Letters to Editor
To Contact the Editor
(Note: For a full listing of all letters, Click HERE and scroll down to “Entries”
"We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us."
-Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus), rhetorician (c. 35-100)
Open Letter To Town Of Friday Harbor
Hello Town of Friday Harbor:
I know you don't really care, but I thought I should let you know that this evening I tried to take my kids out to play some frisbee in the front yard. Sadly, the smell from the Waste Water Treatment plant ruined that experience, and after about 10 minutes, I told them I had to come inside and write to you. Since the Town of Friday Harbor doesn't seem to think the smell from the Waste Water Treatment Plant is a problem, I thought I would report it to the Island Guardian, and see if they'd like to to any research into it... especially it being Earth Day and all.
I have sent you so many complaints, and I know you are tired of hearing from me.... so tired of hearing from you you just ignore my e-mails at this point. I don't know what to do though. I don't know if you think I should just accept that the Waste Water Treatment Plant smells, and because I live 352 yards away from there I am just out of luck... or that this isn't your problem to fix? But does it really not mean anything to you that after being in my front yard for 10 minutes on an evening in April, where I am trying to encourage my children to do something besides watch t.v. or play on the computer, I would be forced back inside because of your Waste Water Treatment plant? This means nothing to you?
Hope you enjoyed your Earth Day,
Regarding Mr. Dehlendorf
David Dehlendorf never disappoints. He is always willing to assert his particular view of how islanders should be allowed to live, think and act. David’s wife once served on the Planning Commission so he apparently feels entitled to express his dismay that not everyone on the Commission shares his view of the universe.
Mr. Dehlendorf has been told by the County Prosecutor, more than once, that being associated with an organization that supports island property owners does not disqualify a citizen from serving on the Planning Commission.
David’s skewed view doesn’t get much public support. It seems most islanders recognize a loaf of baloney when they see it. Even being head of the local Democrat Party doesn’t give his viewpoint much credibility with islanders.
Not discouraged by a lack of public support, Mr. Dehlendorf and friends plod on, trying to use local government to impose their emotional half baked notions of a tightly regulated community on their neighbors.
In the past, David and the folks who play his tune, have had an influence on local politics and policies far beyond their numbers. Lately their control of local events, politics and committees has eroded. Homeowners have come together to say enough is enough. The local citizens, many who support Common Sense Alliance, are pushing back.
The result of people standing up for themselves is that now there are several people serving on the Planning Commission who are looking for rational common sense solutions to planning for the future of our islands; a welcome change Mr. Dehlendorf opposes.
There are other changes as well. David’s hand picked candidates did not win the last Council elections. There is a ways to go, but positive change seems to be gaining. For the average County citizen who wants to live and work in a community that is neighborly and not subject to the foggy logic of David’s environmental and political extremism, the change is welcome.
LETTERS ON OPALCO ELECTION
(04-23-14) Where I Stand On The Issues
To the Editor:
As controversy swirls regarding the upcoming OPALCO Board election, I want to make my position regarding OPALCO's role in broadband as clear as possible:
• I strongly support OPALCO playing a significant role in bringing true broadband to OPALCO members and to the larger Islands community.
• I strongly support the Co-op's taking the time necessary to examine very carefully all aspects of that role from the standpoints of prudent fiscal policy and enhancing, not harming, island businesses.
• I personally believe that the ultimate design will go one of two ways: either OPALCO will not enter the full-fledged internet service provider business, or, if it does so, it will be as a separate entity dealing with the Co-op on the same basis as would any other member.
I love this community, and want it to move forward in the best possible way.
I ask that OPALCO members return me to the Board for another term.
District 1 Representative
OPALCO Board of Directors
(04-7-14) We Support Steve Hudson
To the Editor:
San Juan County member/owners of the OPALCO Co-op are being asked to vote in two new board members. Ballots will be coming in the mail starting April 11th. Please take the time to seriously consider your choices. Steve Hudson was raised on San Juan Island and is deeply rooted here. He has been a member/owner of OPALCO since 1967. In Steve’s words, “OPALCO is at a historic fork in the road. Members are the owners of the co-op. It is the rate payer’s money being spent. You deserve assurance and data demonstrating that it is being spent wisely, and that electric ratepayers are not subsidizing noncore pursuits.”
Look at Steve’s work history: He has worked in the telecommunications industry his whole adult life; been responsible for capital and operating budgets of $10 to $15 million; responsibility for service to 50,000 customers and up to 150 employees. Steve knows the responsibilities of public utilities.
Community involvement: San Juan Island school board; two planning commissions; economic development council; and three non-profit boards.
Most importantly, in the over 50 years that we have known Steve, we know him to be an honest, caring, community minded individual who can be a tough, fiscally conservative manager. He cares deeply about these islands and the people who live here. He is willing, and able, to be an effective, fair and open minded OPALCO board member. We need his vision. We need him on the board!
Please vote for Steve Hudson. Thank you.
