Gluesenkamp Perez visits county
February 16, 2023
Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, the newly elected US Representative for Washington's 3rd District, visited Wahkiakum County on Friday with stops at Wahkiakum School District and Wahkiakum County courthouse to talk with county commissioners and other elected officials and hear about local matters.
"I'm so glad I get to come here," Gluesenkamp Perez told the group at the courthouse. "It's really important for me to be available in rural communities. The smaller the county, the more work you are doing; I appreciate your community service."
Commissioner Gene Strong talked about an application with the Army Corps of Engineers to do a study on how to address the flooding in Grays River and Deep River.
"In my opinion, and a lot of people's opinion, it was an issue created by the Army Corps of Engineers," he said. "They wanted to keep the silt from going into the shipping channel and so they built the island there, which slowed the outflow and they seem to think it's okay to pump their dredge spoils on our side of the river. There used to be an area where gillnetters could fish and sportsmen could fish in there."
He said these days, you could walk across it at low tide with the right shoes, but once upon a time it used to be 30 feet deep.
"People in the area are getting flooded in for days at a time," Strong told her. "It's hard to get emergency services in. It is a ridiculous situation that we have to fight the Army Corps of Engineers to get anything done in there."
Commissioner Dan Cothren added that erosion issues on Puget Island are caused by pile dikes that the corps says are derelict and have never been maintained.
"They'll own up to it, but want you to fix it," Cothren said. "With the amount of budget we have here, we can't do that. Permitting just about kills you, just trying to afford the permitting to do some of these projects."
It was only through the power of her office, Cothren told Gluesenkamp Perez, that Wahkiakum County officials would be heard or anything would be done, as far as the ACOE.
"We can't get them to answer the phone," he said. "They don't like us calling you guys. But that is going to be one of your issues; that we are going to be using you guys as something to get those people at the table to talk about some of these issues."
"We get nothing out of it here," Cothren said of the ACOE's work. "Upriver traffic that goes to upriver ports. We just get hurt by the erosion issues."
They talked about a number of issues that affect county timber lands. Encumbered land, murrelet habitat, investment firms, land being used as dumping grounds, and more.
"If we don't have timber," Cothren told her, "we don't survive as a county."
"It will be a big struggle to free up the forest land as you know, as there is more push for keeping the trees for carbon and different things. If they refuse to budge on it, the federal government needs to push down more money to Skamania, Pacific, and Wahkiakum counties to keep us afloat," Tischer said.
"It's so frustrating to feel like you're going with your hat in hand," Gluesenkamp Perez said.
"We can control our own destiny here, but for the restrictions," Cothren said. "Urbanites don't really understand rural. It's a playground. Like with the trust lands. They'll be like these are public lands. No they're not. They are county trust lands. That's how they were deeded. It's the county's revenue source. I think if it's logged here, it should stay here. It feels like we always have to defend ourselves. We always get the short end of the stick. Fishing, whatever."
Commissioner Lee Tischer spoke briefly about road issues, and said that Puget Island was blacktopped in 1988 with a 15 year life span.
"Roads are just crumbling apart," he said. "We need funding help in that direction too to maintain our roads."
Undersheriff Gary Howell told the representative that the sheriff's department was currently at full staff, but two were at academy.
"We are having a recruitment problem," he said. "We do not get the testing applicants that we used to have. It's real slow and hit and miss in between. We are one of the smaller agencies, so we are entry level, meaning people who have never had any experience before. We've got all these other agencies throughout the state who are picking up laterals that are experienced, coming from other places. They are offering $30,000, $40,000, $60,000 signing bonuses. And they are doing things that we just financially cannot do to compete. We are finding ourselves to be a training agency and within two or three years they are gone to another agency."
MGP asked about costs involved in training.
"To hire a guy and put him in the academy, it takes about $115,000 for the first year, and for the first nine months they are in the academy, so they are not even working or doing the job on their own," Howell said.
"It's very tough to run this county with the revenue that you get here," Cothren said as the meeting drew to a close. "We are always asking for help. We scream loud. You folks are key on a lot of issues. Don't let this be the last time you come down."