Elusive state capital budget passes, county funds secured

The state legislature approved the allocation of nearly $4 billion for construction projects across Washington on Jan. 18.

The decision comes roughly six months after Washington lawmakers closed the last, elongated legislative session without passing the two-year capital budget, holding up San Juan County projects including those for affordable housing developments, land conservation and salmon recovery.

Republicans stalled the budget approval to fix a 2016 state Supreme Court ruling about rural water disputes, which Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee called “unfortunate and, frankly, irresponsible” in a statement.

Inslee signed the budget to make it official and dispense funds on Jan. 19.

Lopez Island Schools will receive $1.8 million. The funds are for an extensive remodel, according to Stephens. San Juan County Public Works and Health and Community Services departments will receive about $160,000 for the planning, implementation and enforcement of safety and environmental regulations during the disposal of waste. This includes enforcing rules on illegal dumping and helping the public dispose of waste.

“Without funding, we are only able to respond to complaints where an imminent public health threat exists and provide limited technical assistance,” said San Juan County Environmental Health Manager Kyle Dodd.

Funding for five grants to support San Juan County salmon recovery projects and the department’s sole employees’ salary will now come through, said Byron Rot, the department’s coordinator. Those include nearly $170,000 for the San Juan Preservation Trust and Friends of the San Juans to purchase conservation easements on properties with shoreline with high salmon populations from willing landowners. It also covers roughly $400,000 for the Friends of the San Juans and Washington State Parks staff to remove a road that crosses a salt marsh on Sucia Island.

“Removal [of the road] will unbury [the] forage fish spawning habitat…reconnect the tidal wetland and restore passage for rearing fish,” said Tina Whitman, Friends of the San Juans science director.

OPAL Community Land Trust on Orcas Island was expecting $1.5 million from the state to construct 45 affordable townhouses in Eastsound. When the capital budget didn’t pass, OPAL Executive Director Lisa Byers said staff collected private donations instead of going after the state funds. These donations allowed them to apply for a federal tax credit program. If they receive the federal grant, construction will start in the fall of 2018 to be completed by 2020. Byers said they are still short on private donations to make up for the loss of the state funds, but their chances to receive the tax credit is higher, now that other grant applicants, who needed the state funds to apply for the tax credit, could not do so before state monies were allocated.

San Juan County Land Bank staff was also slated to receive two grants for roughly one million dollars, each, to cover two loans for the purchase of San Juan Island preserves: Zylstra Lake and Mount Grant. When funds didn’t come through last year, San Juan County Land Bank Director Lincoln Bormann said staff used land bank monies to clear the loans. Now that the budget has passed, the grants will be used as reimbursements. Other local projects, not listed, will receive funds too.