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

Commissioners address variety of issues

Prosecutor has concerns about hoof rot study proposal


September 21, 2017

Wahkiakum County commissioners covered a lot of ground at their meeting Tuesday.

They concluded the day with an executive session to hear comments from a committee assigned to interview candidates for the position of director of Health & Human Services, and they recessed to Wednesday afternoon when they would hold two more executive sessions to interview the candidates themselves, holding open the option of reconvening the meeting in open session to pick the new director.

Commissioner Mike Backman raised an issue discussed the previous evening at the meeting of the Cathlamet Town Council.

Backman reported the council is studying its utility rates. With a small base of ratepayers, town officials would like to increase both sewer and water system connections, and they'd like the county to pass an ordinance requiring homes near utility lines to be connected to them.

Commissioners aren't ready to do that.

"If the city wants to do it, they can annex," said Commissioner Blair Brady. "For them to want us to bite a poison bullet doesn't make sense to me."

Commissioner Dan Cothren agreed. He pointed out that the county financed a water main extension and hasn't been repaid.

"The other part is for the county to go get its money back," he said. "It's their project; they need to step up."

Backman said he would like to form a committee of county, town and Wahkiakum PUD officials to talk about utilities and rates.

"I'm open to listening and talking to them, but I will not participate in passing an ordinance to make people hook up," Brady said.

"I'm willing to work for the betterment of the citizens," Cothren added. "Just don't dump it on me."

"I'll work to get a small group together," Backman said.

(Editor: See town council meeting report for further discussion of town utility issues.)

Commissioners referred the proposed revision of the county's Shoreline Management Plan to the county Property Rights Advisory Committee for a recommendation.

The county planning commission last spring voted to recommend the board approve the proposed updated program. Commissioners, however, heard comments from people opposing the update, including property rights advisory committee members, saying it would limit people's ability to use property.

The county and town worked together with a state Department of Ecology grant to update their respective shoreline programs. The town council adopted the plan in June, and the grant expired at the end of June without a decision from the county commission.

"I've asked the property rights group to review and look at it again for us to take into consideration the changes that have been made from our existing program which we still have in place to current, what's actually been fully required by the law, not just a wish list from Ecology," Brady said.

He suggested the program needs a statement declaring that Wahkiakum County wouldn't be held to any higher conservation standards than those found in the programs of other counties around the state.

"That can resolve a number of the issues," he said. "That alone could minimize a lot of the work."

Brady said he doubts Ecology will like the language.

"They'll probably send it back and it will probably go back and forth quite a while," he said.

"I think you're right," Cothren commented. "We have some disagreements. We've got to be getting on with this."

Following comments from Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow, commissioners said they would clarify what they believe is the legal basis for setting up a program to test hooves of diseased elk.

Last week, commissioners planned to act as the board of health to request a retired public health officer, Dr. Boone Mora, to collect samples from hunters and test them to determine the cause of the illness.

Last spring, the legislature passed a law assigning research of the disease and also setting controls on collecting samples and transporting them.

Before following through on the letter, the board asked Bigelow for his analysis, and Tuesday, he commented that he had grave concerns with the plan.

Bigelow said he had discussed the proposal with Mora and was concerned about legality and liability.

"Based on my conversation, he'll say, ‘I'm working for the county' when he's doing these illegal things and drag us into it," Bigelow said.

Cothren said Mora has a state statute that supports the proposal which Bigelow may not have seen.

"I need a basis," Bigelow said. "I don't mind being a thorn in the state's side, but I'd like to be right."


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