Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias fielded questions about climate change and how to improve county government during a League of Women Voters forum on Oct. 6 for the district 1 seat on the Board of County Commissioners.
Ozias’ opponent Brandon Janisse, a Republican who currently serves on the Sequim City Council, did not attend the forum at the Sequim City Council Chambers, but sent Jayna Lehmer — who by League of Women Voters rules was not allowed to answer questions — in his place.
Oct. 18 is the start of the 18-day voting period. Ballots must be mailed by Nov. 5 or dropped into a drop box by 8 p.m. that day.
“I’m happy to say at the county level there is quite a bit we can do to provide leadership in the area of climate change,” Ozias, a Democrat, said.
Ozias said food waste is a major contributor of greenhouse gasses and that the county already has a “robust” food-waste reduction program. He suggested the county could set an “aspirational goal” of reaching a zero net increase of food waste in the county.
He said the county has “opportunity for creativity” on climate change and that as solutions are developed locally they could be used as models in other communities.
“It’s important to understand what work is going on in our state Legislature and federal government around climate change,” Ozias said.
He said the county can look for partnerships at the state level, where there are “positive efforts to address climate change.”
Ozias said at the federal level, where there is “no support or acknowledgement” of climate change, the county can work to let federal officials know that climate change is real.
“It is real, it impacts citizens of our county and is something we care about,” Ozias said.
Ozias spoke about the ongoing effort to develop the Dungeness Off-Channel Reservoir, which he said addresses the increasing lack of snowpack in the Olympic Mountains.
“The availability of water is probably our county’s most significant concern as it relates to climate change,” Ozias said. “We have always relied on the snowpack in the Olympic Mountains to provide our water supply, and with an anticipated future with warmer winter, more rain and less snow, that’s something we need to pay attention to.”
The 1,600 acre-foot reservoir, on property off River Road south of Happy Valley Road, would capture and store late winter high river flows from the Dungeness River. Water from the reservoir would be used for irrigation, saving 25 cubic feet per second of flow in the Dungeness River to help support migrating salmonids.
Ozias was also asked about whether he feels county commissioners should be elected by just their district or whether voters across the entire county should get a say.
Voters in 2015 approved a change to the county charter that limited commissioner elections to the district that position represents. Only voters in the Sequim area will vote for a county commissioner in the November election.
“I think that it is really a good idea for commissioners to be elected broadly across the whole county,” Ozias said. “I was the last commissioner to run for office who did have to campaign across the whole county.”
Ozias said this required him to campaign in areas like Forks, La Push and Port Angeles and that a county-wide election ensures candidates meet more people and understand issues across the county.
“When commissioners are only elected by residents of their own districts, if we don’t naturally think broadly … it can be easy to develop into a provincial us vs. them … mentality, and I don’t think that would serve any of us well,” Ozias said.