Susan and Bob Jarman
(03-17-14) Open Letter To Members of OPALCO
To the Editor:
Dear OPALCO members,
We, the undersigned, are members of the Islands Energy Coalition (IEC), a coalition of individuals from throughout the San Juan’s. Our primary goal is to bring awareness to energy issues ranging from the global to the local. On April 14th we hosted the only OPALCO candidates forum in the San Juan’s. The candidates running are all impressive in their own right. That said, this election cycle we have chosen to support Vince Dauciunas and Steve Hudson for the OPALCO Board. Additionally we are in support of both proposed bylaw changes #1 and #2.
Four of the six candidates were able to attend the forum. Candidates Vince Dauciunas, Glenna Hall, Brian Hoyer and Steve Hudson, gave introductory comments and answered questions from the audience for over 90 minutes. We are fortunate to have many qualified people running for OPALCO Board. Our support for Dauciunas and Hudson is based on both oral and written statements. Looking at the current board composition, we feel Dauciunas and Hudson will bring a balance of technical competency and responsive engagement with members.
We support both proposed bylaw changes on the ballot because we believe the membership will benefit from greater transparency and accountability in decision making. Although we disagree with the projected costs for implementation as published in the OPALCO ballot, even when using these high figures the cost of less than $1.50 per member per year for the Information Meetings (Bylaw #1) and $3 per member for acquiring streamed audio-visual capability for board meetings (Bylaw #2) are well worth the costs considering that OPALCO is making multi-million dollar decisions that will affect members for years to come. These next few years are particularly crucial as our coop makes decisions to leave the ‘electric only’ coop business and venture deeper into broadband. The annual electricity bill for a household with average consumption went up $77 this year, with an expected cumulative increase of $246 by 2016.
To read candidates’ answers to questions and listen to the recorded forum discussion, visit: islandsenergy.wordpress.com. Please vote by May 3 either by email or in the paper copy you received in the mail.
(03-11-14) Supports OPALCO & Broadband Initiative
To the Editor:
Three years ago I ran for an OPALCO board seat, and lost. I ran because I understood that rural areas are not a winning proposition for our big national telecom and cable companies. The distances are large, the customers few, and in our case, the geography challenging. Not only would it take Centurylink or a cable company years to recoup the capital investment needed, the small population makes it difficult to do more than break even providing service. If we wait for an outside company to improve our situation, we'll be waiting a long time.
I understood -- as many of you do as well -- that if we are going to see investment in bringing true broadband service and better telecommunications to San Juan County, that investment would come from within. From us.
Investing in ourselves.
That's often a tough sell these days, when public funding is scarce and we seek to reduce our tax burden. BUT -- no government funding is needed, nor tax increases.
WE already own much (though not all) of the infrastructure needed to improve our broadband services. Every member-owner of OPALCO already owns a share in a county-spanning fiber-optic network. We have only to determine the best way to use it to deliver broadband service to members who want it.
True, the fiber network was built mainly to enable the Coop to control and monitor its power infrastructure. But any time one digs trenches, and puts fiber in the ground, one always adds as much capacity as possible. It’s the digging, not the fiber, which is expensive. So we have extra capacity. Not to every corner of the county, and not enough capacity that further upgrades won't be necessary, but enough to get started.
Last November, the incumbents (Glenna Hall and Vincent Dauciunas) along with board President Chris Thomerson, led the way in response to the Centurylink outage, forging a board consensus that OPALCO should start planning to help solve our broadband issues with its fiber network capacity. They acted with the support of many members, and at the urging of the San Juan County Council and the San Juan County Economic Development Council.
There are major challenges ahead in the process of planning broadband services and delivering them to a wide audience in San Juan County. The nature of business relationships between OPALCO and other network service providers (such as Rock Island Internet) need careful thought and discussion. The degree to which OPALCO should serve end users directly (building out the infrastructure and customer service capacity needed), or make its capacity available mostly to wholesalers like ISP's or neighborhood associations, need careful thought.
Those decisions will drive the nature of the business, and therefore financial, model by which OPALCO proceeds in the broadband business. As a result, I am unconvinced by the assertions I've seen in various letters and even campaign statements about broadband affordability, its effect on Coop finances, or its sustainability. Those assertions, in the absence of the decisions and planning I just mentioned, can only come from speculation.
The assertions in several letters and campaign statements about the OPALCO board being secretive about finances and using our existing electrical fees to finance broadband are -- given the best available facts -- untrue. Speaking charitably, some of these assertions appear to be misunderstandings or facts quoted out of context. Others, however, appear to be outright political attacks. That would be unfortunate, since OPALCO elections are not supposed to be political and partisan -- this Coop belongs to all of us, regardless of how long we've lived here or what else we believe.
Apart from a vocal minority like Steve Ludwig and some (but not all) of Steve Hudson’s public statements on the subject, I hear almost nobody saying that we shouldn't be figuring out broadband as a community. And everyone I’ve spoken to thinks OPALCO is the best chance we’ve got to solve our broadband issue. It seems we differ mainly in our ideas for how this is best accomplished, and how it is best financed.
I would ask that fellow members focus on several key points:
1. An outside company, such as Centurylink, simply cannot and will not make sufficient investments in a complex rural area with a small, sparse population.
