Saturday, November 30, 2013

FONSI Disconnect

Back in October, we mentioned that the National Monument had hard-armored part of a primo pocket-beach on Lopez ... Watmough Bay, and not even the insiders who had sat in Secretary Salazar's office to hatch the National Monument scheme knew about it ahead of time. No structures were at risk at Watmough Bay. Moreover, the shoreline consultant used by the Friends to oppose nearly every shoreline activity proposed by private homeowners in San Juan County -- Coastal Geologic Services -- performed some of the work and design. Before proceeding with the construction, the Bureau of Land Management conducted an Environmental Assessment of the shoreline stabilization and reached a "Finding of No Significant Impact" or FONSI. They also conducted an EA for trail-related site work that resulted in another FONSI.

This shoreline stabilization work is exactly the kind of project that would have been opposed by the Friends (and Coastal Geologic Services) if a private homeowner had tried to do it. There would have been howls about impacts. We have reached a state of affairs in our county where it is easier to do shoreline projects inside the National Monument than outside. On top of that, via the SMP, the county then imposes buffers on all National Monument shorelines whether they are armored or not.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Security State

I'd like to thank everyone who contributed their smart and heartfelt comments to the last post. Since security and harassment issues are on everyone's minds, we should talk briefly about two forums offered by the Common Sense Alliance (CSA) earlier this month. The purpose of the forums was to explain the status of the CAO debacle from CSA's perspective. One of the presentations concerned "What the Friends Really Want," given by Tim Blanchard. Based on everything Blanchard has observed in recent years, he put together a summary slide that bluntly summarizes his interpretation of the Friends' goals. It's not the kind of thing you will find in the Friends mission statement or website, but you will see it in action if you pay attention to the way they operate.

There is more to come on the CAOs and SMP, so pay attention to those who have made harassment one of their core competencies.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What's Good For The Goose Is Not Good For Gordy?

The Trojan Heron didn't say much about the National Monument designation, but we were highly skeptical of it, especially when one takes a look at situations such as the behavior of the federal government towards the Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Generally, we also are against the growing federalization of the islands; however, we do not agree with the "Alliance" that has formed against Gordy Petersen because of his decision to rent to U.S. Customs. Many opponents of the agreement are planning to attend the meeting in the Mullis Center tomorrow from 11am to 1pm.

Recently, there have been a lot of comments about Petersen's decision, but we think one bears repeating in this post.
I have to say that most of the fuss about Gordy doing business with the Feds is just nuts, in my opinion.
Remember, there were 150 businesses that wrote to the President asking him to declare the San Juan Islands a National Monument. Now, some of those very same businesses are opposing the presence of the federal government in downtown Friday Harbor. As reported by the Island Guardian, the San Juans are already the #1 port in the nation for small boat traffic. What did you expect? Did you really think you could support the NM and then NOT have other federal agencies here too? Did you really think you could attract business for your B&B, put ads in magazines, promote it, and NOT have increased presence of Customs and Border?
Also, most of you whine and bitch and moan about being able to do what you want with your own private property. Not "liking" something has become the raison d'ĂȘtre for nearly every puking busy-body land-use law in this county, if not the whole country. So of course, what do you do? You start a movement to prevent a businessman from doing what he wants with his own private property. Not "liking" something isn't a good reason to stop anyone from doing anything. It's not your fault if I hate who you rent to, or hate the color of your house, or hate your garden, or hate you. It's not Gordy's fault if you don't like who he does business with. Are you going to make Gordy get approval from some self-appointed group of community-sponsors before he rents to anyone ever again? Feds are off the list apparently. Who else is off the list? Mexicans? Blacks? Republicans?
Not "liking" something isn't the same as trying to stop it, and it isn't the same as trying to make it illegal. If you don't like it, deal with it. If you try to stop it, then be prepared to have the same thing happen to you next time you offend "the community's" sensibilities.
Lastly, I'm as against the growing federalization of the islands as much as the next guy, but blaming Gordy for that is ludicrous. This county has been awash in grant money from the feds (and state) for two decades. This county and 150 business recently begged the feds for a growing federal presence, and then celebrated when it happened. You love the feds except when you hate the feds. You love the feds when you think it lines your pockets, but you hate them when it lines the pockets of someone like Gordy.
I hope everyone who lines up against Gordy will open up their own lives to the collective decisions of "the community" because I can't wait to pick apart how you conduct yourselves and your business.

