The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Dredging, salary, other issues occupy county commission


August 17, 2017

Wahkiakum County's board of commissioners on Tuesday addressed a wide variety of issues ranging from dredging and the county ferry to fish nets and mental health services.

Commissioner Dan Cothren reported the county's permit application process for placement of dredge spoils is proceeding well; US Army Corps of Engineers staff have said they're pleased with the plans of the county staff and consulting engineers to complete the permitting.

However, Cothren said, the pipeline dredge Oregon will soon be working on a shoal across from Cape Horn, whose residents are experiencing shoreline erosion. Sand dredged in that operation will be deposited on the Oregon shore, not the eroding Washington shoreline.

"If we had all our stuff (completed permits), we could have had it," Cothren said. "We (Cothren and a Corps official) went back and forth on that."

The board also agreed to send a letter to US Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler asking them to sponsor legislation to finance beach nourishment on eroding shorelines. Local waterfront property owners and the county receive no direct benefit from shipping, which causes so much of the erosion, they said, and they bear tremendous costs to deal with the erosion.

Sheriff Mark Howie presented two sets of statistics to the board.

First, Howie reported statistics for calls for service 2010 through 2016. Officers responded to 2,934 calls for service in 2016, down from 3,255 in 2015 but close to the average for the period.

The department has seen a tremendous increase in calls involving persons with mental health or suicidal problems. There were 28 calls in 2010, and numbers have gradually increased to 56 in 2015 and 72 in 2016.

"We had 15 in 2007 and 11 in 2008," Howie said, adding that the most common issue the department sees involve substance abuse.

Calls for domestic violence and assault spiked in 2016, and burglaries were down.

Second, Howie said his department has the lowest salary schedule in the state, and that poses problems for the future.

Officers in Garfield County, with a lower population than Wahkiakum, earn $300 more per month. Pacific County officers earn $850 more per month, and officers in Cowlitz County earn $2,000 more per month.

It's difficult to retain officers, Howie said, for the difference makes it attractive for Wahkiakum officers to leave.

And with senior officers in the department nearing retirement, the department could lose its experienced personnel.

"The future of public safety is my concern for Wahkiakum County," he said.

Commissioners approved a shoreline management conditional use permit for Jon Peterson to operate a pound net upriver between Cathlamet and Nassa Point.

The net trap is part of state study to determine if the gear is a feasible method to collect and release adult salmon in the river, Beyer said in his report to the board.

According to the permit application, the design is a reproduction of fish traps common on the lower Columbia 1879-1948. The pilings are temporary and will be removed at the end of operations funded by the state.

Public Works Director reported an emergency stoppage of the ferry Oscar B. to repair a failing turbo charger assembly.

Crew noticed one of the vessel's two engines was operating at very high temperatures and also vibrating. Repairs were completed at a cost of $6,992.30 on Sunday evening so that the closure didn't impact regular commuter service.

Marc Bollinger, chief executive officer of Great Rivers Behavioral Health Organization discussed potential changes in funding and delivery of mental health services.

The state is proposing a revision in the structure and function of service providers, essentially to combine agencies which separately provide mental health and physical health services.

Five counties including Wahkiakum have combined to form Great Rivers, and under the proposal, Bollinger said, the organization would lose $40 million appropriated to it, and counties, who send representatives to the board of directors, would lose that oversight and control.

It has been suggested that Great River form an organization which would offer both mental health and physical health services.

"Great Rivers Behavioral Health Organization won't go away," Bollinger said. "It will transition."

Finally, in a workshop for department heads, Auditor Diane Tischer announced she would retire in December. Her position will be on the 2018 election ballots.


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