Clinic in Peril

Since 1988 Island Hospital, in Anacortes, has been operating the Lopez Clinic. This past December Island Hospital notified the Catherine Washburn Medical Association (CWMA). owners of the building and equipment, that they are withdrawing from operation of the Lopez Clinic and will terminate the agreement in this coming June. The CWMA board, and Doctor Bob Wilson, have been busy since then trying to find a way to keep the clinic open.

The board CWMA board set 1:30 p.m. January 23rd for a public meeting to bring the public up-to-date on the situation. The meeting fell considerably short of that goal. It was not well organized. Christa Campbell, the vice president of CWMA did most of the talking. She rambled over a number of topics making it difficult to understand. She and Charlie Janeway were the only two members of the nine person board of directors who were present. Janeway said very little. The most coherent speaker was Dr. Wilson who, I believe, pointed out the most serious problems.

My conclusions are:

●    The board asked seven different organizations to operate the clinic. All but one declined and that one is still doubtful. Probably one of the major factors in their refusal is the difficulty of adapting to the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the unknown changes the new administration might impose.

●    The only remaining options are; the still doubtful organization; asking Island Hospital to give us more time to find a partner; or for us to become independent and operate our own clinic.

●    It would take several months and substantial expense to convert our record system to that of a new partner and if the partnership changed the record keeping would also change, at considerable expense.

●    Forming a rural hospital district is absolutely essential to the continuation of our treasured clinic. Any of the clinic board who are serious about keeping the clinic open and are ready to accept the responsibility should run for a position in that district.

●    It is also absolutely necessary that CWMA turn over all funds and property to the newly formed hospital district. The idea of having a hospital district as simply a source of funds for CWMA which would operate the clinic or find an operator is unworkable. I am sure that the taxpayers supporting the clinic would rather have all clinic funds in the hands of an organization run by five people who are elected by the community, whose actions and decisions are open to the public and who are audited each year by the state, instead of being in the hands of an organization that is chosen by a small group, whose actions and decision have always been secret, which have never been audited and which has some irregularities which it, so far, refuses to correct.

●    The CWMA should immediately select the independence option and immediately purchase the best record keeping and collection system available and begin conversion. The computer based system that Dr. Wilson described is expensive and it may be necessary to hire to technical help to get started but CWMA has more than two and a half million dollars at hand and should be able to afford this.

It was disappointing to see that seven members of the CWMA board had not bothered to be present to at least show their interest and sincerity.

The Agate Beach Road Question

Our District 3 Council member, Jamie Stevens has submitted a proposal to vacate the part of the road that runs along the northern part of the “Agate Beach Road,” a part of the officially named Mackaye Harbor Road,  because it is threatened by beach erosion. So far the county council agrees and has obtained $350,000 grant from the state for studies of the project. However, as the two aerial photos show, the beach along the northerly portion, has not shown any erosion for forty five years.


The section to be vacated, runs for approximately 2,000 feet along Outer Bay. It provides access to some twenty other property owners south of the part to be vacated,  their public utilities, water, power and telephone, as well as access to Iceberg Point part of the newly established San Juan Islands National Monument. It also provides access to a small county park and is a pleasant place to walk, bicycle or drive along the shoreline.

The road runs along areas of two separate geological types.  The north portion runs about 800 feet starting at a point about two hundred feet north of the county park. The adjoining beach is mostly sand and gravel and the bank along here averages just three feet. According to the report of a geological engineer in 2002 the bank along this reach shows negligible erosion.  Aerial photographs taken in 1971 and 2004 show there has been no erosion along this reach for at least forty five years. The geologic composition of this portion of the beach is beach drift and is considered stable. This portion of the beach is recorded as a spawning area for forage fish.

