County receives pushback following proposal to use port land for homeless campgrounds

Posted 7/28/21

Nick Twietmeyer ntwietmeyer@ptleader.com

 

Jefferson County officials recently set aside a proposal to turn a swath of property owned by the Port of Port Townsend into temporary homeless …

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County receives pushback following proposal to use port land for homeless campgrounds

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Jefferson County officials recently set aside a proposal to turn a swath of property owned by the Port of Port Townsend into temporary homeless housing, but not before local stakeholders shared some strong opposition to the plan.

The two parcels identified by the county were located just to the south of the Jefferson County International Airport, prompting public commenters to share their concern both for potential property crime as well as safety for any of the residents.

“[The] Airport is not fenced and there is no way to separate proposed homeless (dogs, kids and adults) from the runway,” wrote Steven Lewis in response. “Port Authority would be liable for any resulting loss of life, injury and property damage. The airport is used day and night. Any disruption to landing aircraft is likely to be a major disaster.”

Port Townsend Aero Museum Director Michael Payne raised a number of issues associated with the homeless encampment, including potential theft and the proximity to nonprofit youth programs.

“Since the Jefferson County International Airport is not secured by fences or gates, it could become a prime location for theft of personal property,” Payne wrote. “Aircraft and aircraft storage hangars are not very secure, and as such they would become a target for criminals looking to support a drug habit while living at the neighboring encampment.”

The director added adequate enforcement of such a site by county staff would be required.

“The list of requirements and rules for any new camp to be created is long, with most of them requiring active management to ensure that these rules and regulations are being met and enforced daily,” Payne wrote. “As a matter of public record, a comprehensive management plan by the managing agency, be it county or port, needs to be in place that spells out in detail how each line item of the RCW requirements is not only going to be met, but be enforced in the event of a violation. I do not think permission for this proposed airport property homeless encampment, or any for that matter, should be allowed until this comprehensive management plan has been reviewed by all those who would be impacted by the encampment and is part of the public record.”

Gary Lanthrum, president of the Jefferson County Pilots Association raised the issue of providing the homeless camp with adequate facilities.

“There are no sanitary facilities at either of the tax parcels referenced in the proposal letter from the county to the port,” Lanthrum said. “The Jefferson County Fairgrounds actually has bathroom and shower facilities, making that property seem better suited to hosting an encampment of any kind.” 

During the meeting, port commissioners agreed to give the nod to the county to begin moving forward on a due diligence process to evaluate the sites for potential use. Jefferson County’s Interim Administrator Mark McCauley said in a message to The Leader last Friday that the county has since placed the proposal on the “back burner”

“Right now we’re doing due diligence on a property on Mill Road,” he said. “There are five parcels there for sale, 30 acres total for $600,000.”

McCauley added that the county has entered into a purchase and sale agreement for the site, contingent upon an appraisal.

“We’re also looking at the Jefferson Community School in downtown Port Townsend that would house a different population,” he added.      

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