Jefferson County says Brinnon ‘not forgotten’

Large crowd asks officials to do more for south county

Posted 3/28/23

They were greeted like long-lost relatives.

Relatives from afar who owed money and had old debts to pay, that is.

A standing-room only crowd packed the Brinnon Community Center for a town hall …

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Jefferson County says Brinnon ‘not forgotten’

Large crowd asks officials to do more for south county


They were greeted like long-lost relatives.

Relatives from afar who owed money and had old debts to pay, that is.

A standing-room only crowd packed the Brinnon Community Center for a town hall meeting with government officials last week, and the panel of representatives, mostly from Jefferson County, were grilled for two hours by residents who felt left behind and fiscally forgotten.

Wednesday’s town hall was moderated by Marcia Kelbon, a 2022 candidate for county commissioner, and issues ran the gamut from the need for a sewer system in the Brinnon core and its untenable cost (“crazy costly,” one person said), to support for local businesses, Brinnon’s subarea plan (a previous idea to connect to the state park’s wastewater system), and the sad shape of the community center itself.

A common theme of the night: a plea for patience.

“It’s hard to streamline bureaucracy, believe me,” County Commissioner Greg Brotherton said. “These things all take time.”

“We’re going to roll up our sleeves and do it together and I’ll be here with you,” he added.

The town hall was hosted by the Lazy C Homeowners Association, with a nine-member panel made up of representatives from the county’s environmental health, code compliance, and community development departments. The panel also included Sheriff Joe Nole, Brinnon Fire Chief Tim Manly, and Mike Obizalo of Hood Canal Communications.

“We’re not going to solve any problems tonight, I’m pretty sure of that,” Andrew Schwartz, president of the Lazy C Homeowners Association, told the audience at the start.

Asking in advance for civility with the hope of a productive evening, he said the meeting was straightforward: To open the door for communication, and to talk about the future of Brinnon, Quilcene, and south Jefferson County.

“We all love where we live. And all we care about what’s going to happen here,” Schwartz said. A hearty round of applause followed.

One person from the crowd called out: “It’s the front table that needs the applause. They are the ones that are going to suffer!”

Amid laughs, Schwartz quickly drew more: “I don’t think there needs to be any suffering tonight, all right?”

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “And this place is growing, whether we like it or not.”

Most of the 40 questions gathered in advance were made anonymously. One asked the sheriff: “Why there is almost zero police presence in Brinnon?”

Drivers on US Highway 101 speeding through Brinnon was a big concern, and others asked why a crosswalk couldn’t be added to improve safety.

Response times of deputies aren’t always lengthy, Nole said, because deputies are sometimes already in the area.

That said, there are usually three to five deputies on shift.

And though the Washington State Patrol has primary jurisdiction on highways, sheriff deputies do handle traffic control and use radar on US 101.

“I know that it is out of the way. Just like we could be in Brinnon and there’s a call in Hadlock,” Nole said.

In January, assigned deputies patrolled in a south county shift, with 23 shifts in January, 16 in February, and 25 in March.

“We try to get our people out where they need to be,” Nole said. “Brinnon is not forgotten.”

The best thing, he added, was for people to be on the watch for suspicious things and call the sheriff’s office when they see something.

One Brinnon resident asked if a lack of funding from the county commissioners was a problem in getting additional deputies, adding, “Sounds like you’re pretty thin.”

Brotherton, seated next to Nole, smiled and looked his way.

Nole said he supports deputies on patrol, but said adding an officer costs about $100,000 annually.

“It really becomes a lot of money,” he said. Nole noted the sheriff’s office had gotten funding for an overfill position.

“I guess it’s on me,” he said finally. “I feel that we have enough people right now.”

Brinnon represented 4.5 percent of criminal activity in 911 calls across the county from 2019 through 2023.


Much of the talk at last week’s town hall centered on septic and sewer issues, and the large issue of economic development in south county.

One Quilcene resident said hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and campgrounds were needed — but infrastructure is lacking.

Brotherton said “the table was set” on economic development when the Growth Management Act was passed more than 30 years ago.

“Some of it was really not optimal in Quilcene; some of it was not optimal in Brinnon, either,” he said.

It’s hard now to change.

“We’re not going to bring a big, giant business in. Because we don’t have the infrastructure for it,” Brotherton said.