The remaining portion of the beach runs south for approximately 1,200 feet. The road, and the bank begins to rise here until they reach a height of approximately 25 feet at the southern end. The geologic composition of this portion of the beach is glaciomarine drift and considered unstable. The only erosion is occurring along this south portion of the road. Erosion along this part of road in 1993 required moving the road landward. There currently are two eroding areas that are a serious threat to the road and two more potential threats according to engineering inspection. The most serious erosion is taking place directly opposite the parking area for the county park. It is directly under a lone tree on the seaward side of the road. The tree can be seen in the above photos. The erosion is close to undermining the road. For several years the road department has attempted to halt that erosion by dumping large boulders at this point but that has not been effective. The stonework might have been more effective if well located but that would require some equipment to be landed on the beach to move the rocks. This part of the beach is not considered to be stable and is not a forage fish spawning area but there is a suggestion that it might become so if the erosion was stabilized.

There will be some problems in finding an alternate road inland behind the existing houses. That area is mostly wetlands. The consultancy reports in the public works files show several potential alternates but none them avoid the wetlands. Should a satisfactory alternate route be found there would have to be some special arrangements for owners to access some of the existing houses.

State law prohibits vacating any road abutting bodies of water:

RCW 36.87.130 Vacation of roads abutting bodies of water prohibited unless for public purposes or industrial use. No county shall vacate a county road or part thereof which abuts on a body of salt or freshwater unless the purpose of the vacation is to enable any public authority to acquire the vacated property for port purposes, boat moorage or launching sites, or for park, viewpoint, recreational, educational or other public purposes, or unless the property is zoned for industrial uses.

So far no alternative use for the road right of way has been proposed. The most logical uses would be to add it to the park or make it into a walking trail.

The county also is required to find that vacating the road would be a benefit the public:

RCW 38.60(1)…. If the county road is found useful as a part of the county road system it shall not be vacated, but if it is not useful and the public will be benefitted by the vacation, the county legislative authority may vacate the road or any portion thereof.

The estimated cost of the alternate road is somewhere between $3,000,000 and $5,000,000 which certainly is no public benefit. Nor would the damage to wetlands by such a road be a benefit to anyone.

The ownership of the property owners along the north part of the road extends across the road and out to the meander line which, at this point, is somewhere seaward of the high tide line. As a result the property owners along this stretch of road own a small strip of  property on the seaward side of the road and also the beach and a substantial portion of the tidelands as well. A clever lawyer might try to convince a court that since there was this small strip of land between the road and the beach the road did not actually “abut” on the waterfront as the law requires. Vacating the road would be a very fine benefit for the property owners but certainly not to the taxpayers.

Vacation of the road also would cut back on what is one of our most valuable scenic assets. Here on Lopez out of 42 miles of shoreline we only have 3.3 miles of shoreline one can drive along.  Agate Beach is especially likeable since it is the only one of the shoreline drives from which you can see San Juan Island, Long and Charles Islands, the south end of Lopez Island, the open straits, Haro Strait and Vancouver Island. It is a popular place for walking, biking or driving. Losing it would be no benefit.

Finally this is an extremely unwise proposal. It is contrary to the state law, is no benefit to the public, would be very expensive  and, ironically, would by-pass the part of the beach that is not eroding and would lead directly to the part of the beach that is eroding for which no provisions have, so far, been made.  The public is owed an explanation as to why it was even considered. The council should return the $350,000 to the state, or get approval to use it on the part of the road that is eroding.

Note: All the factual information in this report has come from reports of various consultants on file in county records. The aerial photographs are from the Army Corps of Engineers. The conclusions and opinions are my own.


Pipeline Approved – More Tankers Soon

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has approved the Kinder-Morgan trans-mountain pipeline. The only remaining obstacle is the resistance of the 1st Nations, a question that will be decided in Canadian courts. There is, however, a solution that will make a substantial reduction in tanker traffic, or even eliminate it while, at the same time, solving the problem for the Canadian oil producers.

The plan to enlarge the trans-mountain was the result of Obama’s catering to environmentalists by refusing to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The environmentalists claimed the XL might endanger their water. The Canadians had, until then, sold ninety five percent of the oil to the US. The Canadians, who were quite angry at what they considered a rebuff by our administration, decided they needed a different way to market their oil and a more reliable customer. Hence the Trans Mountain pipeline. Obama, apparently, then or since, has had no idea at all that disapproving the XL would generate an environmental threat many times more dangerous.

