by PAUL VIERTHALER
Special to the Sounder
I’ve been visiting the San Juans since 1956, and moved to Orcas permanently in 1976. I started in the excavation business in 1978 and I’m still working on it today.
So as you can imagine, I have seen a lot of changes over the years. I have worked on all the islands and have been on almost every piece of property on Orcas.
In the 1970s, if we were clearing a house site or building new roads we would select everything and knock down the rest, a practice I’m glad we don’t do anymore. Today’s excavation world is a lot different. Nothing outside of the build zone is touched, moss on the rocks is left intact, trees, if removed are done so with great care so as not to disturb the natural environment.
Here’s the kicker: we changed the way we work because property owners insist on maintaining the island’s natural beauty. They want to make sure they are preserving our islands while building their dream home. From what I’ve seen, the people who live in San Juan County don’t pollute their land.
There are more homes here now than there were 30 years ago, which means more paved roads and more cars on the roads. The roads are one area where pollution happens every day. On a rainy day you can see the oil sheen all over the road surface. Oil, gas, antifreeze, etc., run off our roads every time it rains, and the runoff goes into our ditches, wetlands, streams and right out onto our beaches. Our county and the state recognize this problem. The critical area that we need to focus on is our road runoff problem.
Our council needs to look at the facts and worry about the worst problem first, which is run off from our roads. There is no science to date that tells us the people of the San Juans are polluting their properties. But there is evidence that road runoff is polluting our wetlands and other critical areas.
So if we aren’t polluting our properties, which I believe 99.9 percent of us are not, then why are the county council and the state hell bent on taking our property rights away from us? Could this be a way to control our every move or slow down growth in the San Juan Islands? Are special interest groups helping our county out because they see the pollution or do they just want to stop people from building new homes?
The council should tell the state that they have found, based on the best available science, that our current codes and growth management plan are working great. The county’s own website shows us the road pollution. One solution to protect our critical areas would be to implement a plan to add more filtration and storm water systems alongside our roads. Let’s make decisions based on science and facts, and quit making problems that don’t exist.
Paul Vierthaler lives on Orcas Island