Vaccine, ferry, erosion issues concern county commission


February 11, 2021

Wahkiakum County commissioners addressed issues with covid-19 vaccinations and the county ferry when they met Tuesday.

Commissioners also discussed formation of a flood control zone district at the end of the Altoona/Pillar Rock Road.

Distribution of covid-19 vaccine has impacted the county, and commissioners weighed in on the matter.

Chair Gene Strong presented a letter to Governor Jay Inslee asking him to restore the previous level of 100 doses of vaccine delivered weekly to include small, rural counties such as Wahkiakum. The board voted to send the letter.

County Health and Human Services Director Chris Bischoff expressed appreciation for the letter and updated the board on the department's vaccination efforts.

The department has enough to provide over the next 10 days the second dose to people already having received the first of the two-dose Moderna vaccine, Bischoff said. Beyond that, the department hasn't received doses for new injections.

The county had been receiving 100 doses per week, but they haven't arrived the past two weeks, Bischoff said.

"It's pretty messed up right now," Bischoff said.

Bischoff added that the department is putting together a process to set up a waiting list. People meeting eligibility guidelines may call the department next Tuesday-Friday (360 795-1076) to get on the list.

"It may take two or three months to get an appointment for a vaccination," Bischoff said, "but people can get their name on the list."

A malfunction in radar led the skipper to moor the ferry Oscar B. for a couple hours last week during a period of heavy fog.

County Public Works Director Chuck Beyer said the issue was fixed the following day.

A decision to moor the vessel in inclement weather is up to the captain, Beyer added.

"It's their license," he said.

Meanwhile, commissioners approved a bid to install heaters in the passenger cabin; portable heaters had overloaded electrical circuits, Beyer said.

Commissioner Dan Cothren recommended the board send a letter to District 19 legislators and the state board of transportation asking the state to take over ownership and operation of the ferry from the county.

"It's just too costly for the county," Cothren said. "It's getting to be too much of a task."

The state does provide an 80 percent subsidy of ferry operations. Nevertheless, officials said the operational costs are a burden on the county.

"It cuts into our Current Expense Fund," Strong said.

"It's one of our biggest expenses," Beyer said.

Commissioners said they would work with residents at the end of Altoona/Pillar Rock Road to establish a flood control zone district and enable disposal of dredged sand along eroding shorelines.

There are four existing districts, three on Puget Island and one at Cape Horn.

Public Works Director Beyer said the area had once been a dredge spoils disposal site.

Cothren said officials would discuss the matter with staff of the US Army Corps of Engineers to see what could be done and what costs might be. Then they would meet with area residents to discuss the findings.

Property owners in the existing districts pay an assessment, but the county has also had to cover costs of permitting and other tasks.


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