County Council hears plans for Orcas roads

While roads were the most discussed topic at the San Juan County Council meeting on Orcas, also included in the session were updates on public restrooms and vaccinations.

The council traveled to Orcas on Sept. 11 for its regular meeting.

Public comment

The discussion started with the council opening the floor for public comment. Orcas islander and retired architect Fred Klein expressed concern over a “sudden acceleration” of the Prune Alley Road enhancements.

Twenty years ago, Klein said, there was a cooperative streetscape plan for North Beach Road and Main Street. Parking options included no parking, parallel parking and 45-degree angled parking, he explained, adding that the current plan is to create parallel parking from School Road to Main Street.

“The essence of what we have here is the variety,” Klein said, adding that Eastsound is a very unique village with “happy” meandering streetscapes. “Let’s enhance the qualities we have of the village rather than ignore them.”

Islander Leith Templin said that North Beach Road from Mt. Baker Road to School Road is the gateway to Eastsound, and she has concerns about doing any major modifications to the area. She encouraged council to work with OPAL Community Land Trust, which is developing property along the road.

“That stretch of road is very important to people. It’s near and dear to my heart,” she said.

OPAL Executive Director Lisa Byers gave an update on April’s Grove, the 45-unit complex being constructed along North Beach Road. The project is 90 percent funded, she said. OPAL has secured a bridge loan and will begin construction early next year.

“We’re excited and we’re very proud of this community,” Byers said.

She requested that OPAL join with the Eastsound Planning Review Committee, county and others to preserve as many trees along North Beach Road as possible and protect existing large trees. The only part of the design that isn’t finalized is the streetscape, she said.

Dan Christopherson expressed concern over insufficient road widths for cyclists.

“(San Juan and Lopez) have roads that have enough room for the cyclists … but we don’t,” Christopherson said. “We really need a shoulder for the bikes.”

Toby Cooper used his three minutes to address the biggest threat to the orca population: lack of food. Islander Sharon Abreu also referenced the orcas during her time, saying that the lower four Snake River dams need to be removed. She also requested that the council consider supporting Washington initiative 1631, a carbon emissions fee.

Sadie Bailey and Margie Doyle both encouraged the council to consider being more involved in the Port of Orcas Master Plan progress.

Update from EPRC

Brian Wiese and Paul Kamin spoke on behalf of the EPRC about the terminus of A Street. A 1.67-acre lot next to the post office is for sale and the EPRC has been campaigning for the county to purchase it and build a turnaround and parking lot. The current owner of the lot offered three-quarters of an acre – all marshland – to The San Juan Preservation Trust. The trust declined and suggested that the county land bank accept it. The two representatives suggested that the council consider allowing the land bank to take the property.

Paul Kamin said EPRC unanimously agreed with the donation, and that there should be more discussion about acquiring the parcel.

Orcas roads

County Engineer Colin Huntemer presented the progress of the island’s road construction projects, starting with the park-and-ride facility at the Orcas Ferry Landing. The 84-space lot was full during the county fair, with additional 16 vehicles “creatively” parked there as well. The county is discussing adding another “pod” that will allow extra spaces. Additionally, the county is receiving two electric vehicle charging stations.

The county’s purchased $880,000 worth of local rock aggregate to create the base for the remodeled section of Orcas Road. From south of Nordstrom Lane to McNallie Lane, the county is planning to make the angle less sharp.

Huntemer mentioned the trail system currently being constructed in Deer Harbor and how a 25-year county-leased dock space at the Deer Harbor Marina expires in two years.

“Two years is a blink of an eye,” Huntemer said. “Two years is now.”

The county is set to begin construction on Prune Alley in 2020, said Huntemer. With funding secured from the Washington Department of Ecology for stormwater improvements and the county, the project has been a priority of the county for years, he said.

“We have opened the aperture on all these funding sources for Prune Alley,” Huntemer said.

Huntemer noted a significant need for county-owned marine facilities across the island. He said the boat ramp at Obstruction Pass needs replacement, which is estimated to cost $175,000, and is necessary as that is the only location on the island where fuel can be transported.

The floats at West Sound are old and break loose in the winter, explained Huntemer. For approximately $200,000, the county can replace the two existing floats with one and update the creosote log pillars to steel. He said the Eastsound facility needs a structural integrity survey.

The county will hold a public hearing for the six-year transportation improvement plan at 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9, in Friday Harbor.

Orcas restrooms

Greg Sawyer, manager of the county facilities department, gave a brief overview of the restrooms at the Village Green. With three toilets on the women’s side and two and a urinal on the men’s side, Sawyer said the facility is large enough for its usage. Though use peaks in the summer, he said they can bring in portable units to help subsidize the need.

“My personal opinion: I think it’s about the right size. I believe that we have some peak-use issues that could use some attention,” Sawyer said. “If we build something bigger, it is going to be there for another nine months of the year getting not enough use. Whereas … it’s really the right size for that three-month period of time.”

The 2019 capital improvement plan involves both interior and exterior enhancements, however, the toilets themselves are in good shape, he said. A common complaint is that the seats are cold, so the county installed five new seats to solve that issue.

According to Sawyer, other complaints include clogging – which he says is rare because the toilets are built to be able to flush a tennis ball – and the handwashing station breaking, a problem that the department will be addressing soon.


Director of Health and Community Services Mark Tompkins spoke about vaccination rates. Nineteen cases of chickenpox – or varicella – were reported on Orcas, with the most recent case occurring at the end of August. San Juan County considers this an ongoing outbreak. Because of this, the county introduced a variety of immunization efforts – primarily on Orcas – to reduce the risk.

Since the end of May, the county has administered a total of 163 immunizations, costing approximately $40,000. During Orcas Island School District’s back-to-school event, the county vaccinated 40 kids total with 87 immunizations (varicella and measles, mumps, and rubella) for free.

“It was a total team effort. … We’ll continue to work with the school,” Tompkins said, adding that varicella can be extremely dangerous to adults. “The more we can do to increase those rates, the lower the risk. … We’re trying to prevent those adverse outcomes.”