PORT ANGELES — Area officials told state Democratic lawmakers and leaders that over-regulation is limiting growth and challenging cities across the North Olympic Peninsula.
“From a challenge perspective, one of the most difficult things for us as a local government to serve those new businesses and community members is to deal with the new additional layers of regulation,” Nathan West, Port Angeles community and economic development director, told state leaders during a House Democrats “listening tour” at Peninsula College on Thursday.
The event was attended by city, county, port and school officials from across the Peninsula who each told lawmakers and state officials of challenges they face in rural economic development. Among those in attendance were Hilary Franz, commissioner of public lands, Rep. Mike Chapman and Rep. Steve Tharinger.
“In Port Angeles we have about 9,000 ratepayers — and that’s it,” West said. “Any additional costs coming to this community in the form of taxes are coming on the backs of those 9,000 individuals. That’s extremely difficult.”
He said the city’s stormwater permit has been “particularly challenging” and told state Speaker of the House, Frank Chopp of Seattle, that stormwater regulations have been the city’s top regulatory issue — though there are many others.
West said Port Angeles is “not succeeding” in housing because of regulations and how difficult it is to get a housing project started.
It was a sentiment echoed by Port Townsend Mayor Deborah Stinson.
Stinson said Port Townsend has plenty of land with nearby utilities, but developers have not been building housing at a rate needed to fill housing demands.
“We don’t have developers that are willing to take a risk off the I-5 corridor,” she said. “Is there anything we can do to incentivize developers to come into rural communities?
“We’re ready, we’re willing, we have the population, we have the data that shows we need the housing.”
She said as businesses want to relocate to Port Townsend they find high costs associated with infrastructure.
Stinson said small businesses wanting to build in Port Townsend are faced with high-infrastructure costs for things that don’t promote health and safety, but are still required.
She questioned whether there could be a low-interest loan provided by the state that would help businesses comply with regulations and get started.
Steve Burke — a Clallam County Economic Development Corp. board member, Port of Port Angeles commissioner and executive director of William Shore Memorial Pool — told state officials that regulations combined with the lower incomes in Port Angeles are limiting the availability of after-school care.
“Our community is in a crisis state for after-school care,” he said. “The reason that in a rural community why we struggle is when you can only charge $25 a day versus $50 a day, but you have the same regulatory requirements … it just doesn’t pencil out.”
Burke said the Port Angeles area is seeing one of the biggest investments it has seen in recent years, but many of the projects are being done by the government.
“What we’re missing is private investment,” he said. “We are wholly dependent a lot of times on government financing because that’s what gets thing done in a rural community when you can’t get private investment to work because they can’t get a return.”
Burke said another challenge is the lack of air service.
“If you’re going to attract non-location-dependent businesses, you need to be able to get out of here quick,” he said. “To get to the airport from here, it’s like planes, trains and automobiles.”
Burke emphasized that for any airline to be profitable in Clallam County, air service would need to be subsidized. That issue has been a struggle for the Port of Port Angeles, which has worked to recruit airlines to the area.
Chopp said Washington is “probably the best state in the nation” to invest in transportation and asked what sort of money is needed to bring an airline to Fairchild International Airport.
“If you can just give us a ballpark number and we can see if it’s realistic,” he said.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].