The situation which will develop will be tankers loaded with Alberta oil outbound through Boundary Pass and Haro Strait and tankers loaded with Alaskan oil inbound through Rosario Strait and Peapod Rocks to Anacortes or Cherry Point. If our incoming president would approve Keystone XL the Canadians might not need an enlarged trans mountain pipeline. The existing pipeline could supply Anacortes or Cherry Point reducing or perhaps eliminating outbound tanker traffic through Haro Strait and reducing inbound traffic from Valdez to Anacortes and Cherry Point. Alaskan oil from Valdez could be sold overseas.

That would require some serious and complicated negotiations at the business level, the state department level and very possibly some helpful legislation. But there are also some savings involved that might be appealing to the business side. Kinder-Morgan, owner of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, is already totting up the figures on various possibilities. In the end it might eliminate much of the tanker traffic through the Salish Sea. At the very least it would considerably reduce the tanker traffic and thus the environmental hazard while saving some money. In any case it would be a win-win solution.

Tackling this plan together with Canadian environmental organizations would be a huge step toward solving a serious environmental threat. They will need everyone’s support.

A Review of the Lopez Clinic Status

A Review of the Lopez Clinic Status

As one of the founders of the clinic I was invited to attend the announcement of the book by Lori Harrison about medical care on Lopez Island . I found the book quite a surprise, but more on that later. It did motivate me to a more detailed interest in the clinic. Like a good many others on Lopez Island the years are catching up with me and I rely more on the clinic. So I have taken some time in the past two years to look into the status of the clinic board and its activities. The recent notification by Island Hospital that they are terminating their contract to operate the clinic makes it ever more necessary to see what needs to be done to be prepared to work with a new partner.
The first thing I noticed was that the board has been increased from the original five members to nine, although there are only eight at the moment, yet their workload appears to have decreased. With Island Hospital responsible for the actual operation of the clinic the board’s main responsibilities were raising funds and using the funds for maintenance of the building and equipment. These days donors have been generous enough to meet all expenses with quite a bit left over. There has been no need for the board members themselves to personally solicit donations. With a comfortable margin the board has been able to hire out the bookkeeping, newsletters, the web site and a few other tasks. There seems to be no need for the additional members when there is little work to do.

The next step is to make the clinic’s tax returns, IRS Form 990, available to the donors and public so they know what the clinic’s financial situation is. For years the board has acted as if the net worth and the expenditures were secrets to be kept from everyone but the board. This is not the board’s option. Openness is a legal requirement. The Internal Revenue Code (section 601.4.d) requires all tax exempt charities to make their financial situation public by providing anyone who asks with copies of the three most recent Forms 990 which is their tax return. If a charity posts those three returns on their web site there is no need provide the copies. IRS regulations require that every board member must have a copy of the current Form 990. If the board members would read the report they should know that it is available to the public since printed near the top of the very first page is the notice OPEN FOR PUBLIC INSPECTION. And in the form itself the person who signs the form must state that he has provided the board with copies and then must say how he notifies people the information is available. The law on tax free public charities is based on the belief that if both donor and charity are to pay no tax the charity has an obligation to let the donor know how his money is being spent.

I discussed this two years ago with Bob Myhr and Ron Shively yet nothing appears to have been done then and still has not been done. It took two very unpleasant meetings with the clinic treasurer for me to get the copies for 2013 and 2014. The return for 2015 hasn’t been done yet. Violations of this portion of the IRC Code could become the basis for revoking the clinic’s exempt status. There probably is little possibility of that happening but it is possible the clinic could be fined. The board would be wise to follow the rule “integrity is doing what is correct even when no one is watching.”

In addition to the 990 forms the clinic is also required to make available the corporate charter, the by-laws, and other important policy papers. The web site would be a good place for them to be displayed. Being up-to-date and in conformance with all regulations may be important in finding a new partner to operate the clinic. The new partner might like to know you can hold up your share.

Just what the clinic board can do and cannot do is worth reviewing. As a public charity the board is tightly regulated. It is worthwhile to review all those regulations. It may well be another item of importance in joining up with a new partner. The review should start with the basic question: What is the purpose of the clinic?

