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Town Hall-style meeting highlights need for greater sustainability on Vashon

Environmental sustainability turned out to be the top concern among Islanders who attended Monday's town hall-style meeting sponsored by the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council.

Second on the list was increasing the community council's power, while third-ranked was the issue of tourism on Vashon, said Chris Beck, a member of the community council's board and one of the organizers of the town hall.

Monday's community council meeting was given over to a discussion of Islanders' concerns, in an effort to breathe new life into the forum, increase participation and find ways to make it more relevant to Island residents. The council, a volunteer-run organization, is one of several such bodies King County established to act as a liaison between the county and residents in unincorporated areas.

Beck said she was impressed by the turnout as well as the thoughtfulness and decorum of those who participated. About 50 people showed up, some of whom, she said, rarely if ever come to community council meetings.

"I was really pleased. I was pleased by how everybody handled themselves," she said.

After people began listing their concerns, the group decided to give each person three votes to establish their top three concerns. Beck said several brought up recycling, composting and sustainability, with some Islanders calling for recycling bins in Vashon town, others asking if an Island-wide composting station could be established and still others hoping for pea-patches or community gardens.

Hilary Emmer, a community council board member who also helped to organize the meeting, said she was surprised that issues of sustainability ranked first on the list. "But I think it really speaks to the fact that people want community," she said.

Emmer said it's now incumbent on the council to take some of these ideas and translate them into action.

"As long as we take this and start acting on some of the suggestions, then I think we'll change the direction of the community council in a very positive way," she said.

Some Islanders, for instance, talked about their wish to see some of the Island's parks, beaches or public forests accessible to people in wheelchairs. Emmer said she hopes to have the community council's outreach committee set up a meeting soon with the Vashon Park District and the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust to see what's possible.

"I think it was a brilliant idea," she said.

As for making the community council more powerful, Beck said that if the council finds a way to increase participation, it will carry a stronger voice with the county. The Island's vocal concerns about the King County Library Service's effort to relocate the Vashon branch — and library system's subsequent decision to keep the branch at Ober Park — underscore the power a "squeaky wheel" can wield, she added.

"The first step is to increase participation," Beck said. "Because if it's the same 24 people, not only is it boring, it's not representational."

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