Katie Haven is challenging incumbent Andy Hover.
Please provide information about your background.
I grew up in Washington and had a successful career as chief engineer in the U.S. Merchant Marine. Having spent 15 years as an appointee to a federal advisory committee taught me how to work with diverse points of view to achieve a common goal. After coming to Okanogan County 22 years ago, I settled here permanently in 2008 on a small sheep ranch near Methow, and became active in the agricultural community. I’ve followed county government closely for several years as part of Okanogan County Watch and am someone people turn to for information on local issues.
How would you describe your political views?
I believe that government should work for all of the people. I’m running as a Democrat because the values reflected in that platform most closely align with mine — values such as community, empathy, opportunity and the common good. I believe that the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all human beings are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace. I support policies that strengthen rural communities, ensure the availability of high-quality food, and maintain the viability of land and water. And I agree that good government provides for the safety, security and justice for all citizens while respecting and caring for each individual.
Why are you seeking a seat on the Okanogan County commission and what background and skills make you the best choice?
I have followed Okanogan County government closely for several years, and I believe that we can do better. I want to help make Okanogan County a place that stands out for being smart and thoughtful about how we plan for our future and manage our resources. We could be a model for how to grow and absorb an increasing population while preserving our rural traditions and lifestyle.
I had a long career managing a complex operation that required attention to the smallest details, managing a diverse team, working within a budget and keeping abreast of constantly changing regulations. I have actively run our sheep ranch, and I have struggled with the challenges of surviving and recovering from wildfire.
I’m a good listener. I want to get out in the community and hear what folks have to say, and I will respond when constituents contact me.
What do you consider to be the top three issues facing Okanogan County? Why? What should the county do to address these issues?
The COVID-19 pandemic is the most immediate issue. We need strong leadership that will unite us in our commitment to beating this virus so that our schools, businesses and lives can get back to normal. We should be supporting our public health officials in every way possible and helping our residents access assistance.
It’s also critical to have a solid plan for managing our most precious resource, which is water. This is related to other issues such as planning for how we grow, and building resilience to our changing climate. Uncertainty about water availability deters people from investing in our communities and can create friction between neighbors. The important thing is to get all the stakeholders to the table and agree on a plan that will be viable and legally defensible.
Okanogan County has been working on its comprehensive plan for some time and is facing a lawsuit over inadequacies in the current plan. What’s the best approach to address diverse situations across the county?
We are almost two years past due on a court order to enact a legal comprehensive plan. This is critical because without this plan we can’t move forward with the other planning. We are too large a county to have a one-size-fits-all solution. More than 10 years ago the county embarked on a process to have neighborhood groups provide input on how they wanted to manage growth. After input from hundreds of people, the citizen recommendations were excluded from the final plan after a closed-door meeting with a single constituent. The updated comprehensive plan must allow local input. Residents in the Lower Methow Valley (south of Gold Creek) have expressed interest in such a process, and other parts of the county would like to do the same.
Water is an increasingly serious issue throughout the state, and particularly for arid counties like Okanogan. What are the primary water issues in Okanogan County and the Methow Valley? How would you address them?
Agricultural water rights have become so valuable that investors are approaching landowners with offers to buy them with the intent to sell at a profit in the future, usually outside the watershed. When that happens the water is no longer available for use on the local property and can never be recovered. The result is a loss of agricultural land.
One solution is to establish a system that would still allow local property owners to sell or bank their water rights, but with the provision that they must stay in our watershed. There is a local effort to create such a system, and I would actively participate to make sure that all our water needs are met.
The second major issue is the availability of water for domestic use. The county commissioners approved a plan to manage water in 2005, but the county opted not to implement it.
Our lack of data and analysis, and an inadequate comprehensive plan led to litigation that leaves the public uncertain about future water availability. We need to make a decision about how we allocate water, based on our collective vision of what we want our future to look like. I will make it a priority to bring all voices to the table to work out a solution.
Some people who want to build homes in the Methow Valley face hurdles in obtaining a legal water source. There’s a moratorium on subdividing land for residential development. How should the county address this situation?
The moratorium was implemented because the county’s failure to manage water made it vulnerable to lawsuits it was unlikely to win. Water is our most precious resource and we simply must collectively agree on a plan for development that meets legal requirements and provides a level of certainty so people know the rules and can make decisions accordingly.
Large portions of the county have been damaged by wildfire again this year. What does the county need to do to help with recovery? How about wildfire planning and prevention?
The county would do well to have a carefully thought-out rapid-response plan that can be activated to assist people right away. This summer local volunteers and our amazing Fairgrounds staff did an incredible job getting food, water and basic supplies to families and livestock immediately after the fire. It could have been less stressful if there had been a plan.
We have a Community Wildfire Protection Plan that has to be updated at regular intervals, but it has not been reviewed since 2013. This plan is a prerequisite for obtaining funding for projects that could help save lives and property. We need to be proactive about getting funding. We should be promoting Firewise policies for communities, and working with our state and federal governments to manage our public lands in a way that increases our resilience.
Is Okanogan County Public Health adequately equipped to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic? What measures does the county need to take to deal with the pandemic? What is the role of the commissioners in pandemic response?
Public Health had major cuts to its budget several years ago, and those funds have not been fully restored. Ensuring adequate funding for Public Health, doing public outreach to send a strong message that we are all in this together and asking everyone to follow the guidelines of medical professionals would go a long way toward saving lives. The county should be a resource for people who need financial help. County commissioners are role models and should set a good example by following public health guidelines at their meetings and any time they are in public.
What is the state of the economy in Okanogan County? What measures should the county take to address economic issues and promote recovery and future resiliency?
Our economy has not enjoyed the growth that has occurred in other parts of our state. We have opportunities to partner with state agencies to invest in local projects that will improve our resiliency to wildfires and provide good-paying local jobs. There also are new technologies that will allow us to manage our forests and use some of the resulting products to benefit farmers and reduce our carbon footprint.