Questions not answered… commissioners urge concerned citizens to set up private meetings with a commissioner and the fire chief
The three minute rule came into play during the Chelan County Fire District # 7’s Public Comment period at its Wednesday, December 9, commission meeting and it wasn’t pretty. Five Lake Chelan Valley residents signed up to speak.
Mayor Bob Goedde was also present, but signed the wrong paper to speak and was denied the opportunity by Commission Chairman Rick Nedrow despite the fact that the commission and department knew that Mayor Goedde would be there to address their concerns over the meeting the mayor held for public comment on fire related issues back on October 28, 2015.
Goedde stated he would be back for the next meeting. Brian Thompson, a volunteer at Station 75, congratulated Nedrow on his six years of service to the fire commission.
Mike Stowe, a retired firefighter from Chelan 7, got up to speak about the South Shore Lake Chelan Community Wildfire Protection Plan that was prepared in 2006. In that report, it was recommended that the District obtain portable pumping stations for use during fire.
Stowe was not allowed to complete his statement or ask his questions. At the three minute mark, Nedrow said, “Your time’s up!” At which point Stowe said he would be back next month to finish up.
Tom Clark said, “There was an opportunity to put the fire out on the Butte. Why didn’t that happen?” He too was cut off at the three minute mark, but Nedrow said in response, “You are asking a board that has no authorization to direct emergency responses in fire fighting actions. Our job is to run the finances of this fire district.” He then told Clark that the Fire Chief was the only one who could answer that question and suggested that he read the Chelan Complex Summary (available for viewing on Chelan7.com or click here for the reports) and come back at a later date and have the issue put on the agenda as an agenda topic, or make an appointment to talk to Fire Chief Tim Lemon.
Commissioner Bob Gervais responded to Clark’s comment also. He told him he should write to both Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray with his concerns about policy. “She also wonders why there is a delay in the communication and implementation. Those are the people you should direct that kind of inquiry to. We can’t do much for you,” said Gervais.
Clark tried to respond, but Nedrow cut him off. “Mr. Clark, I have other people who want to speak.”
Robert Watson Jr. was next up. Watson has had an ongoing discussion via email with the District and has not been happy with the answers he has received and/or the lack of communication regarding his questions.
“Yea… you’ve suggested Mr. Clark write a letter… I’ve written letters and have not gotten a response from you,” said Watson.
“I’ve had no letter from you,” said Nedrow
“Beg your pardon… your email wasn’t working. I stated that to the other commissioners. Mr. Peters stated he would no longer respond to my emails,” said Watson.
“That’s what I said,” said Peters.
“So, you just suggested Mr. Clark write a letter. I’ve done the same thing, and I’m not getting a response, and I expect a response to my questions and my concerns,” said Watson.
Commissioner Tom Peters spoke up at this point and said, “If I may… I thought I was very clear.”
At which point Watson said, “You were very clear that you would not respond to my emails.”
“Are you going to let me speak,” retorted Peters.
“As long as it doesn’t dive into my three minutes,” Watson said. Peters said it wouldn’t. “Well three minutes is pretty short…” Peters tried to interject, but Watson continued and said, “I didn’t come here and expect answers to my questions in three minutes… this is a railroad job.”
Peters finished by telling Watson that Commissioner Nedrow would attend the meeting in case Watson had questions concerning the commission actions. “Therefore in your meeting with Mr. Lemon and Mr. Nedrow, you could address all of your questions and get answers to all of your questions.”
The argument continued with Watson saying that his next letter addressed point blank questions that Peters said he would not respond to. So Watson asked again if he could expect answers to his questions and concerns.
Nedrow replied, “Not tonight sir.”
Next up was Bruce Powers, a resident in First Creek. “I didn’t come to talk tonight. I prepared a short list of questions that you can answer at your convenience,” said Powers. “May I approach?” He then gave the commissioners his list of questions.
Nedrow addressed Powers and said, “Would you like this in writing or have a sit down with the Chief and a board member… whatever you choose.” He then suggested calling and scheduling a meeting.
Powers asked if he could ask one question. “What impact do you expect in Chelan in the next two years regarding home insurance rates, property values, fire taxation rates or levy solicitations and gross tourist revenues?”
Nedrow replied that Powers would have to ask the Chamber (of Commerce) or City for tourism information and that any answer would be nothing more than a guess on his part. “I’ve been a board member for six years and have 30 plus years in fire,” said Nedrow. “I never know what’s going to happen.”
With respect to Powers’ other questions, Nedrow suggested that he read the fire summaries and meet with the Fire Chief. “I’m sure you will have satisfactory answers sir.”
Powers then asked if they considered those impacts in their daily work of all four of his questions. Nedrow replied that he wouldn’t consider those daily because the commissioners are not full time employees of the District.
Nedrow did add that property values in the District are important to the District because it lives on property tax. “That’s how we exist. If property values go down… then our taxation goes down along with everybody else’s.”
Nedrow stated that the District is constantly striving to make home insurance rates better. Powers asked if Nedrow would take a guess either up or down on the rates. Nedrow said, “If we continue on the path we’ve been working toward, I would hope the insurance rates would go down, They might not go down for everybody. The rating bureau is a funny animal, and they are the ones who set the insurance rates.”
Nedrow then explained that the District got their two tenders back and got their tender credit back and that is a big issue, particularly in places that don’t have water. The tenders can provide water. “We are constantly looking at items to buy or methods to get those rates down,” said Nedrow. He urged Powers to set up a meeting to discuss Powers’ concerns on operational issues.
Commissioners Gervais and Peters both said they would be happy to sit down with Powers and the Chief to address his concerns, because Nedrow is being replaced by Russ Jones.
With the public comment period over, the commissioners approved the Consent Agenda. Nedrow moved to the Chief’s report, but Chief Lemon suggested a brief 15 minute recess for cake and coffee to recognize Nedrow’s service to the District as a commissioner.
For those interested in Stowe and Watson’s concerns, they shared the following issues after the meeting via email.
Mike Stowe, a retired and experienced wildland fire fighter, was listing the need for the District to obtain portable pumping stations for the South Shore. These pumps would allow the flexibility to be located where needed and were recommended as a purchase in the South Shore Lake Chelan Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
That purchase has never happened, and many wonder if homes might have been saved if portable pumps were available. Commissioner-elect Russ Jones said in passing that portable pumps have been put in the 2016 budget.
Robert Watson, Jr., owner/operator of Watson’s Resort, has been asking a series of questions from the District concerning the First Creek Fire and lack of structural protection that resulted in the loss of a number of lake front homes north of his property.
Currently, Watson is asking the District where the South Shore stands next summer. He wrote: ‘We need to know what to expect from Dist. 7, which we pay a pretty fair chunk in taxes to. We need to know what we are getting for our tax dollar. We were left totally abandoned by Dist. 7 last summer and that is a concern. It is not unreasonable for you to address such concerns. We need to know if this could and will happen again.’
GoLakeChelan.com will follow the District’s response to all of the questions being raised by the public.
Both the First Creek Fire and Chelan Complex Fire summaries and timelines are posted to the Chelan7.com website. They make for some interesting reading, particularly for those who are not familiar with the difficulty fire fighters faced this past summer.
(by Richard Uhlhorn)