to help reimburse future acquisitions, the view will remain unspoiled and perhaps even renewed with flowers or vegetable beds or native grasses bending to a spring rain. Time will tell.

Now as we rush to finish our dry weather projects and get our summer crops into jars or freezer bags, remember these events and add your thoughts to this vision. They are from our past, but will always be a part of our future.

[Guest Column">more..]

Tuesday, September 12th

In Contrast To Steve Ludwig, Urban Growth Areas Favored

I count myself as an environmentalist and I favor many of the positions on the environment that the Green Party espouses. However, I disagree with some of the statements made in a "Guest Editorial" in The Island Guardian, ("SJC's Great Planning Disaster") in August 25, then as a "Guest Opinion" in the Sounder and the Journal on August 30, by Steve Ludwig (the Fall, 2005 Green Party candidate for County Commissioner) condemning the plans for Lopez Village and Eastsound as UGAs (urban growth areas).

Mr. Ludwig does make some good points about water and water table concerns when increasing density in an island community. So whatever growth occurs must be very sensitive to this resource issue. But by not allowing some growth to occur in a more dense and focused area (UGAs), sprawl and its attendant ramifications result. Orcas and Lopez Islands would be populated primarily by rural "ranchettes," which from my perspective is one of the worst land-use policies. This type of development has many varied and idiosyncratic water and sewage treatment systems that are commonly not well managed. Many roads and driveways have to be built to access these remote homes, lots of traffic is generated by daily trips to employment, the market and other resources. If part of our population increases can be housed in a denser village atmosphere, walking and bike riding can be used for routine trips, road building and traffic can be minimized and state-of-the-art sewage treatment and water facilities can be developed. Accommodating increased growth by simply perpetuating large lot rural ranchettes has many negative environmental consequences.

Mr. Ludwig also states that allowing more dwelling units per land parcel, increases the costs for those needing affordable housing. His assumption is correct that a large parcel of land will increase in value as more density is permitted. But here is where I disagree with Ludwig's argument. If a developer were permitted to put more dwelling units on their land in the UGAs, the cost of each new smaller parcel will be less than the original large lot. It is a simple supply and demand issue. If you increase the supply of land for housing by allowing more density in the UGAs, the price of housing will come down. Admittedly, in an expensive "resort" environment the market place may not fully accommodate all the needs for affordable housing. Zoning may have to permit further density bonuses to developers providing affordable housing in the UGAs.

My final disagreement with Mr. Ludwig relates to his comments on the low costs to those needing affordable housing of living in a rural environment. We all pay the costs of poorly managed "on-site" water and sewage treatment facilities, garbage disposal and traffic generated pollution and energy consumption common to many rural settings. Further, those that could least afford it; pay more for commuting longer distances to employment and shopping. His comment about the advantage of letting ones "old cars rust by your house" is unconscionable. As an environmentalist, I'm aware of and concerned about many kinds of pollution and the visual pollution of rusty derelict vehicles in our beautiful environment should certainly be one of our pollution concerns. Additionally, old unused vehicles leach battery and oil contamination into our soil.

I agree with Ludwig's point that we must manage growth so that we avoid the "Greater Puget Sound urban nightmare." But then we differ. In fact, one might say that the problems of Puget Sound land planning in the past have been the prevalence of large rural and suburban lots apparently exactly what Mr. Ludwig wants for the Islands. More density in the UGAs will help us avoid some of the mainland problems. However the UGAs must be managed very carefully so they are developed within the boundaries of our fragile water resources.

Peter Everett
Lopez Island


Saturday, September 9th

Improve Safety? Less Money? Why bother?

I am not a town resident but I attended the Town Council meeting Thursday night excited at the thought that the two fire departments might really be moving closer to becoming one entity. Despite the fact that the mayor's own commission recommended a move to one administration that could save 30% of the Town Fire Department's budget, and despite the fact that Fire Fighter safety would be enhanced, the council tabled the item without action. It wasn't tabled pending further investigation, it was just dropped.

Training and safety of firefighters was mentioned, but those concerns seemed to be a very low priority to the council. Both my son and I are volunteer firefighters on the island. That's how we think of ourselves. Not as District 3 fire fighters first, although we are part of that department. We're just fire fighters. When you are working on a fire in the dark in bunker gear and a mask the department you belong to becomes insignificant. However, training differences and variations in equipment can be very significant and could result in tragedy. Occasional combined training is not the same as regular, continuous drills. When the pager goes off, you don't know who will respond. That is why it is so important that we all be comfortable with each other and with the different equipment both departments use under the worst possible conditions. I don't want some variation in training or a different fitting on an air bottle to ever be the reason one of us is hurt or worse.

I've worked in management most of my career. As a manager, the council's reaction to their own commission report was a surprise as well. If I had someone come to me and say they could save 30% of a department's budget AND improve the safety of personnel working in a very dangerous profession I'd be all over it. Instead I heard comments about how insignificant the savings were. One council member actually said we could easily think of ways to spend that much right now. I couldn't help but wonder if they could think of more ways to save that much while they were at it.

Another justification for not going forward that I heard several times was about control. The council didn't want to lose "control" of their Fire Department. This attitude prevailed even after Fire Commissioner Bob Jarman pointed out that under the proposed model the town would still control their assets and have the ability to back out if the arrangement if it didn't work out. I guess I don't understand this issue at all. What is the control hang up? I don't remember seeing the council members at any of the fires I've been to. What control are they so worried about losing? What do they think a bunch of fire fighters are going to do with fire trucks? Such silliness.

Although there might be legitimate concerns about how a combined department would work we'll not get the chance to work them out now. The mayor didn't see any "smoking gun" reason to go forward. I'm wondering what that gun would have to look like. I see public opinion as expressed in the Journal's poll, a possible 30% cost saving and most importantly enhanced safety and efficiency in fire service island wide as a pretty big smoking gun.

So, in the end nothing is happening again. Always a safe move for politicians, even if it isn't the best move for the town or it's fire fighters. A new chief will be hired and this great opportunity to bring the departments together will be gone. If this seems wrong to anyone else, especially those fire fighters and citizens living in town, maybe you could let the mayor or Town Council know. Ultimately it won't change how I respond to a page around here. I'm sure it won't any of the other fire fighters either. Whether the call is for District or Town or both, we'll be ready to go. It's what we all do. I just hope none of us have to pay the price for the council's decision.

Jerry Henderson
San Juan Island


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