2. The OPALCO board is doing what we all demanded back in November -- planning how best to deliver broadband services responsibly to members.
3. OPALCO has much work to do in that planning process, and we cannot expect to get all of the answers instantly.
4. But we do need the board and staff to communicate regularly, and do a better job of cooperatively planning this project with key stakeholders, which include the County's existing ISP's.
I call upon us as members to allow the Coop and its Board the time to do a good job planning its broadband initiative, and to elect (or re-elect!) board members that will push this initiative forward, and not derail it before we even see its final shape.
Mark E. Madsen
San Juan Island
(03-29-14) Okay, So What Are The Answers?
To the Editor:
Dear Mr. Cornelius:
I was interested to read your response [2nd letter below -Ed] to Mr. Jarman's letter claiming that Mr. Jarman's objections about OPALCO's finances are "without foundation," and look forward to having this claim fully verified by your and OPALCO's future actions.
One specific contention made by Mr. Jarman in his letter was that "OPALCO has not made it possible for its co-op members to know what actual investment there is in the Fiber Network and how much of our power rates subsidize the broadband operation." Since your letter claims that this objection is "without foundation," the only conclusion to take is that it IS possible for co-op members to know this actual investment in the Fiber Network and whether (and if so how much) our power rates subsidize the broadband operation.
I have scanned briefly around the OPALCO website, and don't see this information easily available, if it is there at all.
In order to prove to me and other interested co-op members that Mr. Jarman's objection is indeed "without foundation" and your response was truthful and candid, I am asking by this email that OPALCO promptly issue a full accounting to me and to the other co-op members of this information in a clear and easily understandable format. This should specifically include, by year and in total, the total amount invested in the Fiber Network, the source(s) of funding used for this investment, and the amount, if any, of power rates which have been used to support or subsidize this effort.
The cost of the project should include both direct costs and, using the best cost-accounting principles, the appropriate amount of allocated indirect costs, including but not of course limited to an appropriate allocated share of: office overhead and general expenditures; managerial time and resources (including Board time and resources allocated to this project); use of OPALCO personnel to support the effort; purchase, repair, replacement, and operation costs of equipment used; and any other allocatable expenses which proper GAAP cost accounting principles would require be allocated to this project. It has been many years since my graduate courses in cost accounting, but I do retain some memory of these principles, and look forward to seeing them properly applied to this situation by competent professionals.
Since you have stated that Mr. Jarman's objection that this information is not available to me and other members is "without foundation," I am sure that you will have no problem providing this information, since to do otherwise would prove the accuracy of Mr. Jarman's claim and the falsity of your rebuttal.
Since I am confident that I am not the only co-op member interested in this information, nor the only one who wants to see verification of your assertion that Mr. Jarman was wrong and your rebuttal was valid and accurate, I ask that you post this information in an easily accessible location on your website and provide me a link to the information. I am also asking that you provide this information to the three major local news sources, the Journal, the Island Guardian, and the San Juan Islander, so that it can be widely disseminated and you can prove beyond any doubt that Opalco is indeed committed to transparency, honesty, and completeness in its financial accounting and its members' rights to such information.
I have sent a copy of this email to those news sources, and ask that each consider it for a publication as a letter to the editor so that their readers can anticipate your providing the information which will prove that Mr. Jarman's claim is "without foundation" and that OPALCO's general manager is being completely honest with us as co-op members.
Thank your for your consideration, and I look forward to receiving and reviewing this information.
Opalco member since 1980
(03-23-14) Hudson Running For OPALCO Board
To the Editor:
I'm a candidate by petition for the OPALCO board. I'm writing to state my concerns about what our co-op is doing, and especially how it is being done.
Opalco is owned by its 13000+ customer/members. We elect a board of 7 to represent the members best interest, and prudently run the co-op. The board is subordinate to the owners. If the lights stay on, most customer/member/owners, including me until recently, tend to assume our co-op is doing fine.
OPALCO has a proud history as a stable well run electric co-op. Broadband is like the electricity business only in that it requires transmission, distribution, and delivery. The electric business is non-competitive and relatively stable technologically. Broadband is very competitive and rapidly evolving high technology. Co-ops are not for profit entities.
A year or two ago, OPALCO proposed a $30+ million expansion of its broadband program, and polled its members to see how many would support their plan. 93% of us members said no by not saying yes. The board backed off this proposal, and seemed willing to grow at a slower pace. Then Centurylinks submarine cable failed last fall and things changed. The board decided to accelerate broadband expansion.
In the last couple months, I've spent many hours trying to understand what OPALCO is doing in broadband. I've read the boards proposed by-law and policy changes. I've spoken at length with board members, former board members, employees, competitors, and people close to the situation with years of involvement and insight. It's puzzling and complex. I'm trying to be brief, but please consider the following:
1. By-law and policy changes listed as "action" items on the boards February agenda would have severely reduced the members ability to initiate changes. Under the guise of the board "speaking with one voice", board members who disagree are essentially gagged, and subject to being removed by other board members if they speak their minds publicly. At that February board meeting, several customer/owners spoke against these proposals because they reduced member rights and silenced the diverse thinking that is healthy. The proposals were "tabled", but their content and intent speak volumes about this boards transparency and respect for the members they work for. Tabling the proposals was a tactical move. Public debate about board transparency and reduced member rights just prior to the election of 2 directors wouldn't be helpful if you want to pack the board with people of the same mindset.