In one place on the clinic web site the purpose of the organization is: To provide quality primary care services in a courteous and efficient manner to the Lopez Island community and visitors in the sensitive and supportive tradition of Island life. In another place the purpose is stated as: To facilitate the primary medical care needs of the Lopez Island community through support of the Lopez Island Medical Clinic. The corporate charter, which is the real legal authorization for the clinic to act, says: The Association may erect, own and maintain a clinic facility and make the same available to the medical profession through any form of agreement which is fair and equitable to any and all, but not for the purpose of making a profit for the Association.” .

Washington law limits non-profits to spending for just those things authorized in the charter, but doesn’t consider them invalid unless someone complains. The funding of an intern and publication of the book are two examples as is the Sikstrom Fund. It may be possible that board members could be held liable for such expenditures. Legal advice is needed. A change in the charter is necessary to legitimize the Sikstrom Fund. It should also be modified to widen the scope of what the organization can do allow the board to enter into a workable arrangement including, if necessary actual operation of the clinic. In any case you need the advice of an experienced attorney.

Along with amending the corporate charter it is important to review the bylaws to see if there is anything in them that would impede an arrangement with a new partner. Of particular importance is the need to lengthen the terms of board members. With just a short three year term and substantial turnover it would be possible for the clinic to lose some management continuity. Without some continuity it is difficult to stay focused on the basic mission. In any well run organization each board member should be provided with a file or notebook with all the governing regulations, by-laws and other current instructions or agreements. This should be done along with the review of all governing documents so that the board is prepared to deal with the new partner, or with their own solution. Here are some of the things with which all board members should be thoroughly acquainted and which would quickly bring them up to date:

Form 990 Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax
Instructions for Form 990
Form 1023 Application for Recognition of Exemption
Publication 557 Tax-Exempt Status for Your Organization
Washington Nonprofit Corporations Act
Charitable Contributions Act,
Corporate Charter of the association
By laws of the association
Any agreements or contracts with other organizations
A summary of recent actions and decisions

And, as a subtle reminder that the not all charities adhere closely to the various regulations and may lose their exempt status the IRS has published a little guidebook entitled – How to Stay Exempt. It should be part of your required reading.

The most complete source of legal information on nonprofit’s in Washington is the Washington Nonprofit Handbook. It was put together as a volunteer contribution by a group of young lawyers. It is published by the Secretary of State and is an excellent resource and guide. At least some of the members of the board should be familiar with this handbook. It has some very fine advice based on the experience of many nonprofits. It is available to download, about 260pages, at:

This is a good time to review the financial condition of the clinic. In the years since we started an endowment fund and a depreciation reserve the total liquid assets of the association have grown to $2,558,933. But there appears to be no particular plan for the use of that money other than increasing it to the point where investment income meets all needs and donations are no longer needed. However that would make a significant change in the clinic’s tax status. To remain a 501(3)c charity one third of the yearly income must be from public donations.

I have obtained the tax returns of the clinic for 2010 through 2014 and used the figures to create an operating statement and balance sheet so you can see how the money was collected and see how it was generally spent, or saved.(The figures are on the last page of this report since they fit better on a separate page.) Unfortunately the return for 2015 has not been completed. The clinic boards have followed the practice of putting off the return until the last possible moment, one of the practices that should be changed.

In Washington all counties, schools, fire departments and other taxing districts are subject to an annual audit or review. The clinic, one of our most important local entities, has not had an audit or review in the forty four years it has been in existence. It needs one, even an outside review.

The returns show that over the five year period the total revenue has exceeded the total expense by a substantial margin which has added to the endowment fund. Investment income for that period totaled $246,766. The investment management costs totaled $81,060 reducing the return considerably. It might be more profitable to invest in a more standard fund and do without the investment management committee. Other expense items on the returns show some unnecessary spending. The Better Business Bureau and the Charity Navigator, two organizations that monitor charities, say that no more than 35% of the yearly revenue should be spent on fund raising and general overhead. That figure is what a major charity which must be professionally managed might have but is much too high for a small charity like the clinic managed entirely by volunteers. The clinic’s ratio has varied between 30% and 41% except for year 2014. A close look at the books might show it even higher. That certainly indicates some unnecessary spending such as paying for an intern, awarding a scholarship and paying for the “book,” all of them functions not authorized in the corporate charter. The cost of the newsletters could be substantially reduced if one or two board members could, themselves, put the newsletter together rather than paying someone to write it. The same could be said about the book. Surely among the eight board members there are one or more with writing experience if only writing a term paper.

