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Monday, October 27th

Priorities


Perhaps you are troubled by the recent staff layoffs and park closings. These budget cuts are the result of years of excess spending, misplaced priorities, and a lack of serious concern for maintaining an adequate reserve fund. This past period of indulgence has come to an abrupt end.

The summary of accounts below is an eye-opening look at how money was spent on a transfer station project that has little, if any, public support. The spending was authorized by a number of contracts with details described below.

Some of the work was performed in an attempt to create enthusiasm for a plan to relocate the dump. The plan was then taken to the point where it stands today; a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is due before the end of the year, and a decision to move it or not, will be made by early next year. The project has still not generated much public support and appears to be doomed under a tight budget. Here is some background.

In June 2008, I requested information about the total cost of the DEIS for the transfer station project. Here is the response I got via email from Stan Mathews, 7/9/08:
The budget for the EIS for the Transfer station is scattered among several sections of the budget, but according to Jon Shannon, the total is approximately $150,000. If you need more detailed information, we'll have to have you curl up with the budget book. (Let me know.)

While researching the EIS documents, I found references to several reports generated by engineering contractors and consultants. I decided to request all of the contracts for EIS work. Mr. Matthews promptly directed Public Works to provide contract documentation of current costs for producing the Draft EIS and Final EIS for the San Juan “Transfer Station Relocation Project”.

Over the course of several hours I went through the 15 contracts and took the notes below. I have made condensed general comments about the scope of work for each contract. I tried to be precise and accurate in these abbreviated notes. The Council or the Administrator authorized the contracts. If you get to the bottom line it is obvious that the EIS cost a great deal more than Mr. Shannon stated and it is still adding up.

The following is a list of contract summaries between San Juan County Public Works and several different engineering and consulting groups. In my opinion this is an example of excess spending on a misplaced priority. After reading this you may agree.

Contract information for Transfer Station relocation project 2006-2008.

Contract # Date Contractor Amount of Contract

08SW.008 9/9/08 Allen Emerson $ 960.00
Scope of work summary:
Organize public Comments

08SW.001 2/25/08 Zender-Thruston $25,000.00
Scope of work summary:
SJC hired attorney Robert Carmichael to represent
SJC and to assist PA’s office with work related to
Transfer station.

08SW.003 8/28/07 Picketts Engineering $33,000.00
Scope of work summary:
Revise conceptual layouts for DEIS including
Storm water, wetlands, etc. Excerpts:
6. “A planning level probable cost of construction
estimate will be prepared for each of the 5 layouts.”
8. “A memorandum summarizing planning level
cost estimates will be prepared.”

07SW.08 8/28/07 Picketts Engineering $14, 000.00*
Scope of work summary:
*Same as above except $14, 000.00 is broken out
separately. This amount may be included in above cost.

06SW.11 8/7/06 Picketts Engineering $ 9,950.00
Scope of work summary:
Prepare 4 conceptual layouts for August SWAC
Meeting. Compare existing vs new layout in generic form.

06SW.06 5/22/06 Picketts Engineering $12,500.00
Scope of work summary:
Provide input to Norton-Arnold and Gary Harshman
(project managers). “obtain the County’s research
already conducted regarding curbside service on SJ.”

08SW.004 5/21/08 AMEC Earth & Enviro $139,801.01
Scope of work summary:
DEIS to be done according to scoping document.
Required to determine planning level costs including:
Acquisition, site development, construction, expansion,
operational, and maintenance costs. (I was told here will be additional
work and cost to this contract. I have not received details yet).
“As you know, there will be a final supplemental amendment to the AMEC contract 08SW004. I plan on getting you the cost and scope documentation this week to begin processing the supplemental.” 9/16/08 email from Steve Alexander

Contract # Date Contractor Amount of Contract

07SW.06 5/8/07 AMEC $81,543.40
Scope of work summary:
Scoping process development. Includes comparing
alternatives and description of relevant land use implications
of each alternative with Comp Plan, zoning, and ordinance
and identify all permitting issues.

07SW.03A 3/26/07 Environments $25,000.00
Scope of work summary:
Consulting services performed by Gary Harshman.
This is another company run/owned by Mr. Harshman who
Also signed contracts as president for AMEC. Work includes
Managing activities of team including Picketts, Donovan-Kehrer,
Norton-Arnold (Todd Peterson & Chris Hoffman). Develop
strategy for SEPA review, attend SWAC meetings.

06SW.07 5/22/06 Environments $25,000.00
Scope of work summary:
Same scope as above different time period.

06SW.05A 5/11/06 Donovan-Kehrer & Assoc. $ 7,500.00
Scope of work summary:
Professional project planning services.

07SW.07A 9/21/07 Norton-Arnold $23,011.56
Scope of work summary:
Services of Todd Peterson. Prepare and record summary
of public comments from scoping meeting.
Develop brochures for mailing.

07SW.07 5/24/07 Norton-Arnold $19,017.00
Scope of work summary:
Services of Todd Peterson. Prepare public involvement
Plan for SEPA scoping process. Create mailer, update
Web site, newspaper advertising, etc.

