Submitted by Gregg Blomberg
I believe San Juan County needs a Tourism Mitigation Board or something to function in that compacity. It should be funded by an amount at least equal to that spent by the Tourist Bureau from the funds that come from the Hotel/Motel tax. These funds have recently had a real bump up from so many folks renting their Island homes by the night for $100 and up.
Mitigation could fund road improvements, more bicycle lanes for example. That would make it safer for tourists and residents alike. Some Lopez roads are so narrow that two “big rig” trucks almost tear off their rearview mirrors passing each other, add bicycles, forget it.
Funding could; Support increased road maintenance costs and extra signage where needed. Or fund wildfire preparedness. It is inevitable that eventually, someone with a beach fire or fireworks will get a wildfire going. Funds could go to the sheriff’s department for increased summer law enforcement and to other emergency services like the paramedics and the sheriff’s boat.
With additional funding pledged, Washington State Ferries might be encouraged to build or run a special sweeper ferry for island residents. In that way, residents could have an assured ride home rather than have to stay in a motel on the mainland. Getting home would allow locals to take care of their children & pets and be able to get to work on the island the next day. The ferry issue and tourism are not likely to be resolved any time soon. One end of the day run for locals is not a great answer but it would be helpful with today’s conditions.
There are no doubt a lot of other things that would aid in tourist mitigation. We love our tourists, they help support island business, but to a couple living on a fixed income, the ever-increasing county taxes to pay for tourist mitigation is unfair. I wonder how folks living on the smaller islands, with little or no advantages from tourism, but still being impacted, feel about footing any part of the bill for providing for and cleaning up after them. There are many other folks in this category who are looking for a simple uncluttered and affordable life, who derive very little from tourism other than the loss of space and peace on the beaches in the sweetest time of the year.
Certainly, we have come to a point where tourism in San Juan County is self-sustaining. No promotion of new tourism is needed or justifiable. The ferries are full, everyone is telling all of their friends one of two things “forget it, it’s a zoo” or with stars in their eyes say “you must go there”. A large percentage of our visitors, charmed by the islands are convinced they want to live here. We have come to a place where most of us including business owners would rather have a peaceful rural lifestyle than more money in our pockets.
The Visitor’s Bureau, have done their job with aplomb, we have come to the time for them to serve our community’s with diligence. Answering tourist’s questions, helping them find a place to stay, advise them about the ferries, but stop all attempts to attract ever increasing numbers of visitors.
I know that some of the tourist tax funds are already being used in ways that help deal with these issues, but a board whose duty is to deal with the more negative aspects of the tourism “industry” would be most helpful. By hearing from residents and tourists alike they could identify the impacts, then work on concrete goals and steps for mitigation.