2. A few years ago, one of 2 redundant submarine transmission cables from Lopez to San Juan in the next 10 years or so at a cost of $3.3 million. The board president told me it is now scheduled for 2015 at a cost of $15 million. I asked how the cost could be so much higher. Was there other work contained in this budget item? No, he said. There's nothing else in it. The cost increase is from the rise in copper and permitting costs. Coincidentally this cable route does not now have fiber. It is OPALCO weakest broadband link. Is this enormous expense for the needs of the electric grid or to get that fiber in place?
3. The board has provided no financial prospectus to clarify what they are doing in broadband.There's no rate structure in place to project revenue. It's not clear what is being spent, and no way to tell if this massive commitment of your money will pay off, or if the electric ratepayer must foot the bill through more rate increases. The board president, however, insists that the cost of broadband infrastructure along transmission and distribution routes is used for the electric grid anyway, so broadband customers need only to be charged for what is built to connect them. This has at least two dubious consequences: electric ratepayers subsidize broadband ratepayers; and competitors like our local internet service providers are seriously, if not fatally, disadvantaged.
4. This board is not just changing policies, by-laws, and mission statements to justify and control its apparent broadband plans. It is using threats and intimidation to silence its critics and debate in general. You may have seen Randy Cornelius' letter criticizing Bob Jarman's concerns [Both letters follow this letter -Ed], stated in his letter withdrawing as a candidate.
Bob was incorrect in assuming the board passed the policy change muzzling board members, but he was correct in the essence of his concern. As mentioned above, the policy was on the "action" items list of the boards February agenda, and tabled only after encountering opposition from members attending that meeting. This board has a growing reputation for using executive sessions and unannounced meetings to obscure its activities. In addition to Cornelius' public reply to Jarman, Bob also got a letter from OPALCO lawyers containing much identical language.
This letter also contained the threat. Really? The board is using our money for lawyers to threaten suit to silence the debate the members need and richly deserve. it's probably safe to assume this unattractive tactic is used on others like employees, directors and former directors. Maybe I'm next.
5. The OPALCO town hall meeting in Friday Harbor last week was a disappointment to say the least. Lots of slick graphics, positive slogans, and board charm. But on broadband there was very little of substance. The question of board transparency, which seems to arise only in relation to broadband, was brushed aside until the broadband item on their agenda, which came last. Meaningful debate was just emerging when time ran out. Got to catch that ferry. Board transparency was never discussed.
6. OPALCO resources applied to advancing broadband are not available for electric operations. Not just money, but management and board time and attention, engineering, consultants, contractors, crew time and administrative help, all add to the unknown and growing cost. There are many, many miles of deteriorated buried electric cable to be replaced. The older design with exposed neutral conductor becomes unreliable. Electricity goes where it can. Safety and reliability are degraded.
There is more to indicate something is badly amiss. Large scale broadband expansion fundamentally redefines what our co-op is and does. It should be done only after rigorous evaluation and open debate; and only with solid approval by the members who must pay the bill.
I urge the press to do their readers the service of seriously examining this situation. I urge the members to do some homework and vote their ballots. I urge the board, and especially the individual board members, to rethink their respective positions. Your policies speak of high ethical standards. Are you in compliance with the spirit of those policies?
OPALCO should use its surplus fiber capacity to haul broadband for other providers. I don't think it should be in the retail internet or phone business. The people currently on the board are obviously intelligent, successful, and capable. Maybe they're a little blinded by the dazzling promise of broadband and pressure from "true believers", but that end has not been shown to be wise, and does not justify these means.
My candidates statement/bio as submitted to OPALCO is attached FYI.
(03-27-14) OPALCO Responds To Jarman Letter
To the Editor:
I was surprised and disappointed to see that you published Bob Jarman’s letter [letter posted below -Ed]to OPALCO of March 16, 2014.
I am writing to set the record straight.
First, Mr. Jarman asserts that “[w]ith the new amendments to the bylaws recently passed by the current Board (policies 1 & 23), the actions of the Board are not transparent to the Co-Op members.” The truth is that OPALCO’s Board of Directors has not acted on those policy change proposals to date. The Board is considering changes to those policies and the proposed language is posted in the February and March board packets on OPALCO’s website. Contrary to Mr. Jarman’s implication, these proposed revisions are intended to protect our membership by ensuring transparency and integrity in Board operations.
Second, Mr. Jarman incorrectly suggests that OPALCO’s financial accounting is not honest. Nothing could be further from the truth. OPALCO retains the outside, independent auditing services of the highly reputable accounting firm, Moss Adams, to review its financial controls and records on an annual basis. Furthermore, the IRS and the U.S. Commerce Department’s Rural Utility Service annually review OPALCO’s financial controls and records and consistently conclude that the Cooperative’s accounting records accurately reflect its financial position and operations, with absolutely no qualifiers. Mr. Jarman’s claims about dishonest accounting are utterly without foundation.