07SW.01A 3/8/07 Norton-Arnold $37,090.00
Scope of work summary:
Services of Todd Peterson. Develop public involvement
Program. Facilitate 6 SWAC meetings ($15,800.00 was
the amount paid for this as a line item for this or
$2,634.00 per meeting), hold “open house” meeting,
write news releases, interview stakeholders (12).

Contract # Date Contractor Amount of Contract
06SW.08
6/8/06 Norton-Arnold $37,090.00*
Scope of work summary:
Same scope as above appears to be supplemental
To above contract but the date covered is different.
According to the note above this contract covered
Work that was preliminary to the DEIS. * One note
of explanation by Steve Alexander follows:
“Please note that the work scope for several of the oldest contracts covers non-DEIS work as well as DEIS work. In particular, only a small portion of the work scope in contract agreement 06SW08 was DEIS work.”

08CD.015 6/03/08 Herrera Enviromental $27,679.52
Scope of work summary:
Assist the County in reviewing the DEIS and the
final EIS and consult with CD&P then form written
comments.

Total cost of contracts $518,142,.48

The contract for the final EIS is not included in the above costs. That contract is “still being worked up” as of 10/16/08.

So far the transfer station relocation project has cost taxpayers dearly. It is not clear that the project has public support or that we can even afford to build it. When we spend money like this and turn around and layoff county workers and close parks I think our priorities are wrong. How about you?


(Gordy graduated with honors from Seattle Pacific University with a degree in Philosophy. He also attended Theological Seminary. He has spent most of his life in the San Juan Islands. He once owned a small chain of grocery stores in the islands. He has many years of active participation on utility boards and in countywide planning under GMA including membership on the original Citizens Committee for drafting the Comprehensive Plan, Vice Chair of the Countywide Steering Committee, and Chairman of the San Juan County Planning Commission. Most Recently, he served our community as an elected Freeholder from District 1. He is currently running for County Council in District 1. Read more at: http://www.gordyforcouncil.com )
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Thursday, October 9th

The Urge


The urge to spend creates the need to tax. Our Council overspent this year’s budget. Now they need to find creative new ways to tax us. Remember last year when voters rejected the storm water tax? It’s back.

The Council has made it clear that they intend to pass this tax in some form within the next 30 days and that it will not be subject to a vote of the people through the referendum process. It was turned down 62-31% last year. The amount they want to charge us now has increased significantly. The Council’s decision to tax us again does not represent the will of the people. They have simply spent too much and want more.

In the previous storm water ordinance the so-called “service” we got for the fee was the existing roadside ditches that we’ve already paid for from the road fund. Storm water problems originate with impervious surfaces that block rain from soaking into the ground. Roads make up a large part of the impervious surface in the County. Roadside ditches catch the runoff and divert it into areas that can absorb it. Ditches and culverts were constructed with money from the road fund. All the defined projects in the Public Works Capital Investment Plan are around roads. So it makes sense that money to fix the storm water problem should come out of the road fund.

There are two problems with using the road fund:
1) According to State law road funds are not supposed to be used to handle non-road runoff.
2) Because of some recent withdrawals the road fund is short.

To get around the first obstacle the County needs to convince us that runoff from houses in rural areas has created a big storm water problem that is overflowing the ditches and creating widespread flooding but the evidence to support this is lacking. It is hard to take this seriously when it’s obvious that rural landowners are being forced to pay for construction of expensive facilities that promote growth in urban areas. This will require a good spin job to sell because if we look at the budget we know that the money will be spent in urban growth areas, not in rural areas where few improvements are planned.

Let’s follow the money. This year the Council voted to “borrow” $2 million from the road fund to fix the storm water problems in Eastsound. We were told repeatedly that GMA compliance required immediate action to improve Eastsound’s storm water infrastructure. The loan was approved to keep the GMA board from imposing a building moratorium in Eastsound.

The total amount budgeted for this project is $1.756 million. The Public Works Department took $782k from us (45% of this project’s cost) in 2007 and spent all of it. According to the figures above we should expect the project to be about 45% completed with 2 million more to draw upon. Sadly, this is not the case.

The progress report on the Eastsound Capital Improvement Plan is poor. Only a small fraction of the work has been done. Some progress has been made on only one of many planned projects. No permits have been filed so far. There is really no visible progress toward solving any storm water problems in Eastsound.

The biggest problem that many people have is that they lack confidence in the Public Works department to actually spend our money to solve specific problems. Instead the money is spent on other things.

To make matters worse the road fund is short because of irresponsible spending by the Council. They recently voted to take another $3 million from the road fund to buy the old dock at Orcas Landing. The Council members are rudely tapping the taxpayers on the shoulder again with their hand out demanding more money to fix storm water problems. Their urge to spend has created the need to tax. My question is this, if they insist on this kind of irresponsible spending why should we give them more?

I really believe it is time to reign in the spending spree that has caused the need to tax the citizens of San Juan County at the highest per capita rate in the State of Washington.

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