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

Commissioners, representatives go over their issues


April 12, 2018

Legislative and lobbying issues dominated the meeting of the Wahkiakum County board of commissioners on Tuesday.

The day started at 8 a.m. with a regional forum featuring state Senator Dean Takko and representatives of Congresswoman Jamie Herrera Beutler and US Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

Topics ranged from this year's legislation in Olympia to the slow progress in completing permit applications for beach nourishment.

The legislature had some successes and still has some work to do, Takko said.

They passed a bill to address the Hirst Decision, a court decision that mandated extensive documentation for well drilling, probably the biggest accomplishment, Takko commented.

They passed a Capitol Budget that included $60 million for projects in District 19, and they passed many bills addressing social justice issues, including expanded voter registration.

County commissioners were happy to see an extra $190,000 in the state budget for support of the county ferry system, which normally has an 80 percent state subsidy.

"I don't know how that got in there," Takko said. "It's a temporary thing; the state department of transportation must have wanted it."

Work remains.

The legislature will probably tweak the measures passed to address the McCleary Decision, which mandated expanded funding for basic education.

Takko said that part of the expanded voter registration legislation--a mandate for same-day registration--bothers him.

"It's an unfunded mandate," he said. "That concerns me. I keep reading that you guys (counties state wide) are about to sue us."

Bills that didn't succeed included those that would have set up a tax on carbon use, such as auto fuel, a tax on capital gains; a bill renewing a sales tax exemption for electric cars, and a bill to improve school safety, because, Takko said, it got tied up with gun legislation.

Commissioner Dan Cothren objected to carbon tax proposals and tax increases in general.

"If you get that carbon tax passed, it will kill the truckers," he said.

"With the taxes we now have in Washington, we're getting like California," he said. "It's getting so expensive to live here. We've got to get out of the mind set of taxing our way out of stuff."

"I agree with you on the carbon tax," Takko responded. Besides raising the price of fuel, it would, under the current proposals, create a huge money fund that would be out of the control of the legislature, industries such as pulp and paper would be exempt only by rule, subject to change by un-elected officials.

Representatives of the federal representatives reviewed some of the recent actions of Congress, but they found most of their attention focused on the county's struggle to obtain permits needed to place dredge spoils on eroding beaches on Puget Island and at Cape Horn.

"We're really tracking erosion issues," said Deena Horton, regional representative of Senator Cantwell. " "There's a disconnect; we need to get all parties on the same page."

Part of the disconnect, said county Public Works Director Chuck Beyer, is between the US Army Corps of Engineers office in Seattle, which handles permitting in Washington, and the office in Portland, which is responsible for permitting and dredging in the waters of the Columbia River.

Beyer and the county's consulting engineer will meet with Corps officials this week to go over the remaining permitting issues.

If there isn't significant progress, Cothren said, the county officials will contact the federal representatives to ask them to intervene.

"We're happy to intervene," Horton said.

County officials raised anew concern over the cost of permitting. Cothren explained that after initial talks with Corps personnel, the county consultant set up boundaries for beach nourishment zones. Later, Corps officials said they didn't want to deposit sand in parts of the zones.

That was a waste of county money, Cothren said.

"We're spending time and money to do things," he said. "Why didn't they tell us they wouldn't allow that in the first place?"

"That's happening all over the country," said Commissioner Mike Backman. "This thing is so huge and wasteful."

Commissioners approved their signatures on a letter to state highway engineering managers proposing speed reduction, dedicated left turn lanes and other changes to traffic controls on SR 4 in the Cathlamet area.

Washington Department of Transportation plans to reduce temporarily the speed to 45 miles per hour this spring to study safety impacts. The letter asks for a further reduction.

The letter will go to the Wahkiakum School District and the Cathlamet Town Council for approval and signature.

Sheriff Mark Howie and Undersheriff Gary Howell told the lawmakers of critical funding needs.

Without state and federal funding, the Cowlitz/Wahkiakum Drug Taskforce could be disbanded this summer, Howie said, opening the door for expanded illegal drug activity in the area.

Howell agreed and added that more money is needed for care of people with mental illness, who often end up in jail.

"We're getting inundated," he said. "We have three inmates mandated to go for evaluations, and we have to sit on them because there's no bed space for them.

"Thirty to fifty percent of our inmate population is people with mental health issues," Howie said.


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