Third, contrary to Mr. Jarman’s assertion, the OPALCO Board does not have a policy of not allowing Board members to speak individually to the Cooperative’s members.
In summary, the OPALCO Board’s actions are transparent to the Cooperative’s members and completely consistent with cooperative principles, state law, and the organization’s articles of incorporation and bylaws.
And, the Cooperative’s financial accounting meets the very highest standards.
If Mr. Jarman believes that his duties and responsibilities as a member of the San Juan County Council somehow conflict with the duty he would have as a member of the OPALCO Board of Directors to support OPALCO and act only in the best interests of the Cooperative and its members, then it is appropriate that he has withdrawn his name. However, that does not justify promulgating falsehoods about the Cooperative, its policies or accounting practices.
Rest assured that OPALCO’s leadership is and will remain totally committed to the best interests of our membership.
Randy J. Cornelius
(03-20-14) Jarman Withdraws Name As OPALCO Candidate
To the Editor:
It is with regret that I am withdrawing my name for the District 1 director’s position on the OPALCO Board. I petitioned to run for this position for the following main reasons:
1) To keep OPALCO a power company first; to be run as a Co-Op, as according to the Co-Op bylaws and Articles of Incorporation.
2) To make sure that the Board’s actions are made transparent to the Co-Op members. With the new amendments to the bylaws recently passed by the current Board (policies 1 & 23), the actions of the Board are not transparent to the Co-Op members. In my opinion, this is totally outside of the intent of what a Co-Op should be.
3) To have an honest accounting of the investment OPALCO has in the Fiber Network. OPALCO has not made it possible for its Co-Op members to know what actual investment there is in the Fiber Network and how much of our power rates subsidize the Broad Band operations. (Because the separate set of books set up for the Fiber Network investment was closed after 5 years from the start of OPALCO getting into the fiber business, members are not informed regarding the actual profit/loss and if we should get out of the business!)
One of my main responsibilities to the citizens of San Juan County as an elected County Councilman is to be able to provide the citizens with information that will affect their lives and livelihoods. This would not be possible if I were to serve on the OPALCO Board as its policy of not allowing Board members to speak individually to its members would be in direct conflict with my duty as a Councilman. I need to devote all my time and energy to the position I was elected to do as your Councilman.
San Juan Island
LETTER ON ORCAS EMS LEVY
(04-2-14) No Blank Check For Orcas Fire
To the Editor:
As most people do, I too appreciate Orcas Fire and admire the volunteers. I dedicated 17 years of my life to it and them. I do not believe this entitles the administration to a blank check.
It is with amazement that I have read the District's proposal to renew the levy at the same level (over 2 million dollars/year for 10 years) that it took to build two new fire stations, buy a third, replace 7 engines, a rescue truck, a brush truck, two tenders and two ambulances with money provided by the "temporary" lid lift in 1999. The district has no such huge capital expenditures on the horizon.
A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. It has been very disheartening to witness the culture of entitlement that has become the order of the day by this administration. Orcas Fire has clearly forgotten exactly whose money they are spending.
When you vote "NO" you are not voting against the fire department or the volunteers. You are voting FOR fiscal responsibility. A "NO" vote will not compromise emergency responses for you or your family. The threat that the district will have to cut services if this initial levy request fails is simply untrue. The present levy fully funds the district through the end of 2014.
The most disturbing detail is the ivory tower that has been built in just the past few years. Wages and benefits for the paid staff have increased by over $400K to nearly one million dollars! The top two positions alone are costing tax payers a quarter of a million dollars per year.
As president of the Firefighters Association I lobbied in favor of the "temporary" lid lift to be approved by voters in 1999. The money was well spent until the bond was paid off in 2012. Today, the district is in need of some serious belt tightening, seeking alternative funding methods and reducing the administrative positions. The Fire Commissioners have refused to reign in spending so it is clearly time for the voters to do so. You are the last line of defense.
Most importantly, it is critical for us all to remember that Orcas has many families who are struggling financially. There are long lines at the food bank every week. Please consider the fact that this levy forces our neighbors to pay for bloated salaries at the top that they simply cannot afford. Please talk to some of these people. You will find they will welcome the much needed reduction in their taxes.
Insist the district do some serious soul searching, slash administration costs and resubmit this levy in the Fall.
I am asking that you join me in voting no on Proposition One.
Fire Commissioner 2002-2006
(03-29-14) Vote In Support
To the Editor:
We are proud to be part of the Orcas Island Fire and Rescue team. We represent the Orcas Island Volunteer Firefighter/EMT Association, and the 64 community members who serve as EMTs and Firefighters. As volunteers, we rely on our professional staff to ensure we have the skills, equipment, and training needed to provide our community with the best possible outcome when there is an emergency. The staff is responsible for maintaining the organization and equipment in response ready mode, to care for the health and safety of the volunteers, and to maintain compliance with a multitude of Federal and State regulations. As volunteers, we contribute our time and effort to maintaining our skills and responding to calls. Working together, we make up a remarkable team.
