Last week I traveled to Olympia to connect with our 12th District legislators and other state officials working on issues important to the Town of Twisp and our Methow Valley community. We’re fortunate to have dedicated elected officials serving us in Olympia at this dynamic time for our state.
The most urgent issue on my list for this visit is a request for funding to enable the construction of a new Civic Building and Emergency Operations Center to be located in downtown Twisp. Everyone who knows the Methow Valley — and in particular those of us who reside in and/or have visited our area since 2014 — understands that emergency operations are not theoretical concepts here. With NOAA forecasting a warmer and drier than normal summer ahead, and the U.S. Forest Service identifying our community as one of the regions of highest risk, the prospect of wildfire events is never far from my mind. Having a facility in place to serve as a hub for public safety operations on this side of the Loup, during any type of emergency event where multiple agencies are engaged, has become a critical necessity.
Thanks to broad community support over the years, including countless Methow Valley organizations and agencies, Okanogan County officials, Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Management, past and present state legislators, and various state and federal agencies, we’ve had great success competing for grant funding to make this important project in our community a reality.
In fact, we thought we had the finish line in sight, in the form of a federal grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) which we understood would be allocated for our benefit. However, during an inquiry I made this summer about the funding situation for the facility (as the Crescent Mountain and McLeod fires threatened our community), I unfortunately learned that there was an issue with the USDA grant and no funds were available. Despite efforts made by state Rep. Mike Steele and Congressman Dan Newhouse to assist us in searching for an answer of what went wrong, eventually, we had no choice but to accept this new reality.
While the loss of this anticipated funding is hard to accept, what is more distressing is the fact that state funding awarded by a competitive CDBG grant and a capital appropriation from 2017 totaling $1.5 million, which the town worked so hard to procure, was now at risk to expire if the final $1.25-million funding gap, previously anticipated from federal funds, did not materialize.
My visit to Olympia was to ask that the capital budget include an allocation of $1.25 million to fill the gap, and push this long-overdue project across the finish line. This final appropriation would leverage previous state commitments together with the town’s portion of over $600,000. Needless to say, to now lose the $1.5 million in funding would be a disaster in itself.
As mayor, I am proud of the fact that our small town has managed to contribute over $600,000 of our own funds toward this project. I am acutely aware that our ability to contribute more is constrained by the capacity of our residents to do more. It is for this reason that the town has diligently sought other funding in grants — especially, when other necessary public safety investments are being made post-fires to improve the systems providing for critical water and sanitary sewer. We know that these systems must serve the needs of our neighborhoods, as they will need to be relied upon to also serve the greater community during the next wildfire event. We’ll do all we can, but we know we can’t do it alone.
With the final weeks of work in the state Legislature coming into view, we will soon know whether those tasked with making difficult capital budget decisions in Olympia are willing to answer our request for assistance. We thank state Rep. Keith Goehner, who has agreed to sponsor our project, and to Rep. Steele, supporting us in the Appropriations and Capital Budget Committees. For the time being, I remain hopeful.
As your local government representative, I have taken on the duty to do all I can to ensure we have the basic resources needed for the safety and well-being of this great community. I am grateful for all the dedicated people who have worked alongside us and our emergency responders during challenging times and hope to soon have a facility capable of supporting your efforts in times of need. I believe that with everyone at all levels of government working together, we will see this critical project to its completion for the benefit of all!