District 2 Candidate Peter Browning Responds

It was brought to my attention that I was not included [we invited him twice] in the LineTime questionnaire circulated around Guemes Island. I am sorry I missed it. I looked all over my computer and it was just not there. Being a local and having friends on Guemes and the fact that I always respond to questionnaires drove me to ask your forgiveness and to ask that my answers be included on your questionnaire page. Thank you for understanding. -Peter Browning

Four decades ago water systems, small and large, failed. Even while major systems, such as in Potlatch II failed, the County refused to curtail new well drilling even on the impacted North end of Guemes.  Despite additional seawater intrusion, the County continued to require that new development source water from a well, or an existing system, to attain the building permit.  During this same period, the County refused to fund a study of the locations and limits of our aquifer. Fortunately, others did help and USGS completed an important first look. Our efforts, not the county’s, resulted in a Sole Source Aquifer designation, recognizing that the only water we have falls from the sky. Since then many additional systems have failed. Since then we have worked to get a follow-up study that might provide an adequate water budget. Again, the county refused to help and, in fact, insisted that we made the whole thing up, that there were no real water problems over here despite a long history and much scientific evidence to the contrary.

What is your understanding of the history of water issues on Guemes Island?

As many of you remember I was the Skagit County Public Health Director from 1996 to 2014 I advocated for rainwater catchment since the early 2000s and could not get the Planning Department or the Commissioners to consider it for the island. I have been an advocate of requiring a pre-inspection for drilling a well since I first found out about your seawater intrusion. I came out to Guemes several times to talk to your community about water access and was always discouraged with the unwillingness of Planning and the Commissioners to look at necessary solutions. Once seawater intrusion starts it can never be completely eradicated. Community desalination projects are being installed in the Middle East with some success, but I see them as a last resort.

Do you support the Guemes Island Planning Advisory Committee’s two most recent proposals, P1 which would encourage rainwater catchment by creating a template for such systems, and P2 which would require pre-inspection of a well site before well drilling proceeds.

With climate change threatening even less water, what will you do to help us here?

P1: Yes, and I would like to see it considered for up in Concrete and Hamilton and Marblemount as well. I do not agree that they need the costly inspection especially since the people who install them are experts.

P2: Since the water situation will not get better and possibly worse, then absolutely we should have a pre-inspection of any proposed wells. Any wells drilled without permits should be required to go through the permitting process and if they are deemed to be in a vulnerable area and likely to cause increased seawater intrusion, we should consider requiring that they be de-commissioned for the safety of the aquifer.

 


The Guemes Island ferry is over 40 years old. The Commissioners and Public Works are intent on spending more than $20 million for a new, electric ferry. They have refused to consider refitting the current vessel which could give it at least another 20 years of serve for far, far less money. So intent on their (not our) dream of being the first with an hybrid-electric ferry, the Commission did not bother to apply for State Volkswagen settlement funds which well might have offset a great deal of the cost of refitting. $20 million to serve an island with less than a thousand full-time residents seems disproportionate.

Do you feel the only and best option is to build a new (hybrid-electric) ferry? If so, why?

I love the idea of a hybrid-electric ferry, but the cost is a challenge. It would be more reliable and cost-efficient after the original purchase, but the price is still significant. The existing ferry is past its pull date and we need to be looking for a solution. I understand we are about 8.5 million short of the purchase price. The current ferry has parts available to avoid a complete breakdown and the passenger ferry is available in a pinch. I suggested a rideshare program for island residents years ago during passenger ferry times, but the real issue is we need a new ferry.

Since State or Federal funds seem very limited or unavailable, how do you feel about floating a bond within the County to self-fund this project?

I think we need to go after Federal money for a while longer. 8.5 million is a significant amount of money and to do a local bond may not be reasonable at current rates, although if there is a significant covid-related economic downturn a bond may look safe and desirable to some investors. I believe the county is eligible for a low-cost loan. If it can be spread out over enough years, it would make a loan viable.

Since it may take years to raise the funds, during which the current engines and outdrives may fail, do you think it important to have a backup plan to keep the current ferry running?

We already have a backup plan with spare parts for the parts most likely to fail and a passenger ferry if it needs repairs. This is not a solution but a stopgap to give us time to get the funding together.