Like every winning team, we need quality leadership: leaders that are knowledgeable, respectful, accountable, and dedicated. With the current leadership in place, our team is strong because not only are the paid staff also responders, they work shoulder to shoulder with the volunteer members, hauling a hose at a fire, jumping in to continue CPR, or making sure the rescue rig rolls as soon as the call goes out. Their efforts combined with the dedication of the 64 of us who volunteer provide Orcas with excellent island wide emergency coverage 24/7.
The Volunteer FF/EMT Association Board unanimously voted to endorse this levy. As volunteers, we need your vote to carry this level of service forward. Please vote yes and mail your ballots in by April 22nd.
Orcas Island Fire and Rescue
(03-26-14) Too Much, & Not Managed Properly
To the Editor:
When you vote no against the levy you are not voting against the Fire Department or the Volunteers.
The people of Orcas rejected two bond proposals for the School District because the majority felt that it was too much money but finally approved the third request.
What we have now before the voters is pretty much the same amount of money that was requested 15 yrs ago and that levy was to build two new fire stations, purchase the Westsound station and update our vehicle fleet.
So now we have a payroll and benefits of one million dollars for 11 full time employees, Lopez Island which has half the population operates with a part time Chief part time Administrative Assistant and 3 full- time Firefighters/Paramedics, their Department is staffed with 39 volunteers.
I have been attending the Fire department meetings for 10 yrs now and I am very familiar with their budget and I feel that the Department spending is too much. A few years ago we all objected to the position of Assistant Chief at the cost of $90,000 but that was forgotten last year and that position was filled at a cost of $114,000. (including benefits).
We spent $27,000 for 6 months for an off island CPA, without even trying for a better solution. The bookkeeping should go back to the County for a lot less money just the way we used to do it.
One position received a $9,200. raise this year ? money for food, cards, chocolates, pencils, etc and the list goes on.
When you have a lot of money available, it is often too easy to spend at will.
Recently the policy on meals and travel expenses was updated but only after the Department was questioned about their spending habits.
The cost for our volunteers is approximately $250,000.00 and we are all grateful for their dedication.
The Commissioners should hold the taxpayers interest in high regard and show prudent and effective use of resources entrusted to them.
There is enough money in the budget and reserve to continued to operate until they come to us with a better proposal.
Let's have clear goals, realistic expectations and accountability.
I do not support the current levy proposal.
(03-20-14) Be Best To Vote "No!"
To the Editor:
The Orcas Island Fire Department does a very good job of handling emergency services for this small community. According to SJC dispatch numbers for 2013, they respond to about 2 calls a day.
Voters are now asked to approve a new levy to replace the one that expires at the end of the year. Major capital expenses including three fire stations were paid off in 2012 with the current levy. The new levy amount should be significantly reduced, but unfortunately the size and cost of the non-volunteer staff has ballooned to over a million dollars a year. The Chief and Asst. Chief alone have combined wage and benefit packages of nearly a quarter of a million dollars. The proposed levy will ensure annual increases of these salaries for the next ten years.
A recent 8 month review of one of the department’s two credit cards paints a troubling picture of spending. For example, $570 spent on Chinese food flown to the island, $120 for chocolates, conference lodging booked at the luxury, waterfront Hotel Bellwether in Bellingham. In comparison, Shaw Island personnel attending the same conference stayed at the Econo-Lodge. A room booked at the Majestic Inn & Spa in Anacortes for simply ‘missing a ferry’. Numerous meals out for paid staff and visitors. The complete picture is unknown because some receipts for this public records request were not provided.
Public servants have no business spending taxpayer dollars like this. The lack of fiscal common sense, accountability and oversight at this agency is unacceptable. We have citizens on fixed and low incomes who will be forced to share the cost of this levy.
We all have a vested interest in emergency services but not at any price. Irresponsible spending and a bloated administration make it impossible to determine the genuine financial needs of the department. Clearly, the best course of action is to vote no on the levy, return the bookkeeping to the county for some much needed oversight, and insist the fire department get its house in order.
About That Orcas Fire Department Levy
To all fellow island voters:
I would like to say this to you about the upcoming levy the fire department will have on the ballot in April:
 If you are not aware of the departments cost of doing business find out.
[ 2 ] Our department is our life line, rain, snow, ice, or hot weather, day time or middle of the night our volunteers answer your calls.
[ 3 ] Many lives have been saved by their ability to perform the task they have been trained for and countless hours are given to get and maintain that training.
[ 4 ] Changes in the equipment have given them much better access to respond to fire calls thanks to good planning and good training .
[ 5 ] This year the fire department celebrated it's 65th year. We are grateful to those that started it so long ago and to all who now are part of it .
[ 6 ] The same people who are seeking this levy are also tax payers and like us do not want to pay anymore taxes than we do.
[ 7 ] We have the finest department because we have chosen to support it to become and stay top rate. [8 ] Questions? talk to the fire chief or a commissioner or one of your neighbors who is a volunteer on the department.
[ 9 ] Support the guys and gals who do the work, the commissioners who have to ask, our paramedics and the fire chief .