The shortcomings of the “book” are especially egregious because of its bizarre layout, its inclusion of irrelevant stories, erroneous information and the omission of essential material but most of all the stunning cost. The cost of the book must be part of the “public relations” expense of $23,037 and $22,728 in 2012 and 2013 since the those are twice any of the previous years. The omission of the Scripps/Woods family’s contribution was perhaps the worst example of its shortcomings. The Scripps family was very supportive of the clinic and made a generous donations which went a long way toward giving it a good start. Responsible for most of the Scripps interest was Mrs. Scripps whose father was Doctor R. B. Bates, a sportsman flyer and the owner of Charles Island. Dr. Bates agreed to fly in on Fridays and treat patients if they would build him an airstrip. They did. It can be seen on the hill above the Parsonage. It is grown up in trees now but you can see it clearly from the air. We planted two trees beside the clinic building in recognition of their participation. The one in back was cut down at some point. I hope the one in front will remain.

The announcement by Island Hospital that their contract to operate the clinic will terminate in June of next year was a surprise although it should not have been. The hospital did the same thing to the Orcas clinic several years ago, then took it over again and are now terminating their contract again. Island Hospital has been making a modest profit from operating the Lopez Clinic. The new federal record keeping standards has undoubtedly increased the load on the hospital and made the profit not worth the additional work.

It will be a challenge to find an arrangement that will keep Dr. Wilson and his staff carrying on just as they are now. It is also an opportunity and perhaps a necessity to correct some of the things I have discussed so it will look like a well run organization and one that can hold up its part of a new partnership. Year before last I suggested to Bob Myhr and Ron Shively that such an all around review should be conducted. Neither were much interested. But it might let the supporting donors know that they are taking good care of their money and will have their support for any solution selected.

In considering a new partnership it would also be very worthwhile to consider a new form for the clinic by looking into the possibilities of a hospital district. You don’t have to have a hospital to form a hospital district and the district itself does not need to operate the facility. It appears from the dues that only one out of every five or six families contribute to the clinic. Putting the clinic on the tax rolls would put it on a broader and more equitable basis. An organization like the clinic that is available to everyone should be supported by everyone

So, as a summary of work to be done in addition to seeking another partner, these are the things that need attention:

1. Review and change corporate charter and by-laws to provide more flexibility in a new partnership
2. Insure complete compliance with IRS rules by posting tax returns, by-laws, and so on the web site.
3. Prepare a notebook for each director with all the rules, regulations and policies.
4. Change bookkeeping categories to those in the Form 990 so subsequent years can be compared.
5. Turn newsletter, web site, and similar tasks over to individual board members.
6. Review the need for more than five members on the board.
7. Find members of the board who are willing to take some of the jobs now done by paid help.

The table below is a summary of the Form 990 returns for the years 2012 through2014. The amounts shown are the same amounts extracted from the returns.




We Need More Island History

We have an historical void here in the islands. There probably few communities in the United States as drastically separated from their history as are the communities in the San Juan Islands.

The islands have gone through three phases of historical succession each marked by a drastic disconnect with its predecessors. There was the Indian/aboriginal phase, succeeded by the farmer/settler phase which, in turn, was succeeded by the present leisure/recreational phase of island history. None of the phases has had any appreciable relation to its past or influence on its future.

The Indian era dates from antiquity but began to come to an end with the arrival in the islands of the Hudson Bay Company about 1850. By 1880 the Indian era was essentially ended.
Of all the successive phases of Island history the Indians have had the least impact. With one exception there is absolutely nothing in our current society that shows Indian influence. The one exception is when the skeletal hand of the dead past reaches out to trip up some unfortunate person who inadvertently expects to build his house on a shell midden. Then the draconian laws relating to Indian artifacts take over with the archaeologists in charge. Our intense focus on Indian history seems to be a manifestation of politically correct guilt over what is assumed to be our treatment of the Indians. Beside that, with no artifacts of ancient history we have to do something to provide work at home for the archeologists the colleges are turning out.

