By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
The county’s top three lawmakers spoke during an hourlong presentation before more than 30 Port Angeles Business Association members and guests.
The new state Department of Ecology water rule covers the eastern half of Water Resource Inventory Area 18, which is located in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains and stretches from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay.
The rule covers a portion of the county comprising more than 17,700 rural parcels and will directly affect the owners of more than 3,400 parcels if and when they are developed, according to the county Department of Community Development.
Owners of new wells will be required to mitigate domestic water use by, among other things, purchasing water credits through the nonprofit Washington Water Trust for new water uses.
County DCD Director Sheila Roark Miller said in a separate interview Tuesday that water-mitigation certificates that will be required for new indoor water uses should be ready by Feb. 15.
The water-mitigation certificates will cost $1,000 but through the end of June are covered by a $100,000 state grant.
The WRIA 18 rules set minimum in-stream flows at levels that are intended to protect fish habitat and guarantee enough water for human use and consumption.
“The [Washington Water] Trust is still a problem for me, understanding what they do, who does it and who manages how they do it,” Carole Johnson, executive director of the North Olympic Timber Action Committee, told commissioners during the question-and-answer session at the morning meeting.
“Why can’t the county do it?”
McEntire, whose district includes WRIA 18, said that as a private entity, the water trust is not subject to state laws governing public records and open meetings.
“That’s a question in my mind,” he said.
“We’re building on what we’ve got here already to determine how and where the water exchange runs.”
Doherty said the county has a contract with the water trust that must be abided by and that “many records” are available to the public.
“I want to use that experience that they have,” he added. “I’m more worried about climate change.”
He added that “privatizing” the exchange could cost the county money it doesn’t have.
The county budget “is in a situation where we will probably be cutting some positions,” Doherty added.
“Adding to government is not the thing to do.”
McEntire said the water rule does not go far enough in explicitly reserving water for people and for economic uses.
The contract with the water exchange ends June 30, McEntire said.
“We need to figure out what degree of local control we want to have over the water exchange,” he said.
“Ecology would like that local control to happen.”
Chapman, the commissioners’ chairman, said the biggest challenge facing the county is “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
The economy is slowly recovering, but the county’s jobless numbers are too high, he said.
Clallam’s unemployment rate was 9.9 percent in December compared with the 7.6 percent rate statewide — the most recent figures available.
“Any decisions we make, we better keep jobs front and center,” Chapman said.
“If we get caught up in the day-to-day machinery of government and are not keeping the bigger macro issues front and center, I don’t think we are doing our job.”
Chapman said the county will go out to bid on the Deer Park underpass this spring and also cited the $27.1 million Kitchen-Dick-Road-to-Shore-Road widening project on U.S. Highway 101 between Port Angeles and Sequim that will be completed in late 2014.
“These two projects will really improve the economy over the next 20 years as we improve that transportation corridor,” Chapman said.
McEntire said the biggest challenge is the economic situation of working families.
He said 51 percent of K-12 Sequim School District students are eligible for free or reduced meals.
“That is indicative to me of an economy that is not working like it needs to for working families,” McEntire said.
Doherty said more than one challenge faces the county.
They include providing broadband access to all county residents in ways that could expand their educational horizons through online courses, he said.
“Without high-speed broadband, you can’t do that,” Doherty said.
“We put out fires every week on so many different things,” he added.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.