County council hears out Point Roberts residents but take no action

The entire Whatcom County Council turned out for the December 3 Public Works and Health Committee meeting. From left, Tyler Bird, Satpal Sidhu, Carol Frazey, Barbara Brenner, chair, Barry Buchanan, Rud Browne and Todd Donovan. Photo by Pat Grubb.

By Pat Grubb

(Note: This story has been corrected from the version published 12/5/19. See note at bottom.)

Whatcom County Council member Barbara Brenner marched from her final county council meeting the same way she entered it nearly 30 years ago – like a lion. Back then she was fighting against medical waste from B.C. being shipped into Washington for disposal. Now, just as she did for the 28 years she served on council, she went out fighting on behalf of Point Roberts residents. Or at least those who appeared at a public works and health committee meeting earlier on December 3 to ask that the curbside trash pickup service levels be reduced from two 32-gallon cans to one 20-gallon mini-can a month.

In her final motion put to council, she called on fellow councilmembers to initiate a review of charges at the Point Roberts solid waste transfer station. That the motion came very close to the end of a marathon council meeting that started at 7 p.m. and lasted six hours and fourteen minutes may have had something to do with the fact that it was the wrong motion – no one had asked for the transfer station charges to be reviewed. In any event, council turned it down with Barry Buchanan, Carol Frazey, Tod Donovan and Rud Browne voting No with Brenner and Tyler Byrd voting For. Satpal Sidhu, who will become the county executive in January, abstained.

The full council attended the 2:30 p.m. public works and health committee meeting chaired by Brenner. The portion dealing with service levels in Point Roberts began with Brenner lambasting fellow council member Rud Browne for his communications with the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission, accusing him of telling the commission that “only one person [Brenner] was interested in doing a review” and consequently it didn’t want to do one. Despite Browne’s invocation of Roberts Rule of Order, she refused to allow him to respond.

* Moving on, Brenner spotted deputy executive Tyler Schroeder in the audience and invited him down for questioning. “My understanding was, there was discussion about having a review at some time this year of the garbage service in Point Roberts. Did you not hear that or am I hallucinating,” asked Brenner. “I don’t recall that from a county standpoint. I do recall that the UTC was going to be reviewing some information and my understanding is that they have done that,” replied Schroeder.

Well over a dozen residents from Point Roberts showed up and eight of them spoke to council: Samantha Scholefield, Louise Cassidy, Allison Calder, Ken Calder, Annette Calder, David Ellis, Craig Grossman and Heidi Baxter. All but Grossman spoke in favor of reducing the minimum service requirements.

“I’ve been the biggest opponent of this ordinance since the very beginning,” Ken Calder told council. “Now that we’re rapidly approaching 2020, why are we focusing on mandatory garbage instead of mandatory recycling and pay as we throw. I shouldn’t be held to the same standard as the next household that produces more.” Alluding to personal relations with David Gellatly, owner of Cando Recycling, Calder said people should rely on facts and not on rumors of a family feud.

“I’m here to talk about fees versus tax,” said Louise Cassidy. “The fee acts like a tax,” she asserted and gave a number of examples of services that act the same way but are considered a tax. “I want to know if we get to vote on a tax,” she concluded.

David Ellis spoke from the viewpoint of a Canadian citizen who owns property in Freeman Beach. “In my case, I use my cabin in the summer months and only had three pickups this year. I shouldn’t think that Freemans Beach is the only part of Point Roberts that has a majority of Canadians.”

“We are full-time residents and we come from a different perspective,” said Craig Grossman. “We actually use one can a week. We’re very happy with the service.” He pointed out that permanent residents “are your constituents. We live there full-time and we need services such as fire and water and garbage. Garbage is a vital service.”

Brenner concluded the public comments with the observation that she was “an obsessive recycler and would be so upset.” On being recognized by Brenner, council member Carol Frazey yielded her time to the heretofore muffled Rud Browne who told council that he had asked the county clerk to tabulate communications from Point Roberts residents on the new system: “Three out of four are in favor,” he said.

* This article has been corrected. Originally, the paragraph marked by an asterisk read as follows:

Brenner said it was her recollection that the county had said that they would review the curbside program; however, no one on council backed her up on the matter. “I don’t recall that,” said council member Tyler Bird, adding, “It was the WUTC that said they would do a review which they have done.”

Council member Tyler Byrd has, in fact, been supportive of a county review of curbside service levels in Point Roberts. Last month, he was quoted in an article titled “Group presses council review of trash system.”

“Point Roberts, you heard it a year ago when we said we would bring it back and look at the impacts and reassess,” Tyler Byrd told half a dozen Point Roberts residents attending the November 19 county council meeting. “Did it happen? No.”

The APB regrets the error.

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