And the Indians today? The few remnants of the Indian period are some families of pioneers who married Indian women and the reef net method of fishing. Of course there are the professional Indians who have to make the gesture of re-enacting their cultural heritage by going out and hunting a whale, these days with a modern high powered rifle in a canoe driven by an outboard motor. Others are seeking more efficient ways of separating gamblers from their cash or selling cut price liquor and gasoline to the palefaces.

Focusing on the Indian history is relatively easy. There is a huge amount of material on that subject. It is readily available, and it has little or nothing to do with us.

What I think of as the farmer-settler or farmer-fisherman period began with the arrival of the Hudson Bay Company, the collapse of the Fraser River gold rush in 1857, and the Indian wars of that time.

What would be worth study would be to learn more about the early settlers who quickly displaced the Indians without being much influenced by them, except for the few who married Indian women. Where did those settlers come from, why did they come to the islands, and what resources did they bring with them?

Some seventy years ago Dr. Norman S. Hayner wrote a paper on ecological change, that is the human ecology, in the San Juan Islands. It is odd that with all the interest in history no one has followed up on and expanded Dr. Hayner’s work. While we are heavily focused on ecology today, the human ecology is seldom considered although that is the most interesting part. In fact ecologists these days seldom consider we human as part of the ecology except as a destructive force. (Dr.Hayner’s family still own that little house with the sign “Plum Ducky”across from the Museum.)

The farmer-fisherman period prospered moderately until about 1920 due in large part to the advantage the island had in shipping farm produce to market by cheap water transportation. A nationwide slump in the farm economy starting in 1920s was made more severe in the islands when mainland farms began to get faster and cheaper access to markets by railroad and automobile. The island economy was buoyed considerably by the expanded fishing industry but farming declined almost to subsistence farming. But 1970 farming as an economically sustainable proposition was finished. Fishing essentially came to an end by 1980 when the Boldt decision gave half of the declining stocks of salmon to the Indian tribes and Bumblebee Seafood sold the last remaining facility for fishermen to a real estate developer.

Aside from a few buildings like the Center Church, some farmhouses, and water towers, we have no historic buildings to remind us of the past and the few we do have are being radically redirected to new uses. The one thing we do have to remind us of the past, and which has some influence on us today, is the pattern of the farm landscape. It is an historical artifact and that too is being changed to new uses. What slowly and laboriously was created by manpower and animal power now can be quickly, radically, and permanently altered by heavy machinery.

Here on Lopez we have essentially no relationship whatsoever with the community and culture that existed here sixty of seventy years ago other than as an object of curiosity or nostalgia. Over the past fifty years or so the islands have been completely colonialized creating an entirely new culture based on leisure – occasional (tourists), part time (absentee owners) and full time (retired).

The publication of Lopez Island: Images of America has done a nice job of publishing pictures and notes of some of the old time island residents. But that hardly skims the surface. There is little published about how they lived and why they came here. They have collected a good bit of information on the Farmer-Fisherman period. I have written included a few snippets of earlier times in my book An Island Fantasy but there is much more to be written about.

But the next part of the job, and the part that has the most influence on us today, remains to be done. I am talking about what might be called the “Leisure Period” since it is focused primarily on retirement, recreation and tourism. The economy is totally different. There are very few people left who lived here during that time or are descendants of people who lived here during those times.

As an example, I came to Lopez Island in 1965. There were about 450 people living here full time then, although there were an unknown number of part time residents. A few years ago I did an informal head count of people who were living here then and update it from time to time. So far as I can tell while we have about 2,500 residents there are only thirty four of those people left. There may be another forty or so who are descendants of people who lived here in that earlier period or who left before that and have now returned to retire. So it appears that 2,400 people have arrived on Lopez Island and have totally overcome the then existing population. Actually, the impact is even more dramatic since there also have been an unknown number who have come and gone in that period of time. Plus, we have added an unknown number of part time residents. To look at it another way, we have almost as many people living on Lopez today as lived in the entire county sixty years ago.

