What happens in the courthouse...

Unless explicitly noted otherwise, this blog represents my own opinions, not those of any organization (like the Kittitas County Democratic Party) that I might be involved with.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Commissioner O'Brien's Response to Call to Help Vantage

Commissioner O'Brien sent me an e-mail offering to reply to my letter (see previous post), and I accepted. Here is his response, with a few comments.  

I was writing to ask the County to go to bat for the town of Vantage, and the response is that the county will not.1 The attitude reflected here is likely to be an important campaign theme, because it illustrates the large difference between Obie's management style and mine. His lack of creativity and unwillingness to make waves on behalf of county business is one of the reasons I'm running.

Hello again Steve,

The BOCC has been receiving updates and all the press releases put out by the PUD. We received a presentation from them a week and a half ago including an update on the recreational impacts of the drawdown. At this point the planned date to restore some of the level in the Wanapum Pool which is the area that affects vantage is somewhere around October. Until all the repairs are done to all the monoliths in the spillway the Federal Energy Regulating Council (FERC), and I may have the name wrong, will not authorize refilling the pool or full power operation of the dam.2

As to the impacts to the Vantage area community the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce has been directly acting at our direction to assist in any way. Contacts have been ongoing and many offers I am told have not been accepted. The chamber tells me that the gem shop has had the best summer ever. The county as a public agency cannot directly subsidize businesses or individuals there because of prohibitions of gifting public funds to individuals. Only by contract can we help. I have had conversations with a Grant County commissioner while at other meetings like the WSAC conference. The burden is on the Grant County PUD to respond to effects of the problems created by the damaged dam.

The Hotel – Motel (Lodging) tax fund was set up with specific guidelines that dictate that monies spent have to be used in advertising and promotion that encourages tourism and new additional stays in commercial lodging. Often this is referred to as Heads in Beds. Applications come from proponents of new activities or events. Vantage has no such applications before the review committee that I am aware of at this time. They would have to propose an activity or new vision that would meet the criteria set out according to RCW 67.28.180 and RCW

The river and the shorelines are still dangerous and cannot be entered by citizens. Many resources have been spent by the PUD to ensure safety of the public and preservation of the possible cultural elements and sites along the riverbank. We have been told that even though the bank areas look dry and stable they are not safe. In fact some areas are more like a mix of quicksand and sludge than a beach front. In the past the culturally sensitive areas have been hidden by higher waters but now would be a temptation for citizens to explore and possibly violate the requirements of the First Peoples. The Yakama Tribe and Confederated Nations has specifically requested that law enforcement be employed to protect the heritage and history along the river.4 All cost for increased patrols are being born by the PUD and are using nonscheduled overtime of any officer wishing to accept the work. The continuing law enforcement activities of the Sheriff’s office are not diminished or adversely affecting Kittitas County’s needs.

Your desire of making the people of the affected areas whole after the repairs have been completed is a legal matter between the PUD and those affected. Since the PUD is already paying for additional services the county has no specific loss.5

On a positive note, with the shorelines dry from the drawdown the contracts to renew and update the boat launches on the river is proceeding with no environmental damage because the work can be accomplished in the dry instead of work being done in the water. The parking area at the Vantage public launch is also being renewed and will be in perfect shape when the water levels return.

If you have more specific questions or suggestions I would be happy to hear them. Please feel free to stay in contact with me or you can forward any contacts with citizens who have concerns to me or the other commissioners.

I am responding to this message on my own and not in concert with any other commissioner.


Obie O’Brien

1A Daily Record article today notes that the population of Vantage is about 81 people. Clearly, I'm not doing this for the votes, but perhaps it does explain the County's lackadaisical response.
2Nothing in this paragraph indicates any sort of active involvement on the part of the County, and it contains no new information beyond Grant PUD talking points.
3Neither of these sections is relevant. The correct section is RCW 67.28.1816.
4It is easy to think of ways to solve these problems. An obvious one is to open the river around Vantage, with boundaries up- and downriver that keep people away from culturally sensitive sites; enforcement would be paid by Grant PUD just as it is now. This is not a solution that Grant PUD would choose without pressure from Kittitas County.
5The county is losing sales and lodging, and, to a lesser extent, fuel tax funds. The amounts of these losses can probably be fairly accurately estimated. It is certainly obvious where those funds are going: to Grant County (via Mardon at the Potholes Reservoir, and Beverly/Schwana below Wanapum Dam) if the County wanted to act, it could find a reason to do so.