The county has been taking steps, he added, noting the effort to add a commercial kitchen at the Quilcene Community Center.

“We’re doing a lot of work on tourism, as well,” he said.

Some at the meeting said the permit process was cumbersome and expensive.

“I don’t think anybody is asking for a Walmart,” Shellie Yarnell said. “What we’re asking for is a coffee stand. Is the ability for the grocery store to have bathrooms. For tourists who come by, not to have to use a Port-a-Potty.”

The permit process can feel never-ending, and that turns people off.

“They’re never going to get there. That’s the way people feel. That has to be addressed, so we feel like we can get something done,” Yarnell said.

County officials urged patience, and noted that it’s taken 20 years to get a sewer system in Port Hadlock.

Some in the audience also said consultant charges were not cheap and permit fees were too high, and should come after a permit is actually approved. Some people don’t bother to get permits, another resident said, because of the bureaucracy.

One resident asked if it was possible to have south county annexed into Mason County.

Manly said that some who live in north Mason County, however, want to get their services from Jefferson.

“They want to come this way,” the Brinnon fire chief said of Fire District 17 in Lilliwaup.

And EMS services were not closer, Manly added.

“Your ambulance comes from Shelton. Period,” he said.

People in north Mason County face a 45-minute wait for a paramedic, Manly said.

“Going that direction, just from your fire department and emergency services, is a step backward,” he said. “Big time.”


Residents called out for at least one crosswalk, near the Brinnon Store.

Kelbon read one comment: “Holiday Beach down south has three crosswalks and it’s not even a place!”

Loud laughter filled the room.

Manly said state officials think crosswalks give people a false sense of security and they become less cautious when using one.

“We’re having that debate with them right now,” he said.

One middle-aged man in the audience said that debate had been going on since he was in grade school.

Lowering the speed limit, putting in a crosswalk; the state just doesn’t want to do it.

“Instead of talking about it, I’m about ready to go paint one out there,” he said.

“I’m going to help you!” a woman shouted.

“They are putting two roundabouts on 104,” another said. 

“We can put one out here,” a man motioned outside, drawing more laughs.

A more frosty exchange came minutes later, when the rumor of the county placing a homeless camp in Brinnon came up.

Brotherton said it was a baseless rumor.

It would be illegal and unethical to place a homeless camp in Brinnon, he said.

“There is no plan to do it. There never has been,” Brotherton said.

The lack of services is a critical issue, he added.

Yarnell said there had been a consistent rumor that homeless people were being shipped in from Port Townsend, “and they don’t want them there. And they are shipping them here to get rid of them.”

“I know what you’re going to say, but that’s the rumor,” she said.

“And you’re spreading the rumor,” Brotherton responded.

“No, I’m not,” Yarnell replied.

“I’ve answered this question,” Brotherton said. “There’s no rationale to do it. And there’s no legal way to make people go to another place. They have their own independence. Even the homeless are people; they get to decide where they go. We’re not going to be involved in shipping people down to a substandard facility that has no urban infrastructure.”

“Sorry if I seem frustrated by this,” the commissioner added. “But this is a rumor that has persisted despite every time I’ve ever been approached, I’ve been very clear. The answer is no. But it’s been rephrased three times here. The answer is no.”

“You have a big crowd that’s hearing this now. So that’s a good thing,” Yarnell said.


The theme of timely action from the county came up repeatedly.

One woman recalled the bear that was spotted in Brinnon last year and the long wait that followed for authorities to handle it.

“It took them forever. And it was scaring a lot of people here in Brinnon,” she said.

The bear was a 350-pound male.

“And he was angry.”

Several residents recalled slow responses when they had complained about loose and aggressive dogs.

If a pack of dogs were chasing deer or elk along the river, one man asked, could the dogs be dispatched?

“I don’t think so,” the sheriff answered.

Laws that protect livestock, including chickens, from dogs are different, Nole added.

“There were chickens there, too,” another person in the crowd said of the deer/elk scenario.

“You’re catching on,” another person joked.

Yarnell said she, too, had called to complain about loose dogs. That was a week ago Sunday, and she had yet to get a call from the county’s animal control officer.

Nole hit another of the reoccurring themes from the night.

“That surprises me,” he said. “I’ll look into that.”