Commissioners, visitors express mandate frustration
Chamber director: Bald Eagle Days back as usual
June 10, 2021
Wahkiakum County commissioners spent over 30 minutes of their Tuesday meeting discussing effects of the urban-rural divide on county issues.
Season and John Long returned to ask what could be done to counter mandated restrictions and vaccinations resulting from the covid-19 pandemic, and Kent and Irene Martin sought and received commission support to lobby the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission for action on salmon fishery issues. And Puget Island resident Jason Will asked commissioners to oppose Columbia Land trust projects in the county.
In other business Tuesday, Stacey Lane, director of the Wahkiakum Chamber of Commerce, reported on the organization's activities and announced that the Cathlamet Bald Eagle Days festival would return in July in its traditional format.
Season Long and John McKinley spoke in the public comment period, voicing concerns that covid-19 vaccines may not be safe and criticizing federal and state restrictions and mandates to deal with the pandemic.
Mrs. Long reminded commissioners that she had sent them a long email outlining concerns and containing reference links they could research to judge the validity of her contentions which ranged from the lack of long-term proof that vaccines are safe and that schools are encouraging students to take the vaccines. What can be done to address those concerns, she had asked. No one, she said, had responded to the email.
"I do expect a response," she said.
Commissioner Dan Cothren responded that he shared many of her concerns, especially the mandates the county has had to follow.
"We've become puppets of the state," he said. "We have to follow health department guidelines."
"I agree with Dan," said Commissioner Lee Tischer. "It's pretty much out of our hands. If we hadn't (followed the mandates), we wouldn't have received the funding that helped with recovery."
"We have pushed back," said commission Chair Gene Strong.
He explained that he's on the Legislative Steering Committee of the state association of counties and they had lobbied state officials for easing of mandates for rural counties that weren't as impacted as urban areas.
"This should have been managed locally, not by the governor," he said. "We had no choice in this."
State officials need to listen to local officials, Chamber Director Lane commented.
"As a Chamber of Commerce, we have to stay neutral," Lane said. "This health event has become politicized.
"The leadership at the state, if they want to help rural Washington, must listen to rural Washington. I think we need to fight for rural counties."
Commissioners agreed to a request from commercial fisheries activists Irene and Kent Martin to press the Fish and Wildlife Commission to work with colleagues in Oregon for concurrence in regulations for Columbia River salmon fisheries.
The two states have long had unified regulations, but in the past few years, regulations have changed, and commercial fishers face uncertainty in what seasons they'll have and what gear they'll need to fish.
Much of the problem is a divide between urban and rural populations, said Kent Martin. People in urban areas are pressing fishery mangers to tilt allocations and opportunities in favor of recreational fishers. This divide shows in other resource management policies, he said.
"It deeply disturbs me that the family timber and county timber has been locked up to assuage the conscience of the I-5 corridor," he said.
Many people new to the county don't realize the vibrant dairy, timber and commercial fishing industries that once existed here, he said. That economy has diminished, and the decline in the number of gillnetters holding Alaska fishing permits is also an economic loss.
"When you lock up or encumber timber or fisheries, it becomes a kind of tyranny," he said.
Jason Will also voiced frustration with the urban/rural issue, saying urban interests want to restrict rural activities in order to make areas like Wahkiakum County their recreational areas.
He asked commissioners to oppose a Columbia Land Trust wetland enhancement project along Kandoll Road near Rosburg.
After a rough start, the land trust has helped the county, Cothren responded. It has purchased low quality farm land from people wanting to sell; it allows free recreational use of its lands, and land trust staff have been instrumental in helping the county lobby state officials and legislators for reparations for the county's encumbered timberlands.
In a report of activities to the board, Chamber Director Lane introduced a new employee, Monica Budd, who will direct tourism and event activities, leaving Lane to focus on economic development.
After being cancelled last year because of the covid-19 pandemic, the Bald Eagle Days festival will return this year with its parade, street fair, fireworks and other activities, she said.
"We're going to just blast it open and do it like we've always done it," she said.
Tom Irving, a retired dairyman and WWII veteran, will be parade grand marshal.
(Updated to say schools are encouraging, not forcing, students to be vaccinated and to correct name--John McKinley, not John Long. --ed.)