San Juan County’s 172 islands can — and should — work together

San Juan County is made up of 172 islands at low tide, four of which are linked together by the Washington State Ferry Route.

We’re governed by a three-year old charter that establishes a six-member County Council for our 15,000 island residents, with County offices located in Friday Harbor, the county’s only municipality.

Most county advisory committees serve all the islands, with a predominance of San Juan Islanders represented on them.

We educate our kids in four separate public school districts: Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and Shaw Islands. Plus we have private schools, some of which have students that commute by ferry from one island to another.

Compliance with the Growth Management Act is currently driven by bringing Eastsound elements of the Urban Growth Area requirements into line. A Subcommittee of the Council is engaged in formulating a stormwater utility funding plan that will be accepted county-wide.

In short, we’re a mix of island communities, with state- and federally-restricted (and endowed) governments idiosyncratically superimposed on our county governance.

We’re kind of like a mini-United States, with local priorities complicated by county and regional directives.

Often years go by before we travel from one island to another, and sometimes we pull into our shells, as when county-wide funding for stormwater was proposed, or as the different public school districts face their financial crises.

We’re a crazy quilt that covers all the islands, though sometimes we slip off one or another corner of the bed.

But when push comes to shove, we show our strength by acting together – in acquiring Turtleback Mt. and Watmough Bight, in fighting smoking and pertussis, in holding the legislature to its promised two-percent increase in ferry tariffs, in addressing global warming, the marine environment, and civil rights, through county agencies like the Land Bank and the Health Department, and the County Council and its advisory committees.

The County Council and Administrator Pete Rose have increased their commitment to travel to other venues of local government on Orcas and Lopez Islands to facilitate their input into county matters: twice this summer, the Council has met on Orcas Island; next week, the Council will be setting up shop on Lopez Island.

Several government and public agencies rotate their meetings among the major islands of the county.

The mountain has shown it is willing to go to Mohammed. So we urge county residents to attend meetings such as the Council meeting on Lopez, Sept. 16, and the Eastsound Planning Review Committee Open House on the draft stormwater funding ordinance in October.

Further, we encourage islanders to participate in local meetings of county agencies, such as the Land Bank Commission’s meeting at the Lopez Public Library on Sept. 12, where acquisitions and their impact on your taxes will be discussed.

And be also willing to go to the mountain. Support the linkage among the county, the region and the state at the Sept. 17 Transportation Summit in Friday Harbor, with transportation to and from the conference provided free by Lopez, Orcas and San Juan shuttle buses.

Be sure to inform yourself on the last meeting of the Summit, when representatives of the State Transportation Commission speak to the audience at the Fairgrounds. Orcas Island resident Bob Distler is one of seven members of this influential state-wide commission, and for one of the smallest counties in the state, we are fortunate to have his attention.

The following day, Sept. 18, the Transportation Commission will speak to the County, beginning with a conversation with the county’s Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC), now led by Ed Sutton of Orcas Island, long an advocate of responsive ferry service and schedules. Residents from all islands should make the effort to attend.

We’re part of the solution, as well as the problem. We’re us, not them.