Jefferson County elected officials in favor of applying for variance

Businesses, PDA also in agreement

PORT TOWNSEND — Elected officials from the governing bodies of Jefferson County and economic leaders all largely support the county health officer’s recommendations for moving into Phase 2.

The officials from the Board of County Commissioners, the Board of Health, the Port Townsend City Council, the Jefferson Public Utility District (PUD) Board of Commissioners, and the Port of Port Townsend Board of Commissioners met Tuesday night for a nearly two-and-a-half-hour joint meeting discussing how applying for variance could effect their respective groups.

In addition to the elected officials, organizations from the business community were also in attendance, including the Team Jefferson Economic Development Council (EDC), the Chamber of Jefferson County, the North Hood Canal Chamber of Commerce and the Fort Worden Public Development Authority (PDA) also gave short briefings on how the different businesses in the community felt about applying for variance to enter Phase 2.

The Board of Health is meeting from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday to consider approving the application for variance.

If the Board of Health does take action on Thursday, the application must go before the county commissioners for approval. Commissioners have a special meeting scheduled at 2:30 p.m. Friday. If the county commissioners approve the application, then it will go to the state Board of Health, which will have the final say if the county can move forward into Phase 2 or not.

Jefferson County is one of the original 10 counties who were deemed eligible to apply to enter Phase 2 before the rest of the state. It has not submitted an application to move forward, due to the Board of Health and elected officials wanting to garner public comment and hear from the different stakeholders in the community.

The elected officials said they all supported the recommendations made by county health officer Dr. Tom Locke and were glad to have the meeting so that all the governing agencies were on the same page and working for the same goal.

From the business side, officials with the chambers and the EDC have been asking local small businesses owners if they want to move into Phase 2 and if they do, what they would need to safely open.

The EDC conducted a survey and 60 percent of respondent business owners responded that they want the county to move forward with the variance application. While many said they don’t need assistance in opening, others made the case for needing more clarity on guidelines and help acquiring personal protective equipment, said Brian Kuh, executive director of the EDC.

Arlene Alen of The Chamber of Jefferson County and Frank Redmon of the North Hood Canal Chamber of Commerce said the responses they received echoed those statements.

“On the whole, people are asking what are the rules and how do they open safely,” Kuh said.

Guidelines for small business openings have been starting to get distributed by the state, Locke said.

Officials questioned Locke’s recommendation to not allow camping. The Fort Worden PDA executive director Dave Robison also said that the state had sent a letter to the county stating their desire to possibly open Fort Worden’s overnight camping facilities.

Locke said that recommendation was based upon Jefferson County being the only county in northwest Washington that was eligible for variance, so he wanted to avoid an influx of out-of-county visitors as a result of that and possibly increase the spread of infection.

However, Tuesday morning Clallam joined the counties on the list. Gov. Jay Inslee announced additional counties being eligible for applying for a variance — a list that also includes Kitsap, Mason and Island counties. Depending on what each county applies for, opening camping and other non-recommended activities could be adopted later on as a region, which would help spread the amount of visitors and not have them concentrated in one county, Locke said

Opening the Wheel-in Drive-in as part of Phase 2 was a question raised by Board of Health members last week, particularly for possibly allowing high school graduations to take place there. Locke heard back from the state that graduations at drive-ins are permissible if the county is in Phase 2.

Locke’s recommendations ranks the items that Phase 2 includes by high benefit/low risk, medium benefit/medium risk and low benefit/higher risk.

Among the high benefit/low risk category was manufacturing (non-essential repair, maritime industry, and others), additional construction phases, in-home domestic services (nannies, housecleaning, etc.), professional services/office-based business that are not tourism oriented with telework still strongly encouraged, and pet grooming for existing customers.

Among the medium benefit/medium risk category was outdoor activity with five or fewer people (no overnight camping), indoor gathering with five people and hair and nail salons/barbers open to local customers only.

Among the low benefit/high risk category was outdoor activity with five or fewer people involving overnight camping (RV or campgrounds), restaurants with sit-down service, real estate (beyond current permitted activities), pet grooming (out-of-area clients), hair and nail salons/barbers (out-of-area clients) and in-store retail purchases.

Locke’s recommendation is to apply for all of the high-benefit and medium-benefit activities.

The phrasing of “existing customers” was a change from the original phasing of “local customers only,” as to avoid a local-vs-tourist mentality and because it could not be enforced, Locke said.

“The hope was that these types of businesses would focus on existing customers,” said Locke, clarifying that it will also be open to the salons/barbers/groomers to have the opportunity to vet what customers they would schedule once they can open.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at [email protected].

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