Monday, November 18, 2013

In The Dark - Epilogue

The crisis is over, and by now, it's all been written ... it's all been said. There are many articles and commentary in the local news about how poorly this situation was handled. There is no doubt that many people worked very hard to rectify this situation as quickly as possible, BUT ... there is no escaping the fact that we have a vulnerable custom-built communications link with no way to reliably get word out when it goes haywire.

Some are calling for greater planning and coordination for next time, and that's hard to argue with. However, I am not sure greater planning, at least by government, is the answer. I am not sure greater reliance on government during a crisis is the answer either. Our government just isn't that reliable, and I doubt it ever will be. After all, our local government has trouble managing its own day-to-day affairs, so we shouldn't have unrealistic expectations about its capabilities when we actually need help.

We got what we can expect. To prepare for next time, we should encourage the things that worked for us in this situation ... personal initiative by local businesses and individuals. We should allow more flexibility in communications choices (i.e., competition) so we are not beholden to one provider. Most importantly, however, any further emergency planning should recognize that during our next crisis, government is likely to fail us too.

Monday, November 11, 2013

In The Dark - Day 8 (Almost)

This morning, the County issued a press release saying that no cable fault had been found yet, but various percentages of service were continuing to be restored.

About two hours ago, the Facebook page of the announced that CenturyLink had found the location of the severed cable, suspended along a rock face south of where it was originally placed. The article speculated that the cable might have moved because of an earthquake that occurred a few minutes before the service disruption.

Upon reading this, the Trojan Heron once again checked the USGS website for all recent earthquakes in Washington. You can check for yourself at this link. The only earthquake in the vicinity was a 2.3 magnitude earthquake occurring at 9:40 PM on Monday, November 4th ... which was several hours before the disruption. The earthquake story still doesn't make sense to us.

The Facebook article also has a lot of self-congratulatory language by CenturyLink about CenturyLink.
"Typically a response effort of this magnitude takes over a month to develop; the fact that we were able to mobilize within the first 36 hours is amazing. Restoring service is a top priority for CenturyLink, and we have pulled resources in from across the country to get these facilities up and running," said Tim Grigar, vice president and general manager of CenturyLink’s western Washington market.
If we take them at their word, CenturyLink began mobilizing a massive effort almost immediately because they knew this was a catastrophic event with a long response timeframe ... and yet, we heard practically nothing. We heard bupkis for days.

Also, there is a letter printed by the that expresses the sentiments of some TH commenters, so we think it bears an airing here as well.
I just read a quote from Brendan Cowan, Director of the County Department of Emergency Management, in the Seattle Times. He states about the communications outage: "It's not like Armageddon. We're just disconnected - which for some people could be a great thing." 
Great sense of humor for someone whose paycheck isn't affected by the outage. 
But what about those people whose paycheck is affected. Like the employees of Wells Fargo Bank which closed. Or the people who couldn't get prescriptions filled. Or those who live here, telecommute and couldn't work. Or those of us who work off island and couldn't check on our families. 
Maybe we need someone in that job who understands the seriousness of what happened and is working hard to make sure it is fixed quickly and never happens again. And doesn't have an ambition to be a comedian. 
Alan M. Davis San Juan Island
Councilman Hughes made similar statements last Friday to KING 5DEM issued an apology of sorts on their Facebook page today.

In The Dark - Day 7

Even if telecommunications are not flowing freely quite yet, information about our telecommunications situation is improving. A State of Emergency still exists. The situation is much improved but still far from normal.