VOTE YES to continue our excellent department .
LETTERS ON EMS LEVY
(03-13-14) Guest Column Not Answers
To the Editor:
I read the guest column Helicopter vs. Fixed-Wing vs. Aircrafttitled "Helicopter VS Fixed-Wing Aircraft" this morning. I'm afraid it left me with more questions than answers about the issue.
I understand that there could be times when the severity of the injury or illness would determine which method of transportation is more appropriate. I did not realize that there are state protocols for determining this. What I still don't understand, however, is how islanders should prepare and protect themselves and their families.
For as long as it has been available, both before and after the insurance commissioner's ruling, I have subscribed to the Med-Flight and Airlift Northwest programs (currently $79 annually). Do I now need something else to cover fixed-wing flights? Is there a similar program for Island Air Ambulance? If so, how much does it cost and where does one sign up? Who runs Island Air Ambulance? Island Air or EMS? Some months back, there was talk that one program would cover both services. Was that false information?
Perhaps another guest column written by the same people could address these questions. I would be most interested in hearing what Chris Martin, Jim Cole, Nancy Steiger, and Dr. Sullivan have to say.
(03-11-14) Why Did EMS Levy Fail?
To the Editor:
I believe that Louise Dustrudes analysis of the EMS levy failure [see letter below -Ed] identifies the issues precisely.
I heard many conversations in many venues discussing exactly those issues..... with one exception. The "buzz" on the street was that Island Air was just charging a lot of money and for some unidentified reason there was a deal between peace health and island air to move the business away from airlift northwest.
I heard a lot of comments that suggested that the folks receiving the air ambulance services had no choice in which air service (the determination would be made by the on duty doctor at peace health) was used and that was coupled to the possibility of a large air ambulance bill from island air when one had already subscribed to the airlift northwest service.
Truly a substantial lack of communication with the public ......
San Juan island
(03-10-14) Why Did EMS Levy Fail?
To the Editor:
I'm surprised that no one in our local press has done any analysis of the failure of the EMS levy vote last month.
I believe virtually everyone on the island adores our EMTs and the splendid service they provide. So there had to be some pretty powerful influences to make over 40 percent of the voters say NO to the levy request.
In my opinion there were four contributing factors:
1) Anger at the Hospital Board for using our tax dollars to bring us a hospital that adheres to the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Bishops -- directives which are in conflict with the ethical beliefs of a majority of county residents, and which deny our rights to reproductive health services and end-of-life care that have been approved by large majorities here.
2) Confusion over the respective roles of Airlift Northwest, for which many of us pay $79 a year, and Island Air, which doesn't charge San Juan Islanders but apparently does charge our insurance companies for med-evac service.
3) Resentment at being asked to approve a permanent levy higher than they tell us is needed, without any effort being made to explain it -- which would have been a more respectful way to treat voters.
4) And for anyone without adequate health insurance, anger and disbelief over the skyrocketing cost of medical service on the island.
I'd love to hear from anyone who has a different analysis to suggest.
(02-08-14) Accountable & Frugal?
To the Editor:
As many others, I am appalled by the request of SJI EMS to raise their levy and therefore funding through our property taxes by 42% in addition to making this a permanent levy.
This comes at a time when islanders are still struggling to make ends meet. Our country’s recession is far from over. The Hospital Board’s explanation for the exorbitant increase in financing is to ‘provide a financial safety net’; I think all us would like to have a monetary safety net to fall back on. The Hospital Board further states that there is presently no perceived need for extra funding. Why then request such an increase in a levy which will cost the taxpayer 42% more for 2 full years before the present EMS levy runs out?
This levy is pushed under the taxpayer’s nose at the last possible minute without giving residents the opportunity to question the levy and hold meetings for discussions and answers from EMS themselves. While the Hospital Board argues that a permanent levy was discussed during last year’s meetings, I am wondering who of the residents attends the meetings or why these meetings’ findings are not published.
EMS is an important part of our island, however, we all need to be accountable and frugal when it comes to tax spending. According to Chief Cole he has always been frugal with his EMS budget. However, how can it be justified that he raised his salary $26,000.00 from 2011 to 2012 and his assistant’s salary by $16,000.00 at the same time? A 26% increase in salary from one year to the next is unheard of when it comes to taxpayer’s funding.
I believe there are many unanswered questions and many doubts stemming from this levy petition. Ask yourself whether this levy should be revisited in a year or 2 with competent information given to the taxpayer in a proper time frame.
San Juan Island
(02-06-14) "Stealth” EMS Ballot
To the Editor:
Given the manner in which the proposed EMS levy has been handled (virtually NO public information provided to voters until the past ten days), I can't help thinking that someone advised the Health District Board that a “stealth” ballot issue was a good idea.
It appears that the Board consciously decided to sneak this one through by scheduling the ballot issue in the middle of the winter when many islanders are taking some time away, by not providing a substantive explanation to the voters, and then double-talking the media when questions were asked. It doesn't sound like the kind of operation I want to relieve of the “burden” of seeking voter approval of its levy every six years.
