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Guest column by Town Administrator: Town of Friday Harbor Holds County Accountable for Unauthorized Water Use at Fairgrounds 

  • Written by Denice Brown Kulseth Town Administrator

It is with reluctance that I respond to the County’s press release of March 7, 2024, regarding  unauthorized uses of water at the fairgrounds. In general, I think it best to discuss difficult matters  face-to-face with the people who can resolve the issue at hand. But the County chose to issue a  press release claiming that if the Town enforces its water regulations against the County, all good  things at the fairgrounds will come to an end. This is not true, and I feel the need to correct the  misleading statements made and the resulting misconceptions in the community. 

This disagreement between the Town and the County is about water, and the Town’s responsibility to ensure we are adequately planning for the future. It’s not about how much Island Rec enriches our community. It’s not about how valuable 4-H is to our island kids. It’s about ensuring we have  adequate water to not only serve our residents but to operate our grocery stores, our schools, the  hospital, long-term care facilities, Linde Park, the library, and more. It’s about being able to share  our water in emergency situations with residents outside the town, like the Hannah Heights neighborhood who found themselves with a contaminated well. It’s about being able to say “yes” to  increased densities to support affordable housing. And it’s about the Town’s responsibility to say  “no” to uses of water by out-of-town customers that are not absolutely essential. 

Decades ago the Town agreed to provide water for the San Juan County Fair and remains  committed to that agreement. Further, the Town assured the County we will provide water to the fairgrounds to support vaccine clinics or other needs that arise during a pandemic or other public  health emergency. The Town has not, however, authorized other uses of water at the fairgrounds.  We have been asking the County to comply with the Town's water regulations for years with no  success. Given their lack of cooperation, we reluctantly concluded that a Notice of Violation was  our only option. 

To resolve the issues surrounding the County’s unauthorized water uses at the fairgrounds, the  Town offered the County three options. Each of these options allows for Island Rec programs, 4-H  events, and other public events currently hosted at the fairgrounds to continue. The County has  been unwilling to discuss these options with us, and has chosen instead to appeal their Notice of  Violation to the Town Council. 

The Town Council will hear the County’s appeal of the Notice of Violation issued for unauthorized uses of water at the fairgrounds on April 4, 2024. While the Town welcomes the public to attend or  to view the meeting online, this is not a hearing where the Council takes public comment; it is a  closed record appeal, meaning only evidence previously presented by the County in its appeal to  the Town Administrator will be considered by the Town Council.  

If you would like to read more about the Town’s communications with the County on this matter,  including the three options the Town proposed to resolve it, please go to our Community Topics  page at: http://www.fridayharbor.org/2403/Community-Topics

Ensuring an adequate water supply for our residents and businesses is our responsibility and our  priority.

Respectfully, 

Denice Brown Kulseth Town Administrator

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