Councilmen sworn in, CT, submarine cables and orcas discussed at SJC Council

The first San Juan County Council meeting of the year, on Jan. 10, included about five hours ofpublic comment and agenda discussions, with two elected councilmen.

New councilmen

Councilmen elected in last November’s race were sworn in at the start of the meeting. Bill Watson,District 1, was sworn in for his first council term and Rick Hughes, District 2, was sworn in for hissecond consecutive term.

“It’s been an honor to serve you for the last four years and it’s an honor to serve again,” saidHughes.

Hughes was voted as council chairman and Watson as vice chairman by unanimous votes. Hugheswelcomed the new council with county flags.

“I look forward to representing all of you — whether you voted for me or not, that’s all under thebridge now,” said Watson, who urged islanders to contact him with issues.

Submarine cable replacement

Gerry Lawlor, of Rock Island, and Joel Mietzner, of OPALCO, explained, during the public commentsection, that a CenturyLink underwater fiber cable could break, anytime, because the cable isfraying. It could also break when OPALCO works on the power cable from Lopez to San Juan Islandin June because CenturyLink has attached their cable to OPALCO’s for support.

“It could be a 30- to 60-day outage — it won’t be like last time,” said Lawlor.

The last major outage occurred in 2013, when a CenturyLink fiber cable, which runs underwaterfrom the Lopez to the San Juan Island broke, leaving parts of the county without internet and 911services. Communication was completely restored after 10 days.

The same CenturyLink fiber cable that broke in 2013 due to erosion, is encased in a thin,waterproof steel, which is not completely closed. Fiber is jutting out of the jagged seal, which iscutting and wearing the fiber down, said Rock Island’s Dan Burke to The Journal. Burke is thecompany’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

OPALCO’s power cable is encased in armored steel. About every 20 years, OPALCO replacessubmarine cables to ensure operations, said Burke. OPALCO will add fiber to the cable as well, as ithas done with most of the islands’ other submarine cables.

Mietzner requested council help to create a plan to ensure 911 connectivity in case of anotheroutage. Councilman Hughes requested that OPALCO, Rock Island and CenturyLink meet at the Jan.23 council meeting to discuss the issue. OPALCO staff said they have been requesting CenturyLinkdetach its cable from OPALCO’s for about a year, said Suzanne Olson of OPALCO public relationsto The Journal.

A CenturyLink representative told The Journal the cable’s “integrity and it’s communication paths”are not currently disrupted and the cable will be replaced once the current permits are obtained,but did not give an exact date.

OPALCO, or Orcas Power and Light Cooperative, is a nonprofit cooperative, jointly owned by itsmembers who use the electricity it provides to San Juan County. Rock Island Communications is afor-profit internet service provider, which was acquired by OPALCO in 2015. CenturyLink is anational telecommunications company that sells internet and phone services.

Orcas protection zone

Janet Thomas, San Juan Island coordinator with Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance, sought councilsupport during the public comment section for the organization’s petition to the National Oceanicand Atmospheric Administration to create a whale protection zone on the western and southerncoasts of San Juan Island. NOAA is responsible for the conservation of Southern resident killerwhales, according to the alliance. Commercial and private motorized whale watching would beprohibited about a mile from the shoreline, from April 1 through Sept. 30, in the approximate 10square miles from Mitchell point to Cattle Point, according to the petition.

Thomas compared the petition to the Washington Supreme Court’s decision to uphold San JuanCounty’s 1994 ban on jet skis to protect orcas.

“‘It defies logic to suggest an ordinance is unduly oppressive when it only regulates the activitywhich is directly responsible for the harm,’” read Thomas from the court’s ruling.

NOAA opened a 90-day public comment period on Friday, Jan. 12 to help them determine whetherthe petition will be approved. Submit comments by searching the document “NOAA-NMFS-2016-0152” at and clicking the “comment now” button. The public can also writeto Lynne Barre, NMFS West Coast Region, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

Ferry relocation

The other will help prevent the relocation of the interisland ferry from Friday Harbor to Anacortes,by Washington State Ferries. It will be sent to the state governor, senators and Washington StateDepartment of Transportation.

The Chief Administrator of San Juan Island EMS Jerry Martin said he’d like the boat close to theisland in case of emergencies to load apparatuses like a fire engine and personnel to other islands.County council said at a recent meeting that they would work with Martin to keep the ferry on SanJuan Island.

The Salish is the current inter-island until March then it will be Chelan and then the Tillicum. InOctober, the islands will have the Sealth. Hughes said WSF told him the Sealth could eventually bebased in Anacortes overnight to serve the inter-island route.

“We’re trying to prevent that from happening,” said Martin.

According to Martin, the ferries were used to move apparatus in the fire at Downriggers in August2013.

“It’s important to keep a moored boat here,” said Hughes.

WSF spokesman Ian Sterling said there are no imminent plans to move the ferry.

He added that WSF is always looking at ways to move boats around to make it easier for crews thatare dispatched out of Anacortes and Friday Harbor or if the move can cut costs.

“There are a lot of considerations to make that (moving a ferry) happen,” said Sterling

Community Treasures

During the meeting’s public comment section, Francine Shaw, a land use planner from FridayHarbor hired by the Community Treasures board, presented council with over 1,100 signatures ona petition, requesting the organization’s property be rezoned from non-conforming tocommercial.

“We all know non-conforming areas are meant to go away,” said Shaw.

Seven community members at the meeting requested council rezone the land to ensureCommunity Treasures’ longevity.

“It’s important that you make it a permanent commercial zone, not just that you support it,” saidRon Hanson, of Friday Harbor, to the council.

Hughes said the county would not hinder Community Treasures operations and would not performany code enforcement.

“They can continue to operate as they are,” said Hughes.

He added that council is still planning to update Community Treasures’ status in theComprehensive Plan Update 2017- 2018. Council will have a meeting in the next 30 days tofurther discuss the issue.

The owner of the Community Treasures property, Frank Penwell, wants to relinquish the property’slease to the nonprofit’s board, but the board wants the land designation to change before thepurchase, as the liability to operate it under the non-conforming status is too high. The thriftstore and recycling center’s land was originally designated as commercial when purchased in1978. Land designation has changed since then, which makes running a business on the propertyillegal without purchasing county permits deeming the land non-conforming — meaning it doesn’tconform with the land’s current zoning regulations. Penwell previously told The Journal he hasbeen fighting to make this change since 2008.

Staff photo/Hayley Day                                Joel Mietzner, of OPALCO, shows examples of CenturyLink’s frayed fiber cable (top) andOPALCO’s replacement power and fiber cable (bottom).

Staff photo/Hayley Day Joel Mietzner, of OPALCO, shows examples of CenturyLink’s frayed fiber cable (top) andOPALCO’s replacement power and fiber cable (bottom).