If this is the approach they want to take to District governance, then I am inclined to vote against a permanent levy that amounts to a 42% increase over the currently approved levy (which was most recently approved in 2010). Frankly, they have lost my trust.
Prevent Distracted Driving
I want to help bring awareness to the dangers of DISTRACTED DRIVING. I lost my Nana in a tragic car crash two years ago because someone was reading a text while driving. I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, so I would like to remind people that these are preventable actions.
Over the next few months our Rock Solid Youth Group will be making posters on the dangers of distracted driving to share in our schools and community, we’ll write a song to share this message, too. In addition, we’ll be asking our local Sheriff’s Office to help support us in getting the message out.
Did you know it is illegal to use a cell phone while driving in Washington State that is not considered a hands-free device? Unfortunately, I see many people everyday passing my school using a cellphone, while driving, with it held up to their ear and I’ve even seen people texting and driving down Spring Street.
Did you know, “When you text and drive you are 23 times more likely to crash.” Did you know, “77% of young adults are very or somewhat confident that they can safely text while driving.”
Did you know, “48% of kids (12-17) have been in a car while the driver was texting.” (www.textinganddrivingsafety.com)
Please join us in helping to prevent Distracted Driving in our community. Please put your cell phones away when you get in your car and speak up if the driver of your car uses their cell phone (non hands-free device) or starts to text while driving. You just might save a life.
Rock Solid Youth Group
LETTERS ON DOGS AND GRAVEL PIT
(02-17-14) Control & Clean Up After Your Dog
To the Editor:
This letter is in response to comments and a letter received by Island Rec’s Board of Commissioners which appeared in the recent letters to the editor [related letter below this one -Ed]concerning the Lafarge property, (i.e. gravel pit), and regulations regarding unleashed dogs. The property, which is owned by Island Rec, is not a designated off leash dog park. Island Rec operates Eddie and Friends Dog Park on Mullis Street for this specific use.
The Lafarge property is a primitive area with beautiful scenery and use is limited to walking on the graded walk only. It is a popular destination for people and their dogs. One walk around the trail and it is evident by the dog waste left beside the trail how popular the area is for people with dogs.
This property is located in the county and therefore the county ordinance Section 4 SJCC 6.08.085 applies which states dogs must be under the immediate control of the owner or keeper or other authorized person by means of a leash, voice, whistle or hand signal. For those who are animal lovers, it’s easy to forget that not everybody, or every other dog likes other dogs, especially when we live in a place that is very dog friendly and accommodating.
We have parks and trails all over the island, all teeming with people and pets. But these are all still public spaces, which means it’s your job to control and clean up after your dog, and not everyone else’s job to adjust to their presence. The bottom line…..take responsibility for your dog, and everyone will benefit.
Questions or concerns about Lafarge or any other Island Rec park or program are always welcome. Call Island Rec at 378-4953.
Jacquelyn Reiff, Chair, on Behalf of Island Rec’s Board of Commissioners.
(01-28-14) We Must Be The Luckiest Dog Lovers In The World>
To the Editor:
We must be the luckiest dog lovers in the world! We have the wonderful gravel pit where we can walk our dogs and let them play together. It’s great!
But the reality is that being able to let our dogs off leash there is a privilege not a right. That’s an important point to remember and it should be treated with a great amount of respect. My dog has developed an aggressive attitude from being rushed by other dogs while we were at the gravel pit; I have heard the same from others.
Now I am working hard every day to correct that problem. Every time you allow your dog to come rushing into mine because you have no control over it, you set my hard work back weeks and sometimes months. Think about that.
I am trying to be a responsible dog owner. Respect that. If you cannot call your dog back to you then in my opinion it should not be off leash. And If I tell you my dog is aggressive, respect that. Leash your dog as you pass and give us a wide berth. The gravel pit is a luxury that deserves our respect and our beautiful dogs deserve our full attention while playing there.
Picking up poop is not optional. I have actually seen people let their dogs out to poop at the gravel pit and then just walk away. Feces are a potential disease vector for both dogs and for wildlife. PICK UP AFTER YOUR DOG! Island Rec has made that super easy for us by providing not only bags but trash cans in two strategic locations as well. USE THEM.
One person told me they don’t pick up after their dog because the dog poops on the hillside. Either go down there and pick it up or keep your dog leashed until after it has pooped in a place where you can easily get it. There is really no excuse.
The gravel pit is a gem of a place, lets keep it that way. Respect each other, other dogs, and especially the people without dogs who come to walk or jog and do not deserve to be mauled by your dog.
I would like to assume that its not that you don’t care, but that you didn’t know.
Now you do
Here are a few guidelines.
People manners for the dog park
• If you see a dog on leash or with its owner off to the side, please respect their privacy and don’t approach until the owner says OK
• Clean up after your dog. Plastic bags are provided to make this easy.
• If you cannot call your dog back to you without fail then don’t let it off leash.
• Call your dog away from the gate while other dogs are entering or leaving
• Pay close attention to your dog and keep it out of trouble
• Always be aware of your dog’s location and the body language of the dogs your dog is interacting with
• Immediately stop aggressive behavior
• Be responsible for your dogs behavior