Letting the urgent crowd out the important

Consider this:

• Days of no interisland ferry service

• A county-wide moratorium on building permits

• A blight of high-priced “tourist” businesses in Eastsound

Alarmist? Maybe. I hope so. But just as John Campbell last week criticized the County’s “failure to plan” regarding land use and specifically, affordable housing, we should cast a cold eye on the County’s and the Council’s actions. In the near future, the Council will be participating in ferry service affairs and in long-range ferry planning; in producing an Eastsound stormwater financing plan; and in revising the Orcas Island/Eastsound land use plan.

Being a county employee, particularly serving on the Council, is not a cushy job. But for the Council to absent itself from the meeting of its Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) with the Department of Transportation’s Ferries Division in Friday Harbor last week, especially after the Council had asserted control over the FAC in January and reformulated its governing ordinance, was neglect of a duty it has vociferously demanded as its right and its purpose. (County Administrator Pete Rose and Public Works Director John Shannon did attend).

Come on people, we need to do better than that. Protestations that the Council must and should be involved in the Ferries’ long-range planning can’t be taken seriously if the Council doesn’t even come to its own “table.” Three of the eight State Transportation Commission members came from across the state to pay San Juan County the respect of attending the meeting. It was scheduled a month before the meeting date. It’s kind of like standing up a girl you’ve been pursuing for months.

The State Department of Transportation, the Ferries Division and the Transportation Commission, in fulfillment of the action plan outlined by the Ferries Financing Bill (HB2358) of the 2007 legislative session, are engaged in surveys and other long-range planning mechanisms. Their findings will form the basis in 2009 of the budget for the State Ferries’ Division. As we see former plans to build new ferries and reconstruct new terminal facilities fall by the wayside as too expensive, what guarantees do we have and what plans are we making to ensure that we at least have regular ferry service in the months and years ahead? We need to stay on top of this and work towards a realistic solution. Someday Anacortes or even Friday Harbor may be as far away as Disneyland.

Likewise, the Council, thanks in part to the “success” of the stormwater referendum invalidating its financing plan last fall, is under the gun to come up with an alternate funding mechanism by the June deadline with the Growth Management Hearings Board. A subcommittee has been tasked with creating such a plan, and it was scheduled to report on the result on April 8. Let’s hope it’s one that can meet GMHB approval, and even more, that it addresses the problem of stormwater runoff in the years to come.

Which brings up the topic of rushing through an inferior, but GMHB-acceptable plan, for the Eastsound UGA: County Development and Planning (CDPD) has been hard at work, finally at full strength, for the last year to achieve compliance with the Hearings Board decisions. But the June compliance deadline only “beards” a more complex monster that planners must wrestle down to the ground: the Dec. 31 deadline to revise the Orcas Island and Eastsound land use plan to fulfill the mandates of the Growth Management Act under which we have been laboring since 2000, when the County decided to adopt the UGA and compliance to GMA, with the expected return of government funding.

We may be finding out we made a deal with the devil, but County Prosecutor Randy Gaylord says there’s no turning back: we’re stuck with GMA compliance.

It sort of feels like taxes are due every working day of our lives, but the silver lining may be actually having a chance to shape what our future really looks like, how it really functions.

And as they say, forewarned is forearmed.