FORKS — Forks Mayor Tim Fletcher told of efforts to stabilize the West End economy and of the harm done to the fishing industry by new steelhead rules during a State of the City address to the Forks Chamber of Commerce.
“After taking a long pause due to COVID, it’s time to put the city back on a path of continued growth,” Fletcher said Wednesday.
Efforts to stabilize the West End economy include continuing to work with the Clallam Economic Development Council on relief funds for small businesses affected by COVID-19.
The timber industry also will have city support in reaching a guaranteed sustainable timber harvest agreement with the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service.
“We will continue to work with those agencies and elected officials to bring that to a reality,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher also discussed wide-ranging steelhead fishing restrictions that have dealt a severe blow to sport anglers and the West End economy.
“As we know, our West End economic opportunities are in the hands of unelected bureaucrats in Olympia,” Fletcher said.
“Once again, a state agency’s short-sightedness has caused a downturn in a thriving industry and in our winter tourism.
“We will continue to work with our elected officials, Olympic Peninsula Guides’ Association, Quileute Tribe and others to hopefully bring a better outcome for this year and future fishing seasons.”
A recent county broadband internet study also was discussed, but that survey may have already been passed by Star Link, an emerging satellite internet provider financed by tech mogul Elon Musk.
“Star Link has started to be deployed to most communities, including the West End,” said Fletcher, himself a Star Link customer at home. “Although still in beta [testing], it seems to be the start of something very successful.”
Fletcher said he and council members would work to strengthen ties with area tribes.
“As mayor, I have asked the council to help with this outreach by creating liaison positions with our local tribal nations and in doing this, creating long-term relationships between our local tribal nations, government and our city government,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher thanked the volunteers who have contributed to Forks community causes.
“This past year has been the year of the volunteer,” Fletcher said.
The city completed its two-year 2018-19 audit by the state last fall with no issues coming to light, said Forks clerk/treasurer Audrey Grafstrom.
“A huge task completed in 2020 is the two-year audit conducted by the state Auditor’s Office, which was done entirely remotely from July through October, which was a little challenging,” Grafstrom said.
“The city has 22 employees, including police and corrections, so we are pretty lean here.”
Forks has more than two months of spending available in its general fund, a recommended amount by fiscal analysts, and has $3.523 million across all of its funds, including more than $1 million in water funding.
More than $100,000 in federal CARES Act funding was distributed as grants to 13 Forks businesses in December.
The city has $20,000 in Federal Aviation Administration and CARES Act funding to use at Quillayute Airport.
And $28,000 will be available soon to the public for assistance with water bills through a community development block grant program.
“Last year at this time, 14 accounts were shut off for nonpayment,” Grafstrom said. “That number would be 72 this year if it were being enforced. With the most recent stimulus, some paid their bills in full, but there are still others who haven’t made a payment since last February.
Public Works Director Paul Hampton said city staff repaired more than 25 water leaks in 2020, with an estimated 3 million gallons of water saved.
A new generator was purchased to power the department during outages; portable water tanks and a trailer to transport them were bought for emergency use; an emergency well is slated to come online in the next few weeks; and the city rehabbed the inside and outside of a 1-million gallon water tank.
A new asphalt hot-patch machine and trailer and a used roller were acquired to provide faster pothole repairs.
The city started construction on a pickleball/basketball sport court at Tillicum Park. When complete later this spring, the new court will have updated lights and light poles along with a security camera system.
Forks Police Chief Mike Rowley said crime was down in the city when compared with 2018 and 2019 with COVID playing a role in how the department and city jail operates.
“A rough year with COVID being a big factor in how we conduct business. We’ve tried to limit exposure to our staff and to the jail,” Rowley said.
He noted that disturbances, including violent crimes and burglaries, dropped from 2019 levels, but that thefts had risen in 2020.
“Thefts rose from 25 to 62 in 2020, and that’s likely attributed to COVID and people struggling with finances making some different decisions,” Rowley said.
Domestic violence incidents dipped from 34 in 2019 to 28 in 2020, and DUIs were down from 25 to 21.
Rowley said his officers are working with deputies from the Clallam and Jefferson sheriff’s offices and with tribal law enforcement across the West End.
“We are working in unison on the West End, working as cohesively as I’ve ever seen them,” Rowley said.
Despite operating reduced hours, Forks Police records staffers also processed 172 concealed weapons licenses in 2020, compared to 117 in 2019 and 126 in 2018.
And Forks Police plan to open a patrol office extension in the town’s transit center to provide more visibility for locals and tourists.
“If you see patrol cars there, knock on the door, and they will respond,” Rowley said. “It’s also there for tourists coming through … and we are excited to have that real estate. It opens us up for some more in-house training capabilities with the future goal of trying to convince county to be driving through town and joining us.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected] news.com.