Assuming that the Leisure period began somewhere around 1960 there was an overlap of maybe fifteen or twenty years with the Farmer Fisherman period. We lived here then and I want to tell you it was a neat time. But the islands have changed dramatically in the past fifty years. Here are some indicators:

In 1960 total property sales in the county amounted to $2,655,998. In 2005 when sales peak they totaled $414,733,957, 156 times the sales volume of 1960 if adjusted for inflation the 2005 sales would be only 21 times as much.

Real estate prices escalated greatly. In 1960 acreage could be had for $200 per acre. In 2010 it was around $10,000 per acres, fifty times greater. Nice waterfront that sold for $50 per foot now commands $ 3,000 or more.

There are other interesting indicators. In 1960 we had one bank with a main office and one branch. Today there are eight. In1960 we had two lawyers in the county. Today there are forty five, which may be the most striking example of how affluent we have become. Lawyers are expensive.

Who are all these people, what has caused all these changes? What came about with all these changes, and how did we respond to them and try to cope? It is the task of history to find the answers to those questions, to find out and record the forces that drove those changes and are driving the changes that are occurring today. It is our institutional memory and with the volatility of the population that is a very shallow memory.

That struck me the other day when I received a telephone call from Teresa Nash in Friday Harbor. Her father used to own the drugstore there. The Friday Harbor port was planning to honor flyers who have made a significant contribution to the community. She had nominated Dr. Heath. Dr. Malcolm Heath served the islands for thirty years and was well known as the flying doctor of the San Juan Islands. But the majority of the people involved in the selection didn’t know who Doctor Heath was. They had arrived in the islands long after Dr. Heath was gone. Teresa wanted me to help with some examples of how he had served island families.

Beloit College each year puts out a list of the state of mind of the new class arriving. The class of 2014, for example, has never used a card catalog to find a book, and, to them, there has always been a computer in the Oval Office. We are in a somewhat similar state of mind – a very short institutional memory.

Bob Myhr, a former county commissioner and county councilman, thinks that the generally prevailing state of public opinion changes about every fifteen years. I think it may be less than that, but it is an indication that our collective institutional memory is fairly short. Yet we are making public decisions based on that shallow memory.

What I am suggesting is that the historical society, here and on the other islands as well, could do a great service to our community, and to our future by engaging in a program to develop the history of the past fifty years. No community in the state is more volatile than ours. As a consequence, no community in our state has a more urgent need for recent history. We ought to have the motto:

You can’t get to where you want to go if you don’t know how you got to where you are.

Launching Our Blog

Welcome to  …
The Tideflats blog is a collection of notes, information and events gathered over the past fifty years that might be of interest or useful to island residents these days. The opening post on tanker traffic is an example. Much has been written and talked about the tanker traffic in both Rosario and Haro straits, mostly about their danger. But not much has been discussed about ways to mitigate that danger. So the post is about the ways both the US and Canadian authorities have taken steps to reduce the danger and one possible way of eliminating it altogether.

In addition to some historical events of the past there are plenty of local projects that need considerable study. One is the proposal of our county councilman who wants to vacate a portion of the Agate Beach Road which he claims in eroding, which it is not, with an alternate road costing between three and five million dollars which leads to a place in the road which is eroding, dangerously. Information is being collected and there will be several posts on that in the near future. Brisk comments on this post as well as other is encouraged. The islands have a reputation for lively discussions.

Our (the editorial we) objective is keep focused on things of island interest. Nevertheless there will be an occasional time when the fascination of the moment overcomes my stern resolve. The current presidential election campaign is one of those times. I have observed nineteen presidential elections (well, really only eighteen. I was just a year old when Hoover was elected) and have never seen anything so bizarre. That doesn’t mean some haven’t come close. Look up the election of Rutherford B. Hayes. The election was finally settled by some horse trading in the House of Representative, proving that the constitutional system worked.

Oil Tankers in Haro Strait

Good decisions  and  effective action depend on good information. Since there is little we can do directly about  Canadian tankers transiting Boundary Pass and Haro  Strait good background information might  be very helpful.

