Commission Candidate Mark Lundsten 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?

I think the history of water issues on Guemes Island is a story of public policy shortfall, if not failure, on the part of Skagit County. The residents have presented problems and proposed solutions to the county, but the county has not reciprocated. Consequently, a situation that was tenuous a few decades ago has only gotten worse. The saltwater intrusion problem will not get better until the amount of water extracted by wells from the aquifer decreases. The situation requires mitigation.

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.)

P1 - Yes, as illustrated by points I made made in defense of P1 at the Feb 25, 2020, Planning Commission meeting. From the transcript:

“Commissioner Lundsten:
    …..This is nothing less than an aquifer failure that’s … about to happen and these… rainwater systems are going to be needed. …. Fortunately, some people have pioneered it and made it work. So they know what to do.
    ….I think that we should be less concerned about our vulnerabilities legally or administratively and should follow the example of… San Juan County that facilitates and enables this to …happen, gets behind it and says, We’re with you. We need to be with these people.
    …We as a planning commission need to think of the citizens who are doing without water and what their alternatives are. This is what they’re looking for. They need all the help they can get and we should provide it.”

My motion:

“I move that the Planning Commission recommends the Board of County Commissioners direct the Planning Department to remove barriers to rainwater catchment where appropriate in the code on Guemes Island and to direct them to create an engineered template which may be used to permit a rainwater catchment system in lieu of an independently-designed system.”

That motion passed the Planning Commission unanimously. The fact that just getting that done just by the Planning Commission, let alone the Board, took so long is one good example of why I am running for County Commissioner. This is way overdue. The County has not paid attention to or been responsive to this issue.

P2 -  Yes, I also support P2.

Regarding P2, the County’s attorneys advised the Planning Commission and the Board that the County cannot regulate well installations outside of the development context because the County does not have the jurisdiction to do so. Yet, Skagit County Code states, regarding seawater intrusion areas, that an “application proposing use of a well (be) submitted for review prior to drilling any new well.”

My choice is clear. I would do what I could to overcome the legal staff’s resistance for well approvals by the County. Multiple regulations and other legal opinions say the County is able to regulate wells and obligated to do so. As Commissioner, I will pursue that course and then allow, enable, and assist residents of Guemes to figure out a plan - legally and functionally - to prevent the failure of the aquifer.

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

We don’t know if climate change will cause more or less rain in Washington. Predictions go both ways. Snowpack certainly will decrease, but rainfall may increase. Either way, all available water conservation and collection methods need to be reviewed for use on Guemes: rainwater catchment,  metering, newer innovations, like “water shares” and the use of cooperative “water banks” for conserving water for later use (see Washington state’s Trust Water Rights Act, 2009), and of course, various conservation measures, all are possible tools. My goal is to solve the problem proactively, with the community completely involved. 

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?

Yes, an electric or hybrid-electric ferry is a good idea.  Electric-powered public transportation with the goal of a a net-zero transportation system is essential to reducing our carbon footprint. It will cost more to buy, but will cost less to maintain and operate than a diesel powered boat. I think it is a good investment.

Talking with various individuals in the County and on Guemes in the last month or two, and reviewing the development of the ferry plan and design, it is clear to me that although the initial costs are high and do not appear to provide a good carbon-reduction-to-cost ratio, the significant reduction in reported operating costs of an electric boat in comparison to a diesel boat balance out that ratio while the boat still has decades of its working life remaining, at which point it will more than pay for itself. Plus, of course, the environmental benefits of an electric boat, relative to diesel, remain, as does the beneficial precedent it sets for public policy.

Captain Rachel Rowe and her team of County staff and consultants have accomplished a substantial amount of first class work to get us where we are.

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?

More funding is necessary and much of it may come from the federal and state governments. An update by Capt. Rowe and her team in February, 2021, will provide a much more complete perspective and set of details. If, for some reason, we determine that it is too difficult to follow through at that point, we would have to change our plan.The devil will be in the details. Any options of floating a bond need to be considered in the full context of that February review and the outlook for outside funding at that time.

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?

Yes. That is always a good idea with any vessel in commercial service.