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If We Do Nothing

Island Life

“I’d be comfortable telling the director to not commit to anything for a couple of weeks.”- Bill Ameling, VPD Commissioners Meeting- 13 May 2014

I just spent the better part of the last two days reliving a part of the recent past in order to try and understand why it is that I always come out of  a Vashon Park District Commissioners meeting scratching my head and looking for the closest insignificant and innocuous inanimate object to pummel into oblivion with directed and most deliberately emphatic, blunt force. As I no longer have the option of walking out of these meetings as I did on my first excursion there a year and a half ago, one has to learn to vent in creative ways that do not bring injury and misfortune to unsuspecting victims. This is a good part of why I usually walk to and from the meetings- the walk home being the main way I have to let what has just transpired evaporate into the night air. Unfortunately, the heat from this exchange may prove to be  a significant contributor to global warming. The upside to this, however, on the most recent return home was that the infuriation of the evening almost entirely drifted away as I walked into the cloud of fragrance of black locust flowers that was waiting part way down my driveway. As this option is not always available, I find that stomping Wendy’s soda and energy drink cans into compacted aluminum pancakes, or giving names to weeds and grasses as I send them flying with the orange crossfire plastic string on my weed whacker is a mildly satisfactory release.

So, in going through the recordings I made of the two commissioners meetings in May, my suspicions about why these meetings are so annoying were confirmed- for the most part, the commissioners generally spend the bulk of two or more hours deciding to do nothing. One need only look at the agendae for the two meetings to see that they are virtually the same, suggesting perhaps a certain stagnation. The major item that was different between the two meetings was a discussion at the first one about a land donation that someone wanted to make to the park district as a tax write off. As it turned out it was land that is contiguous with  a fairly large tract of land that the Park District accepted from King County Parks a while back. As Mr. Ameling stated when asked about that bit of parks history, the VPD has never made any plans for it, there has never been a focus group to discuss that, and there was no demand for a park there. One could have of course asked here, why hasn’t there been? Further on in the discussion regarding this land, Mr. Ameling posed the question as to why “we would acquire a liability”. One might ask why this property might not be an asset instead, or at least having the potential to create revenue and goodwill. The Spring Beach community, where these properties reside could potentially benefit from acquiring these properties  as their access road in transverses part of the park land, and some of their watershed is contained there as well. The VPD could have taken the donated land, and allowed the donor to get a write off, and then turned around sold the land back to the community for a nominal fee, getting both good will and much needed operating capital in the bargain. The commissioners voted to turn down the land.

The next big item on the agenda was the pool, both days. At the first meeting we learned that the pool was basically ready to open, with all of its inspections passed and a potential Department of Ecology approved solution to the backwash water dilemma in the offing. The bulk of the ensuing thirty minute discussion however revolved around whether or not the commissioners would attend a meeting that had been requested by the school board, who are the pool and VPD’s landlord. Mr. Ameling stated that the park district’s insurance company had said something about not admitting culpability on the side of VPD regarding the backwash water issue, so it was decided that no one would go to that meeting. It was then stated that as a part of an ongoing attempt to reduce the necessity for excessive backwashing, which mostly occurs when cleaning the pool up when opening each spring, it had been decided that the best way to do this was to maintain the pool through the winter and keep it covered so as not to allow in leaves and prevent the algae growth that necessitates the yearly backwash cleaning. Mr. Ameling then stated that this was “probably something we should have done ten years ago.” What he didn’t say was why, since he’s had ample opportunity in those ten years he’s been around in his capacity as commissioner, he hadn’t decided that would have been a good idea back then. And as Mr. Ameling has stated in past meetings, one of the two most requested things that Island residents would like VPD to do is to cover the pool- not just a winter weather cover to keep leaves out, but a real cover that would allow year round use of the pool, alleviating the need for a spring restart ritual. This could have served to make the idea of maintaining the pool for nine months of the year just to keep it clean a bit ridiculous, as well as somewhat wasteful, and allowed a park asset to become much more so.

But the real kicker in the do nothing realm came at the latest meeting, where executive director Elaine Ott said that the Department of Ecology had approved the backwash leach field proposal for construction and that the insurance company and the school district had agreed to covering a bulk of the costs. There was some uncertainty as to whether or not this solution would work, although a seventy five percent success rate was anticipated. This would have allowed the pool to open without necessitating the trucking off-Island of the chlorinated backwash water once every week or so. It seemed to be all go. But somehow after forty more minutes of discussion the board decided 5-0 to not do anything and continue to truck the backwash water off and to revisit the discussion in the fall. As a parting bit of wisdom, Mr. Ameling said “you don’t need to solve the future if you don’t know the future.” With Mr. Ameling’s twenty six years of accumulated  past with the VPD, we can now see what kind of future this kind of thinking has brought us. It would have been a simple decision to at least try the simple solution in this case. As it is, it was stated that the cost of the more complex solution, the third possibility of three ways to go, is about equal to the cost of filling in the pool, which I believe is what Mr. Ameling meant when he talked about “walking” from continuing to run the pool if things proved too expensive to continue operations. It will be interesting to see what that particular future brings if and when we have to solve it.