County council holds weekly meeting on Orcas

Orcas Island infrastructure was the star of the San Juan County Council meeting held at the Eastsound Fire Station on March 7.

Orcas Ferry Landing

The construction of a park and ride at Orcas landing drew much of the attention since it is expected to be completed by June 30 of this year.

“It’s going to be a really great project,” said County Councilman Rick Hughes. “We’re really proud of it.”

The council made two big strides toward the park and ride becoming a reality by approving the relocation of the existing Orcas Hill Road and allowing the county to sign a lease with Washington State Department of Transportation’s ferry division (WSF).

As Orcas Hill Road exists currently, drivers traveling south on the road must cross the lanes of ferry traffic and drive down the hill before making a turn onto Orcas Road. The adopted action would reroute the traffic through the new park and ride, eliminating the need to cross the several lanes of ferry traffic entirely.

The county also signed a 25-year lease with WSF allowing the usage of a 5.32-acre property on which the park and ride will be built. The lease can then be renewed twice for 10-year periods. The county does not have to pay any rent to WSF as long as it does not charge for parking in the lot.

“Our theory was that although we have grant monies … we’re going to put other road fund dollars into it, we’re going to be responsible for it,” said Thomas. “It solves a long-time safety issue, therefore, we shouldn’t have to pay rent. The notion is giving folks a safe place to park – whether that’s short or long term – at the Orcas Landing.”

County engineer Colin Huntemer said the county will begin reviewing bids on March 22. County councilman Bill Watson questioned what the post-construction operating expenses will be for the park and ride. Huntemer said the county will be able to accurately provide an estimate on operating costs when the park and ride is completed.

“It should be a really wonderful project when it’s completed,” said Hughes. “I think we’ll have a total transformation of that area into a really great recreational space.”

The Washington State Department of Transportation has given the county a $750,000 grant to construct the facilityTerminal. The county has also allocated $710,000 toward the project. The purpose of the park and ride is to move parking on Orcas Road to a new designated parking lot.

“… You will no longer have to worry about trucks coming up around the corner and having to dodge parked cars while also having pedestrians and other vehicles going the other direction,” said Hughes. “it’s been a safety concern for a long time…”

Phase one will consist of relocating Orcas Hill Road and building the parking lot. During phase two, the intersection of Orcas Road and Orcas Hill Road will be updated with turn lanes. The final phase of construction will be to end Orcas Hill Road at the ferry holding lines.

Another project the county has in the works at the landing is the conversion area that housed the old fuel tanks into a waterfront park.

Barbara Bentley of the San Juan County Marine Resource Committee said it has secured a grant that will allow the committee to install signage and potentially virtually interactivity, which it calls the Orcas Landing Experience.

“It’s going to be quite an interesting and beautiful display,” said Bentley.

The grant Bentley referred to was $6,200 from the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee. Public Works also requested $50,000 from LTAC to make the area into a usable space. The county will remove an existing wooden surface and replace it with brick pavers making the area – which is currently prohibited to the public – an outdoor event venue and location to wait for a ferry. The park is expected to be completed around the time of the park and ride in late June.

“It looks like one giant project, but it’s really a combination of six projects that just all happened to be good timing to do them all together so the area’s only torn up once,” said county councilman Jamie Stephens.

The Exchange

“Despite the reservations – you may recall – 3 ½ years ago, we are very successfully running the transfer station,” said Orcas Recycling Services Executive Director Pete Moe. “Since then we have increased the operating hours and services, lowering the prices of the program … while paying livable wages and providing benefits to our team.”

Moe said the groundbreaking for the new Exchange building – a replacement for the one that burned down in February 2013 – should begin on April 1 and construction will be done by HB Hansen.

“We’re really excited about the Exchange of course, but that’s also not where we end our mission,” said Moe.

See next week’s Sounder for more information on the Exchange.

Eastsound Visioning

Jeff Otis, co-chairman of the Eastsound Planning Review Committee, presented the group’s process so far in establishing a visioning statement for the village.

“In 2016 and 2017, we tried to use the EPRC as a public forum to bring forward things that might be important to the community; such as the library, school expansion, parking and streetscapes,” said Otis.

The EPRC hosted four community insight meetings to help determine what the public finds most important to them. The hope is to establish a visioning statement next week. The group will then host subcommittee meetings on five topics: livability; character; open spaces; parking and roads; and “opportunities,” which will tie it all together.

Watch the Sounder for more updates from the EPRC.

Comprehensive Plan

Erika Shook, director of the county’s department of community development, gave a short talk on the progress made on the comprehensive plan.

“The county comp update is just beginning,” said Shook. “Between now and June, what folks can expect is we at the DCD are putting together the foundation pieces of the comprehensive plan.”

The department will be researching population growth; housing needs; and conducting a land capacity analysis.

If you have any questions regarding the comprehensive plan, you can email Shook also said the department will be establishing a biweekly alert on the comprehensive plan once the ball starts rolling on the project.

Deer Harbor Bridge

Following the meeting, the county council, staff and several members of the community gathered at the newly constructed bridge on Channel Road in Deer Harbor for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

“It was one of the first projects that public works has done when it was a true community program,” said Hughes. “We spent probably an extra year meeting with the Deer Harbor community.”

More than 20 people huddled together under umbrellas, wrapped in raincoats for the ceremony.

“We are very thankful to get some ceremonious closure to a very challenging and successful project for the county and also the community,” said Huntemer. “This is a bridge that will outlast everybody in this room.”

To view photos of the ribbon cutting ceremony, visit