Around Town | San Juan County Council updates

Over the last month, the San Juan County Council has discussed issues including a local immigration initiative, the county population projection and protection of Southern resident killer whales.

Immigration initiative

The county council held a public hearing on a local immigration initiative on Tuesday, Aug. 15, after The Sounder went to press. Visit for updates.

If the county council chose to pass the initiative on Aug. 15, it will not go to vote in the November election.

San Juan County Auditor Milene Henley requested the decision be made before an explanation of the measure was printed in the county’s voters’ guide on Aug. 18. That way, voters wouldn’t be confused about a measure printed in the guide, but not on the ballot.

San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randall Gaylord said the initiative substantially changes county officials’ current practices to protect immigrants.

Putting policies in writing could prevent the county from receiving some federal funds from the current presidential administration, said Gaylord. He plans to give an official statement at the public hearing.

A sanctuary jurisdiction does not cooperate with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants.

Gaylord previously told the Journal that San Juan County deputies do not follow Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold aliens for deportation, if it’s past their scheduled release dates, unless warrants are issued.

The county has no official declaration as a sanctuary jurisdiction, but this current unwritten policy mirrors one. That’s why ICE has identified the county as a sanctuary jurisdiction in several reports. The reports were created after President Donald Trump created an executive order to restrict federal funding for sanctuary jurisdictions.

The local initiative was certified on July 12, after the Immigrant Rights Group of the Orcas Women’s Coalition presented 2,382 valid signatures.

At the July 25 meeting, about seven people asked the council to adopt the initiative during the public comment section.

“The initiative has overwhelming support from San Juan County,” said Mark Cohen of Orcas.

Cindy Wolf, of Orcas, said the coalition created the initiative so undocumented immigrants would feel safer when contacting law enforcement, especially about domestic violence.

Councilman Bill Watson backed the local effort but encouraged the initiative supporters to look beyond the county.

“I think this issue is really important at a national level and the public conversation needs to be carried forward,” said Watson.

Population projection

The San Juan County Council accepted a population projection to plan for growth over the next 20 years.

On July 11, the council decided that the county population will be 19,423 in 2036. To read more, search “population projection,” at

The population projection is part of the county comprehensive plan, which will be completed next summer. Once submitted to state officials, that population will be used for future plans including infrastructure, utilities and land use.

The number was recommended by county staff last May, based on the average percentage of the state population living in the county. Staff did not recommend using a projection based on the average percentage of annual growth because it was not as statistically valid, said Community Development Director Erika Shook.

The San Juan County Planning Commission unanimously approved to suggest this population to county council after a public hearing and discussion on June 16.

The planning commission initially voted on the lowest population estimate, given by the Washington State Office of Financial Management, but it didn’t pass by a 4-3 vote.

The state requires the selected population to be between the OFM’s lowest population projection, at 13,123, and the highest population, at 24,303.

According to the planning commission’s recommendation, the figure they selected allows for flexibility when accounting for seasonal populations. Communities can decide to plan for seasonal populations, said Shook, without being mandated to do so by the comprehensive plan regulations set by the state’s Growth Management Act.

The Growth Management Act was passed in 1990 to curb rapid population and urban sprawl.

The county’s seasonal count is not included in the population projection. The final seasonal count will be calculated this winter in a study by several organizations, including the National Parks Service and the county parks.

Uncashed county paychecks

There is $1,088 in uncashed county payroll warrants, which are similar to paychecks.

The initial report found 88 uncashed checks from 2006 to 2015, totaling about $30,000. Most of those 52 current or former employees cashed their checks after a reminder letter was mailed, leaving about $1,088. One person cashed about $1,700 worth of checks.

The remaining uncashed checks include two issued by San Juan Island EMS, 14 from the San Juan Island Fire Department and three from Island Rec.

A public hearing is set for Aug. 28 to discuss canceling the remaining amount. However, said San Juan County Chief Deputy Auditor Kim Herrenkohl, anyone can request a new payroll warrant to be issued if the debt is canceled. To request a warrant, call the auditor’s office at 378-3356.

Southern resident killer whales

County staff is looking to fund projects to protect Southern resident killer whales.

San Juan County Environmental Resources Manager Kendra Smith said department officials have requested about $20,000 in a Marine Resources Committee grant to create a “community dialogue” to support orca recovery.

On July 11, the council and Smith agreed not to apply for a different grant because they did not have the funds to match it.

Smith presented ways to protect the orcas, who partially live around the San Juans, at a council meeting in June. Six Southern resident killer whales died in 2016, leaving only 78 at the start of 2017.

The grant county staff will not apply for included $50,000 to $100,000 to spend over two years, with a one-to-one matching grant. Currently, said Smith, the department has $13,000 to spend on protection.

Smith suggested using the lodging tax for the extra funds, but Councilman Rick Hughes recommended waiting to allocate funds through next year’s budget process.

Councilman Jamie Stephens said council sent a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggesting a local option and opposing the recent “no-go” proposal. If the NOAA petition passes, commercial and private whale watching boats would be prohibited from entering the entire length of the west side of San Juan Island, where orcas often feed.

Smith had a meeting with NOAA staff on July 18 to share the county’s plans. Smith told the Journal “NOAA staff expressed full support for a local effort…[to] improve the plight of the resident Orca.” They didn’t explain how local efforts would impact their decision on the petition.

At the July 11 meeting, Smith presented to council a budget for the first part of the local plan, which includes public education, including locally disseminating brochures and posters on whale protection zones.

Council also sent a letter to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife staff to request a currently vacant position be filled to increase enforcement of whale protection zones.

Hughes suggested the county hire another deputy to patrol Lopez, which is understaffed. Although the deputy wouldn’t be trained in marine protection, the presence would help enforce guidelines and provide employment for an islander, he said.

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