Big crowd douses clean water district hearing
PORT TOWNSEND - A public hearing Monday on a proposed clean water district for East Jefferson County was postponed after only a few comments were heard - all in opposition.
The reason: An overflow crowd far beyond the 90-person capacity of the Jefferson County Superior Court courtroom violated the fire code.
When Mats Mats resident and frequent county critic Mike Belenski counted the number of people in the room, he called East Jefferson Fire-Rescue.
Attendance at the county commissioners' hearing totaled 107 when Community Development Director Al Scalf, acting as county fire marshal, put the damper on it.
The hearing was rescheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the larger Fort Worden State Park Commons.
Before Scalf stopped the proceedings, some comment against the clean water district was heard.
Jefferson County Public Health officials are proposing creation of such a district to raise funds - through an $18 annual parcel fee on property tax bills - to control pollution in bays and watercourses around East Jefferson County.
Of particular concern are bacterial pollutants from faulty septic systems and animal waste that affect shellfish beds.
County Treasurer Judi Morris - one of those who addressed the commissioners before Monday's hearing was halted - referred to the proposed $18 fee as a "draconian method" of funding the district.
She said she would have to get direction by Oct. 1 to put the fee on property tax bills for next year because of the administrative time such action would take.
"We have been put under severe time constraints to get this on the 2008 tax bills," Morris said.
With the hearing delay, the commissioners are drawn closer to the Oct. 1 deadline.
Commissioner John Austin, D-Port Ludlow, said the large turnout on Monday appeared like a deliberate attempt at delaying creation of the clean water district.
"It could be perceived that that was the strategy," Austin said.
"Certain people had a large smile when they noted that we had exceeded [room] capacity."
'Greatly reduced plan'
As a result of the delays and the opposition to the proposed district, Austin said: "Ultimately, we may have to have a greatly reduced plan."
The Port Townsend City Council has sent the commissioners a letter opposing the proposed district and asking that city taxpayers not be included.
The commissioners do not need the council's approval to include the city in the district.
The proposal grew out of a state Department of Health restriction on shellfish harvesting in portions of southern Discovery Bay during winter 2006 because of fecal coliform bacteria pollution.
County health staffers decided to attempt an East County district rather than just Discovery Bay to provide a more comprehensive look at water quality, said Mike McNickle, county environmental health director.
The county has a deadline from the state Department of Health to create a shellfish protection district in Discovery Bay by Oct. 11.
During Monday's commissioners' meeting held after the ill-fated hearing, commissioners approved a contract between the county and the state Department of Ecology for funding a Discovery Bay shellfish district plan.
The contract has the county paying about $55,000 a year for three years, while state Ecology joins in with $162,212 annually for three years to clean up and monitor Discovery Bay.
The three commissioners approved the contract Monday without having a funding source in place.
They made no decision regarding how to fund the Discovery Bay project, but said they will be deciding in coming weeks - possibly at the Sept. 26 rescheduled hearing.
Reporter Evan Cael can be reached at 360-385-2335 or email@example.com.