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

Listening tour gathers bipartisan input


March 21, 2019

Wahkiakum County citizens got together last Friday in a bipartisan effort to express their concerns and desires for their community.

Members of the county's Democrat and Republican central committees sponsored a day-long program that brought three members of the state Democrat party's ag/rural caucus to the county in what they called a listening tour.

The goal of the visit, said visitor Don Schwerin of Walla Walla, is to get people working together across party lines and to gather input to highlight issues that rural dwelling members of both parties feel are ignored by the majority living in urban areas.

During the day, hosts gave tours of the county; they surveyed county residents, met with business persons and other groups, and they gathered in the evening at the Skamokawa Grange for a public forum.

Here are some of the issues covered that night:

Greg Parke of Skamokawa suggested the creation of a process similar to the federal Electoral College to temper political decisions dominated by populous King and Pierce counties.

Cathlamet Council Member Ryan Smith said he'd like to see funds to expand affordable housing programs.

Skamokawa resident Kent Martin, speaking as a commercial fisherman and timber land owner, commented that management policies of state agencies have ransacked the local economy by dismantling commercial fishing and restricting harvest opportunities for small timber parcel owners. He has had to leave $14,000 worth of timber in streamside riparian zones; land owners should be compensated for that, he said.

County Commissioner Dan Cothren continued the theme.

"Wahkiakum County has been under siege for quite a while," he said. Restrictions stemming from the Endangered Species Act are trimming county revenues from trust timber harvests.

One reason for a lack of jobs in rural areas, said Skamokawa resident Ursula Petralia, is a lack of good internet service. "We need 21st century infrastructure," she said, "it's important for the economy."

The issue returned later to the discussion. Wahkiakum PUD Commissioner Gene Healy commented that local governmental entities have formed a committee to determine how to bring broadband internet to unserved areas in the county.

Ron Wright, one of the event organizers, reported that 50 percent of survey respondents desired broadband service, and 40 percent favored job creation efforts.

County Commissioner Mike Backman said local government and citizens would like to have local control over local issues.

And so it went: Activities for youth; health care and living facilities for senior citizens; the burden on residents to pay for expensive sewer and water systems; community health care; emergency services, and vocational education.

Volunteers listed the issues on paper taped to the walls, and at the end of the evening, the audience was asked to put a sticker by issues to create a list of priorities.


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