The County issued a press release yesterday, which can be found online in several places. It says that landline service has been restored to normal. Let us know if that's true. Also, there are several reports about a barge being used to locate the failure point in the cable. There is no word that CenturyLink has precisely located the failure yet, so there is no official news on a possible cause either (or the exact fix needed). The fix is believed to require the laying of between 6,000 and 14,000 feet (worst case) of new cable. Final repairs are still several days away, which I suppose is obvious since we are a week into the disruption and they haven't even identified the failure location yet.

DEM has some Facebook posts about coverage by the Seattle Times and about cell phone service. Also, as color background to recent events, the Facebook page of the Lopez Island History Museum has an interesting post and photo of the early days of telephone service in the islands.

Early days of telephone service (switchboard on left) on Lopez, courtesy of Lopez History Museum, click to go to the Museum's Facebook page.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

In The Dark - Day 5

Things are far from normal, but here we are at the end of Day 5, and partial service has been restored ... thanks largely to OPALCO.  OPALCO issued a press release, which says in part:
OPALCO’s data communications system is now carrying the phone and data traffic for San Juan Island, and providing 911 and phone solutions for the rest of San Juan County until CenturyLink can repair or replace their failed submarine cable.
The has re-posted articles from a decade ago regarding OPALCO's decision to install fiber optic cable in excess of their immediate needs. Interesting reading.

The Island Guardian is reporting that a barge with divers was scheduled to begin replacing the damaged CenturyLink cable today. No word on when that might be completed.

There has been no further press release from CenturyLink that we know of. The County DEM is announcing on Facebook:
Orcas Islanders - Sprint is sending their Emergency Response "COLT" to the Orcas Library Sunday morning. This is a communications vehicle which provides wifi coverage and they'll have 100 phones for people to make calls. It should be there about 10 AM. 
Just off the phone with Verizon, their towers in Friday Harbor and Roche are now operational. Voice, data, and 911 are all working for Verizon wireless.
AT&T has three mobile sites up in town on three main islands, and some of their regular network may be coming online during day today.
We still don't know what caused the failure, but there have been a couple of interesting (if implausible) rumors. One rumor says that an earthquake, centered on San Juan Island, struck at the same time as the cable failure. We have checked with the USGS, and about 6 hours before the cable failure there was a very small magnitude 2.3 earthquake with a focus 12 km deep and an epicenter 8 km northwest of Friday Harbor (see USGS screen shot below). It seems very unlikely that this would have contributed to the failure.

Another rumor says that the optical cable was already near the end of its projected operational life, and it just wore out, aggravated perhaps by a seafloor ridge acting like a knife to gradually cut through the cable as it swayed back and forth in the bottom currents. We are not experts in optical communications, but this also seems implausible.

But something happened ... we just don't yet know what.

Commenters have been providing some great information and viewpoints. Thanks to all of you for sharing what you know, and keep the comments (and even the rumors) coming.

Click to enlarge - Earthquake on November 4, 2013

Friday, November 8, 2013

In The Dark - Day 4.75

Maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel. DEM is reporting the following:
CenturyLink is reporting a restoration of limited land line long distance service as of 7:45pm on 11/8. This restoration is result of a temporary fix, and bandwidth is limited. Many calls may still have a hard time going through. Be patient, and try again if you are unable to connect.
Now would probably be a good time to hold off on any non-essential calls until initial rush passes.
We would fully expect there to be occasional set backs and technical complications in days to come. Hopefully overall trend is towards improved capability.
Thanks to everyone who has worked so hard on repair efforts, and most of all: thanks to all for community's patience and cooperative spirit. As always, a pleasure to witness, despite the struggles.
We've tried it, and it works (for now). We'd appreciate hearing if it is working elsewhere.  Can you call the mainland? Do you have internet?

