Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Commissioners act on broadband, other varied issues

Wahkiakum County commissioners covered a lot of ground when they met Tuesday, from approving needed staffing for the mental health program to approving a franchise for Western Wahkiakum County Telephone Company's broadband expansion into the eastern portion of the county.

Commissioners got started by approving a request from county Health and Human Services to hire a part-time mental health therapist.

Department Director Chris Bischoff said the position is needed immediately, for the mental health program is down to one therapist instead of the usual five. The program, like others elsewhere, has had a hard time keeping staff, Bischoff said.

Two of the five positions were vacant; one therapist walked off the job without notice, he said, and another is on extended leave, leaving just one therapist to serve clients.

Public Works Director Chuck Beyer reported that the transmission on the road department's 40-year old grader has failed. Replacing the transmission would cost about $30,000 and leave the department with an old machine that would have to be replaced in the near future, he said. A new grader would cost $325,000 to $340,000, depending on attachments, and the department can use depreciation funds to make the purchase.

He asked commissioners what course of action they would like to take, and they agreed to proceed with purchase of a new grader rather than put money into an old machine.

Julie Johnston and Camille Wilson from Heath and Human Services reported on the status of the department's Wahkiakum On The Move transportation program.

The arrival of the pandemic and subsequent public health responses severely hampered ridership in 2020, they said, but riders are returning in 2021.

There were 9,618 riders in 2017, Wilson said, 9,666 in 2018, 11,775 in 2019 and 6,501 in 2020 when the pandemic hit. Through October of this year, there have been 5,559 riders as the transit system has slowly resumed full service.

"About 50 percent of our riders are seniors who need help to get around," Wilson commented.

The system offers rides between Naselle and Longview. In Wahkiakum County, drivers will collect or deposit riders where they choose. On Longview and Naselle routes, drivers will deviate routes 3/4 of a mile to serve passengers, who need to make advance arrangements for the service.

Routes pass by supermarkets, farmers markets, food banks and similar locations, Johnston said. There is a $1 fare for rides to Naselle or Longview, but rides within the county are free.

Commissioners closed the business session of the Tuesday meeting with discussion and approval of a franchise for Western Wahkiakum Telephone Company to expand service to the eastern area of the county.

The move comes from a community wide effort to bring high speed broadband internet service to areas not presently served by other companies.

Ken Johnson, new chief executive officer of Western Wahkiakum, said the company will explore public interest to see if the move is financially feasible. They'll hold a public hearing this evening (Thursday), 7 p.m. in the Skamokawa Grange to survey public interest in the Skamokawa area, and they hope to install service for a pilot program on Puget Island by the end of 2021.


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