The increase  in the amount of oil being shipped through Boundary Pass and  Haro  Strait is due in very substantial part  to the decision  of President Obama to disapprove the Keystone XL pipeline. The Canadians were quite irked  that the U.S. was not going  to buy their  tar sands oil. They decided to increase the size of the Kinder-Morgan trans-mountain pipeline which runs from Alberta to Vancouver.  That pipeline has a current capacity of 300,000  barrels  per day most of which is being shipped through Haro Strait to the Far East. The planned increase  is for a capacity of 890,000  barrels  per day.  It is ironic that in appeasing one environmental group concerned that a Keystone XL pipeline leak would be polluting has created another even more  serious environmental threat.

Kinder Morgan plans  to expand their  Westbridge terminal to be able to handle three Afrimax tankers at once rather than  just one as now. Currently an average  of five tankers a month are loaded at Westbridge. The plan  is to handle thirty  four a month, about  one a day, the same number that  transit  Rosario  Strait to Anacortes  and  Cherry Point.  Afrimax tankers are up to 800 feet in length with a dead  weight tonnage of 75,000  to 115,000  tone and  carry 500,000  to 800,000  barrels.  At full capacity the pipeline would not carry enough to fill 34 such ships each month so it is doubtful that tanker traffic would increase  as much as estimated.

More than 10,000 vessels transit  the lower Strait of Georgia, Boundary Pass and  Haro  Strait each year. But that includes  tugs, fishing boats, private  yachts and  ferry boats.  There are about  3,000 large tankers, container ships and  bulk carriers that pass the same way each year.  Adding  another 400 tankers would increase  the total traffic to about  ten ships a day, a bit less than  one every hour,  coming  or going.

There should  be some assurance with the many steps the Canadians have taken  to enhance tanker safety in Vancouver  and  the approaching waterways.  Tankers over 40,000  DWT must have two pilots, two ships officer and  two crew members at all time while transiting Boundary Pass and  Haro  Strait, with two more crew members on standby. Outbound tankers must arrive at the entrance to Boundary Pass at slack low tide so that in the event of a grounding the tanker would be floated  free by the rising tide before  the inner hull of the double  hull tankers could be breached. All tankers must be accompanied by a tug capable  of moving  the tanker and  must be tethered throughout the passage.   The ships captain, the tug captain and a coast guard representative must meet  and  confer before  the voyage to insure  that everyone  is up to date on the passage.  And the ship must be cleared by the vessel control center  and  maintain contact  with the center  throughout the passage.

Double  hull tankers have replaced the single hull tankers like Exon Valdez. At the present it appears that the four 941 foot Alaska class tankers built for BP, the largest  used on the Alaska run,  represent the best compromise between  the economies of scale and  the safety of maneuverability.

There is a similar arrangement for loaded tankers going north through Rosario  Strait to Cherry Point. The narrowest passage  is between  Peapod Rocks and Buckeye Shoals. The jagged  reefs are only a mile apart. If some day coming  or going on the ferry you should  happen to see a northbound tanker towing a tugboat backward  it’s a tug all tethered and  ready to tow the tanker if there should  be an engine or steering failure.

The best possible way to get a feeling for the ship traffic in both  Haro  and  Rosario  Straits is to follow it on the web site  The identity, location, speed  and  destination of all substantial marine traffic is shown in near  real time.   Much of the smaller  vessels, fishing boats, tugs, ferry boats and  private  yachts are also shown. If there were enough people interested it might  be possible to get a group to visit the marine traffic control center  in Seattle. I believe it would be reassuring.

We have oil tanker traffic on both sides of our island archipelago: Incoming Alaska oil on the east side through Rosario Strait: Outgoing Canadian oil on the west side through Haro Strait. Could that traffic be eliminated?

Probably not entirely although it might be reduced, reducing the environmental hazard. The Canadian oil, which would flow through pipelines now in existence or to be built, would go to the refineries using the Alaskan oil and the Alaskan oil would go to Japan or other Asian customers who are buying the Canadian oil. That would involve all of the oil companies and, the shipping and pipeline companies, the refineries and a host of US and Canadian governmental entities. Who knows if it could be made to work but exploring it would be a better way of using our time and money than sitting on our heels and complaining. It might even cut back on some of the oil trains. there might even be some profit for the companies involved, a win win solution.