In The Dark - Day 4.5

The County finally declared a State of Emergency and put out a press release.
Meeting in special session today, the San Juan County Council unanimously voted to declare “A State of Emergency within San Juan County, Washington.”
The declaration came on the fourth day since the failure of an underwater communications cable disrupted cell and landline telephone connections with the mainland. It is hoped that the declaration will enable public agencies to recover extraordinary costs incurred due to the outage and qualify local businesses for assistance.
The outage initially knocked out telephone communications between islands and to the mainland, including 911 emergency response lines and, though 911 service was restored Thursday, communications with the mainland remains limited.
The outage has interrupted other vital services that depend on Internet, cell or telephone service, including the Lifeline service used primarily by seniors and disabled persons.
The Sheriff and other emergency responders have also expressed concern that even citizens who have cell phone service, cannot reach local phone numbers, including emergency agencies, because all cell phone calls are currently processed on the mainland. Arrangements are now being made for emergency dispatch calls to be routed through Island County, but in the meantime cell phone users are being urged to try to use a landline phone to report emergencies.
“People have been coping with the inconveniences, but it is affecting essential services,” said Council Member Rick Hughes, who chaired the emergency meeting.
Some banks have had to close or restrict transactions because their data lines cannot connect to the mainland. Local lodging places, in areas that have no internet services as well as phone outages, have no way to accept reservations. Medical personnel on the mainland can’t call or fax prescriptions to local pharmacies and there is a concern that residents with families on the mainland can’t check on their well-being.
Fire departments and volunteers have gone door to door in many sections of the County to check on older or disabled neighbors.
“The community has really pulled together and found ways to deal with this”, Hughes said. “But as time goes on, the cost of coping has increased for our business community as well as the government, and our concerns about our ability to ensure the well-being of our residents are growing.”
The Council noted that CenturyLink, the company responsible for the services which have been interrupted, is putting its full resources and personnel to work to restore the services, however there is currently no firm estimate of when full services will be restored.
The latest statement from CenturyLink indicates that limited service to the mainland may be available within the next 48 hours. Full restoration of service will likely take several more days.
And as reported on the, a barge with divers and robotics is investigating the cable and will release information about 5:30 pm today.

In the Dark - Day 4

We will put up a daily post about the status of the optical line break, even if there is nothing to say, in an effort to keep readers informed. Information on the outage is spread over several websites and Facebook, but there is no central clearinghouse for information. We'll do our best to summarize and give links to the latest information.  If you do have connectivity, even for only a few minutes, you can check here for the latest without having to search hither and yon.

If you have anything to add, please do. Here is the latest --
  • DEM (the County Department of Emergency Management) is reporting on their Facebook page that 911 service is restored on all islands. DEM also reports that Verizon is working on a temporary link to get their Friday Harbor tower working. They also add that Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint are all mobilizing to improve connectivity.
  • OPALCO also is reporting that 911 service is restored.
  • No new information on repairs. No information from CenturyLink. No other information from the County.
SAN JUAN ISLAND, Wash. -- Frustration was spreading on the San Juan Islands, where residents entered their third day of a major phone and data disruption. 
A main fiber optic line broke Tuesday morning and the problems go far beyond losing 911 services. 
Laura Flaum, owner of Spring Street Deli in Friday Harbor says the outage has severely impacted her business. She can't run any credit cards, so customers have to pay with cash. 
She went from making 50 to 60 sandwiches a day, to making three.
It's devastating to businesses when you can't do credit transactions," Flaum said.
CenturyLink still doesn't know how an underwater fiber optic line was broken or how long it will take to fix it. Technicians are still trying to find a solution.
Internet and data transmissions are spotty at best. Some banks are closed. ATMs are down.
Sheriff Rob Nou says when 911 service went down, emergency personnel had to scramble to alert the public. 
"Reaching out to the community, getting fliers out, getting sandwich boards out, knocking on doors," said Nou.
Century Link had to redirect 911 calls to other working numbers on most of the islands.  On Thursday, San Juan County Department of Emergency Management tweeted CenturyLink reported 911 and island-to-island calling was working on Orcas Island as of 4 p.m. Thursday, and 911 was working on San Juan, Orcas, Shaw and Lopez islands. 
At the Friday Harbor Pharmacy, they finally got their internet back on Thursday. But staff can only call and receive calls from doctors and clinics on the island. 
"We were unable to receive any transfers, or prescriptions from the mainland," said pharmacy technician Cheyenne Mauldin.
Residents say the situation has moved beyond frustrating. 
"I can only call on the island by phone," said Ann Jarrell. "My cell phone is non-functioning. I have no internet, no email."
"I can't tell the weather," said resident Barbara Wollman. "I can't make an airline reservation. There's so much I can't do."
The bookkeeper at a gas station says she had to install a satellite dish just to order fuel. Island residents are thick-skinned, but island fever is spreading quickly.
Although tourists can't call to confirm hotel reservations, county council member Rick Hughes hotels want you to come anyway.
"If you want a rustic getaway, when you can feel sealed off from the mainland, this is the weekend to do it."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In The Dark

