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Guest Opinion by Wilmerding: Reject Destination Mgmt Plan as results may force more locals to leave

  • Written by Gay Wilmerding

Dear Council Members,

Having read the 89-page preliminary draft of 2023, I look down at my feet and wonder if I’ll need a permit to wear hiking boots?  Please reject the current plan as it may achieve the opposite of sustainable tourism and force local residents to depart.

Specifically (p. 72), if by 2040, the goal is for 40% of the islands’ ”land area” to be protected via purchase, easement or policy, then remaining property owners will bear a much greater tax burden to support tourist infrastructure.

The most compelling problem now is well water contamination.  If the annual average of 654,000 visitors coming to the San Juans is increasing, draw down of fresh water may result in salt water incursion.  On San Juan, the problem is particularly acute: since the fire department used the forever chemical PFAS in Hannah Heights, it may migrate to the local aquifer causing serious illness. Cleaning up the polluted site before increasing visitor use, hence water use, would be prudent.

As a resident, I find the idea of permitting my bicycle and row boat odious.  After manufacture, both means of transportation are carbon neutral and such use should be rewarded not punished.  As a family, we own several and often do not use them until friends and family visit.   Costs of annual permitting add up surprisingly fast in addition to time taken to register.  Law enforcement’s time could be better spent to deter shoplifting, drunk driving, and robbery.

As WSF already tracks all foot and vehicle arrivals to the islands and Datafy tracks visitor location and spending via cell phone and credit card use (p 21-22) for the SJI Visitors Bureau, I assume resident use of cell phones and credit cards might also be tracked; i.e., an intrusive and a far more accurate surveillance of movement than stickering bicycles, cars and boats.  Our neighbor to the north – Victoria -- rewards and encourages bicyclists offering a pilot program of free bus rides on inclement days if one shows a bicycle helmet to the driver.

Why cannot County Council develop incentives for leaving a car parked?   Common low-fee based bicycle stations serve residents and visitors alike in many communities.  While economic viability of bus or van transit is stronger in summer than shoulder seasons, our aged population benefits from the RoundTowner, entering its second decade.  Van pooling to and from SEATAC on Island Airporter often works better than taking and parking one’s own car.

Efficient use of road right-of-ways could improve bicycle safety.  Rather than scar the San Juan Valley with a new bike trail, pave a strip on each side of the drainage ditches in the existing r.o.w. for bikes.  Maintenance of fence lines and macadam is minimized.  Negotiating with land owners to save beautiful trees would maintain the Valley’s character, could provide shade and privacy for cyclists and homeowners, would reduce islanders’ property tax burden, and improve cyclists’ fitness.

Respectfully submitted,

Gay Wilmerding