Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Coffee with Commissioner Gary Edwards

This past week Gary was invited to the Rainier Senior Center to speak to the public.  He told a crowd of over 50 he was elected as County Commissioner last year, after 40 years in law enforcement.  He didn’t realize how complicated his new job would be, until after he took office.

Gary works for the citizens, not the county.  Although County Commissioners don’t “do taxes”, they have to be very careful about operating expenses, as that is tax money.  They are doing the best they can to keep everything legal and efficient.  He tries to keep things in the “middle of the road” and balanced between the extremes.

Government bureaucracy is somewhat inefficient.  In the old days, a sheriff could cut down a tree that was crossing the road after a wind storm, or put up a street sign that was down.  Since we’ve become a litigious society that has changed.  Nowadays, everything like that has to be called in for a crew to come out to do the job. Thurston County the lowest number of sheriffs per capita than anywhere else in our state. 

Urban Growth Management encourages growth in the urban core, which effects the growth in rural areas.  Population concentration mandates the way resources are allocated.  We need to come up with solutions to expand our resources.  We also need to create clean jobs in our county, so our kids will stay working here.  Many cities are annexing surrounding rural areas with large businesses for tax revenue.  When Richie Auctions moved from Thurston County to Lewis County, they lost $3,000,000 in tax revenue.  Richie Auctions has now doubled in size, so Lewis County is benefiting.

He said that it’s important to make public policies after all of the facts are in.  He stated that the public policy on the septic issue was put together without all of the facts. It was stated that septic tank failure was 15% in Thurston County, but studies now show that the failure rate is less than 1%.  Olympia has a state of the art sewer system, yet there is too much nitrogen being released in the water. There are many reasons for this, but it will take millions of dollars to correct the problem.

Some extreme examples of critical issues that affect our watersheds is that Victoria Island, British Columbia, pumps 40 million gallons of raw sewage into the Puget Sound every day. And Weyerhaeuser uses Urea 46, the most potent fertilizer around, to fertilize their trees, which leaches into our rivers and lakes from the runoff.  In the old days, Lawrence Lake was a holding pond for a saw mill.  There is still debris in the bottom of the lake which is contributing to the higher concentration of nitrogen in the water.

The HCP (Habitat Conservation Plan) letter went out today, on March 5th.  There are 4 sub species of pocket gophers.  There are pocket gophers from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and from Canada clear down to California, yet Thurston County is the only place in the nation that has building restrictions mandated by the Federal Government through the Federal Endangered Species Act. 

There are pocket gophers on JBLM, which has over 20,000 acres that will never be developed.  The Scatter Creek has another 10,000 acres that are set aside for conservation, which will never be developed.  In other parts of the county, the Department of Agriculture does everything they can, to eradicate pocket gophers because they are so destructive.
The pocket gopher issue even delayed the opening of the back road to Yelm High School.  It should be operational before the next school year starts. The back road should ease the traffic congestion in front of the school, as well as make it safer for the kids.

Many kids come from disadvantaged situations. They come to school hungry.  Some even take showers at school.  On the last school day of the week, these kids are sent home with backpacks filled with food, so they have something to eat over the weekend. “Intervention is better than incarceration.”  Gary said.  “Early intervention is what it’s all about.  Kids may be 30% of our population, but they are 100% of our future”.  

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