Communication from county on millings needs improvement

  • Wednesday, February 6, 2019 2:05pm
  • Opinion

It seems possible that the tale of Vashon’s millings may soon be reaching a conclusion. Many threads from this saga may never be fully unravelled, but one element is abundantly clear: King County officials should have communicated better to the islanders involved.

In the front page story this week, multiple people — from the Burton Water Company, the Vashon-Maury Groundwater Protection Committee and an island condo association — all say they reached out and received silence in return. Others have said the same thing.

Surely, this is not the case of someone simply overlooking an email or forgetting to return a phone message. County officials oversaw this project last summer and are currently overseeing its aftermath. Responding to affected islanders should be central to that process.

At The Beachcomber, when we have asked questions about the millings, we have found county officials to be forthcoming and helpful nearly each time. But that same basic courtesy and service should be extended to the people more closely involved, including those with millings themselves or overseeing the island’s water quality in any capacity.

In fact, on Monday of this week, the first reaction to the latest millings news from the Vashon-Maury Groundwater Committee Chair Michael Brown was not about the millings’ removal — which he deems too late — but about the process. Islanders began raising concerns in August about the millings, but it took until the last week in January to see true progress. There was a whole lot of silence between then and now.

In early December, in the letter the committee sent to King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, among other King County officials, members asked for immediate follow through to remove the millings, focusing on those at Misty Isle, as they were a possible source of contamination to the Burton Water Company. They made another important point — that there is no “rapid response” system in place to deal with threats to the island’s groundwater. They noted they will be working to implement such a system and stated they would appreciate the cooperation of McDermott’s office in doing so. They did not receive a response, but the letter is worthy of one, even now, more than two months later. We hope it will come. And we fully support the creation of the committee’s desired rapid response system.

A critical point of this whole situation is approaching: outreach to community members who have the millings — at least those whom the county is aware of. Many of them had no idea they were doing anything against county code when they placed their orders. They deserve transparency, a clear explanation of their options and reasonable time to make their decisions.

Many elements are woven together in Vashon’s millings’ tale: county code, contractual obligations and science, among them. We hope the next steps will include all of those elements in balance and are looking forward to those personally affected hearing from the county about those next steps soon.

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