Candidate Ron Wesen Responds

Four decades ago water systems, small and large, failed. Even while major systems, such as in Potlatch II failed, the County refused to curtail new well drilling even on the impacted North end of Guemes.  Despite additional seawater intrusion, the County continued to require that new development source water from a well, or an existing system, to attain the building permit.  During this same period, the County refused to fund a study of the locations and limits of our aquifer. Fortunately, others did help and USGS completed an important first look. Our efforts, not the county’s, resulted in a Sole Source Aquifer designation, recognizing that the only water we have falls from the sky. Since then many additional systems have failed. Since then we have worked to get a follow-up study that might provide an adequate water budget. Again, the county refused to help and, in fact, insisted that we made the whole thing up, that there were no real water problems over here despite a long history and much scientific evidence to the contrary.

What is your understanding of the history of water issues on Guemes Island?

Drinking water on Salt water islands is and has been an issue all over the world for as long as human history.  Why does the county require drinkable water before issuing building permits?  Growth Management in the State of Washington requires all building permits to have drinkable water source.

The study that was done by USGS is a snap shot of what they found at that time with the information they had and the number of wells they were allowed to look at.  We have learned more about water and our ability to reduce our volume by having low flow toilets, showers, and household appliances.

Data needs to be collected to get a better picture of what is actually happening with the aquifer.  All wells on Guemes should provide water samples results to the county showing chloride levels on a yearly bases.  Wells on Guemes are required to have flow restrictors in place to reduce the volume of water pumped on an hourly basis. Funding for another study by USGS was approved by the Washington State House and Senate this last year but was vetoed by the Governor.  Skagit County does not manage water or wells anywhere in the county.  The Department of Ecology is in charge of ground water in Washington State.  There are well metering devices available today that use cell phone technology that can gather daily volumes from each well and send that information to a data base.  With this type of data, better decisions could be made to protect the Guemes aquifer.  Who should pay for this?  Would the residents be willing pay?

Do you support the Guemes Island Planning Advisory Committee's two most recent proposals, P1 which would encourage rainwater catchment by creating a template for such systems, and P2 which would require pre-inspection of a well site before well drilling proceeds. (P1 has been delayed through a decision to study it further and P2 has been denied.)

I have been frustrated by the State of Washington not issuing blanket approvals of rain water catchment systems.  Who’s responsibility is it to make sure a system is designed to meet public health standards?  Because of our legal system in Washington State the deepest pockets pay any liability. Government always has the deepest pockets so government is overly cautious in permitting non-standard water systems. At some point the home owner or buyer needs to accept responsibility of the system that is in their home. I support rain catchment systems with home owners taking complete responsibility to maintain that system.

P2 has been denied by the planning commission but has not been presented to the county commissioners.  Skagit County does not do pre-inspections of any wells in the county.  If Guemes Islanders want to pay for the cost of all drinking water wells pre-inspections I am willing to listen to that proposal but the proposal was for all wells.

With climate change threatening even less water, what will you do to help us here?

Storage is always an option to homeowners.  Many are using rain catchment for home use and garden irrigation. Trucked water is available for individuals. 

The Guemes Island ferry is over 40 years old. The Commissioners and Public Works are intent on spending more than $20 million for a new, electric ferry. They have refused to consider refitting the current vessel which could give it at least another 20 years of serve for far, far less money. So intent on their (not our) dream of being the first with an hybrid-electric ferry, the Commission did not bother to apply for State Volkswagen settlement funds which well might have offset a great deal of the cost of refitting. $20 million to serve an island with less than a thousand full-time residents seems disproportionate.

Do you feel the only and best option is to build a new (hybrid-electric) ferry? If so, why?

Any ferry operation needs to take into account capital cost of construction and the yearly operational cost of running a ferry.  The 40 year old ferry requires a Coast Guard inspection every 2 years.  This haul out is becoming increasingly expensive.  A new ferry would reduce the maintenance cost on the yearly basis.  Diesel, Diesel hybrid and Electric were all looked at as power sources for a new ferry.  Electric had the cheapest annual operating cost and maintenance cost for any of these.  Electric is cleaner for the passengers and crew and quieter for the community.

Since State or Federal funds seem very limited or unavailable, how do you feel about floating a bond within the County to self-fund this project?

The ferry project is about $8.5 million short of complete funding.  Skagit County has applied for another Federal grant for the remaining balance.  At some point in the future a decision will need to be made to get a loan and move this project.

Since it may take years to raise the funds, during which the current engines and outdrives may fail, do you think it important to have a backup plan to keep the current ferry running?

The current ferry is still operational and is meeting all safety requirements.  The engines and outdrives are still being maintained with an extra outdrive and engine on hand.  Because the ferry is 40 years old some outages will happen.  Passenger only service is usually available within hours of an outage.