The entire County is suffering from the effects of a break in the optical cable running from Lopez Island to San Juan Island. San Juan Island is hardest hit, with widespread phone and internet outages. At least Orcas and Lopez have internet. Sources say that the cable fault lies 5,000 feet off of Fisherman Bay between Lopez and San Juan Island. Sources also say that repairs may take 3 weeks or more. CenturyLink is not committing to a timetable for repair. It may require the laying of a whole new cable rather than a simple repair of a damaged section of cable. Apparently, the break did not occur because of a dragged anchor or something similar. The cause is believed to be the result of wear and tear from currents ... tidal and otherwise.

Kudos to the San Juan County Library, the Bean, Rock Island, and others who are sharing their Wi-Fi capability ... kudos also to Ham radio operators, Fire & EMS ... and to islanders generally, who are helping one another with neighborliness and grace.

Thumbs down, however, to the County Office of Emergency Management, to CenturyLink, and to our elected officials who have provided precious little information ... and even less leadership. Why isn't CenturyLink on TV saying that they will be working 24-hours a day until this issue is resolved? Why aren't our elected leaders or the County Office of Emergency Management on radio and TV saying that they will do everything possible to get San Juan County open for business again? When a bridge collapsed in Skagit County, the Governor declared a state of emergency and it was a major topic of discussion at our Council.  But vital communications for business (and life) go down for an indefinite period of time ... and we hear practically nothing?

And there are a lot of unanswered questions, like why is Orcas affected if the break is between San Juan Island and Lopez Island. For that matter, why is Lopez affected at all?

We're in the dark in more ways than one.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Election Overview

While there are some controversial races around the county this election season, there is nothing like what we've been through over the last year. The Trojan Heron had hoped to do some election postings, but unfortunately, time and events have overtaken us. Nevertheless, we'll give a brief rundown of the main election choices, with greater detail for those topics we know more about ... but we hope commenters will pitch in with their views to fill in the many gaps. Since we are locally focused blog, we'll focus on the local issues (i.e. not the two State measures, 517 and 522).

Let us know what you think ...
  • Overview - Of the 36 elected positions to be filled, 24 (67%) are uncontested. We think having that many uncontested elections is an indicator of an unhealthy democracy. Is it really an election if there is no choice? Some of the uncontested elections involve very influential positions too, such as the "race" for the mayor of Friday Harbor. Also, it seems like politics is a family affair in San Juan County. Two spouses of current or former Council members are running ... Carrie Lacher for Friday Harbor Mayor and Lauren Stephens for Fisherman Bay Sewer District ... and Lacher's husband, former Councilman Howie Rosenfeld, is running for San Juan County Hospital District #1. In addition to the individual races, there is a ballot measure for Lopez to fund the Solid Waste District for the coming year. Also, there is a county-wide measure to amend the Charter. A "yes" vote on the Charter amendment would allow voters to petition for a change in our county's residency districts, rather than have that power rest solely with the Charter Review Commission. A "no" vote would leave things as is.
  • San Juan Island - Of the 17 races, only 4 are contested ... one for the Port, one for the Hospital District, one for Parks and Recreation, and the Friday Harbor Council race between Farhad Ghatan and Matt Shildneck. Of the 4, the race for Hospital District has probably attracted the most attention.  That race pits former Councilman Howie Rosenfeld versus newcomer Mark Schwinge. By this stage of his political career, Rosenfeld is a well-known commodity, and without having analyzed any of the specific issues in this race, the Trojan Heron thinks it is a welcome sign that new blood, like Schwinge, is willing to run. However, we would love to hear readers' comments about this race.
  • Orcas Island - Of the 11 races on Orcas, only 1 is contested. Unfortunately, this is an unwelcome Orcas pattern. Need I remind readers that Orcas also had the only uncontested Council race in recent memory when Patty Miller ran unopposed for Council a few years ago. Orcas voters are generally well informed and active, but when it comes to running for office ... many well-qualified Orcasites prefer to sit on the sidelines.
  • Lopez Island - As delightful as it is to make fun of Lopez, of the 8 Lopez races, 6 are contested. If only the rest of our county could have as many well-qualified candidates running as Lopez does, our democracy would be in much better shape.

    Most of the contested Lopez races are for the School Board. The slate of School Board incumbents supported a lavish multimillion-dollar school bond measure that got crushed at the polls during the last election (how many times does that happen?). They are being challenged by newcomers emphasizing fiscal responsibility and performance rather than profligate spending. The incumbents include a Friends director (Dixie Budke) and others with ties to the Lopez Community Land Trust (Clive Prout and John Helding). The challengers mostly have strong financial and business experience ... and one of the challengers, Teddy McCullough, has a unique perspective as a recent Lopez High graduate. Teddy is currently in college in Washington DC and, if elected, intends to juggle his college and School Board responsibilities by attending School Board meetings telephonically.

    There is much passion on Lopez about the future direction of the school, and speaking of passion, that brings us to the Lopez Port District race. Incumbent Dan Post is being challenged by former incumbent Bob Porter. There has been a lot of smoke blown about this race, unfairly aimed at Dan Post. Post is an effective voice for transparency at the Port, and Post has been the subject of special-interest scorn over the years because he believes the Port should serve the broader Lopez community rather than simply serve pilots. The other two Port Commissioners, Bruce Dunlop and (County Planning Commissioner) Steven Adams, simply want Post eliminated, and Bob Porter is their candidate. That's a problem because watching Dunlop and Adams manage the Lopez Port is akin to watching Lucy and Ethel wrap candy ... they're in over their heads and unable to keep up ... but some of Dunlop/Adams' antics have even warranted more serious scrutiny. Earlier this year, according to sources, the FAA Inspector General and the FBI opened an investigation looking into some of the Port's affairs.

    One of the best summaries of the Lopez Port race is a comment left by Nick and Sara Jones on Lopez/Salish Rocks, which is copied below.  Many of the points raised by Nick and Sara could just as easily apply to any of our county races.
We have been following with some interest the race between Dan Post and Bob Porter for Port. It seems that the complaint about Dan, the argument for replacing him, is that he is not a "team player." This is an interesting line of attack, to say the least. It implies that the best candidate for any given position is the one who is going to get along with the others best. Kind of like seeking out a beta personality puppy if you already have a couple of dogs in a family.

A port commissioner is a public official spending public money. It is a position requiring as high a level of probity and integrity as any other elected position. A get-along go-along attitude is the worst qualification we can think of for any position of public trust. Conversely, the willingness and fortitude to consistently ask hard questions and challenge received wisdom is the highest of recommendations for such a position. Over twenty plus years on the Port of Lopez Dan Post has demonstrated a heroic willingness to ask the hard questions, over and over again. He has done so in the face of scorn, mockery, and endless personal attacks.

Dan Post has also been the only Port Commissioner to consistently push to expand the mission of the port to serve the wider community. He spearheaded the effort to have the Port take over the dump, at a time when the received wisdom was that turning our facility over to San Juan Sanitation was the only viable outcome. The Port effort did not come to fruition, but it led directly to the takeover of the dump by the Lopez Solid Waste Disposal District, on which board Dan tirelessly serves. Dan pushed to improve and lease port owned lands for agriculture--providing economic opportunity and local foods, and he continues to advocate for the Port to take on the much needed project of commercial water-front access on the island.

Dan Post is a small-town hero, a tireless doer and a man of deep integrity. Please join us in supporting him for another richly deserved term as Port of Lopez Commissioner.