It’s been a busy few weeks — and will likely continue to be — for the future of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s proposed medication-assisted treatment (MAT) facility.
City appointed hearing examiner Phil Olbrechts ruled on the Mitigated Determination of Nonsignificance (MDNS) on Dec. 21, agreeing with conditions from a stipulated agreement between the tribe and City of Sequim while adding a monitoring program for the medical facility off South Ninth Avenue.
If/when the facility is constructed, doctors would dispense daily doses of methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol for patients with opioid-use disorder while offering wrap-around services.
Brent Simcosky, the tribe’s director of health services, said construction on the clinic broke ground three weeks ago, prior to Olbrechts’s decision and after they received a city-approved building permit. Excavation work was started, he said, with a completion target for the end of 2021.
However, the Save Our Sequim (SOS) community group filed a Land Use Petition Act (LUPA) appeal in Clallam County Superior Court prior to Olbrechts’ decision, seeking city staff review the tribe’s construction application again and be permitted differently.
If that appeal is successful, the tribe would have to halt construction and city staff review the permit again under a different review process. The appeal first scheduled virtual hearing regarding the appeal is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 15.
Both the city and tribe filed motions to dismiss the appeal, which Superior Court judge Brent Basden will consider.
Olbrechts’ decision on the MDNS environmental review cannot be appealed.
See Olbrechts’ ruling here: docdro.id/flIA2zF.
See the SOS group’s response here: docdro.id/QIgHe6p.
Olbrechts heard testimony between Nov. 16-24 from tribal and city officials and community members about the proposed clinic in a virtual hearing. It centered on concerns for the clinic’s location, transportation to and from it, homelessness, treatment plans, security and more.
In his 39-page final decision, Olbrechts approved the city/tribe stipulated agreement from Sept. 8 with revisions. One of those revisions include the establishment of a Community Advisory Committee to develop a monitoring and evaluation program for the clinic including members such as the tribe’s director of health services, Sequim city manager, law enforcement leaders, and a Sequim resident who applies to join selected by committee members.
The committee will remain in place for the first three years of the clinic’s operations and meet monthly the first year.
Olbrechts requires the committee to develop a contingency plan that “fully identifies potential courses of action and any corrective measures to be taken when monitoring or evaluation indicates expectations and standards are not being met.”
He wrote, “With this monitoring plan, the proposal will create no significant adverse impacts to police services.”
Olbrechts wrote that the monitoring plan will “directly enable the City to mitigate impacts for which there is insufficient information to evaluate at this time.”
“Ultimately, an enforceable monitoring plan should successfully mitigate all impacts to non-police emergency services,” he wrote. “
The monitoring program adopted by this decision creates a ‘wait and see’ mitigation strategy that enables the City to identify precisely what impacts do occur and then tailoring the mitigation necessary to address them.”
Olbrechts wrote that it’s understandable the tribe doesn’t want its business plan locked in concrete, but the Community Response Plan was the only document that limited the proposed clinic patient load to 250 patients per day.
Olbrechts also stated that in lieu of a potential $250,000 bond to support local first responders’ efforts if there’s an adverse impact from the clinic, and all or some funding for a Social Services Navigator may pay for studies and corrective actions found by the committee.
In his decision, Olbrechts maintained the tribe needs to provide on-site security requirements, transportation for those who need it to and from the clinic, and deter any patient loitering.
Olbrechts found the shuttle service to and from the facility for patients without transportation to be “a significant mitigation measure” to “help reduce the transfer of residencies to Sequim.” But with a high number of unemployed and “housing insecure patients,” they may find Sequim more appealing and move from other parts of Clallam and Jefferson counties.
On page 8 of his decision, Olbrechts noted that documents from Sequim resident Wendy Goldberg establishes “MAT clinics can be the source of non-violent drug activity, such as illegal drug transactions, loitering and littering” dependent on how a clinic is run. One article states how things go depends on being “properly run.” But Olbrechts said evidence is “fairly clear the proposal will not result in any increase in violent crime.”
He said Goldberg’s written testimonies and examples show “that concerns over impacts to police services are not remote or speculative.” However, he added, they “do not conclusively establish on their own that such impacts are likely to occur for the proposed MAT clinic.”
Olbrechts agreed with Chief Sheri Crain’s “exemplary investigation” that the proposed MAT clinic’s impacts to Sequim police services would be “negligible.”
She interviewed six police chiefs with MATs in comparable cities, and none reported an appreciable increase in criminal activity.
Crain reported that she learned a MAT clinic with little to no negative impacts is “good site location, good building and site, the development of good relationships with neighbors and a good model of implementation.”
City officials were unavailable for comment because of holiday vacations.
W. Ron Allen, Jamestown’s tribal chairman/chief executive officer, said in a statement: “After hearing all the evidence, the Hearing Examiner found the Tribe would run the clinic properly and in a manner that is sensitive to the community interest.
“This professional management approach is what our Tribe has said all along,” he said. “We look forward to opening the Healing Clinic and showing how beneficial it will be to the Olympic Peninsula community and those in need of this medical service.”
Save Our Sequim’s board of directors thanked Olbrechts in a statement for “recognizing our main educational point for the past 18 months that installing the proposed MAT clinic, a large Opioid Treatment Program (OTP) or methadone clinic, in the retail core of Sequim will have adverse effects on our community unless properly mitigated.”
SOS directors write that Olbrechts’ decision states “that ‘worst case … probable impacts would involve drug dealers attracted to patrons of the MAT clinic, add to the homeless population, former and current patrons will … congregate in the vicinity … take, sell, and purchase illegal drugs and engage in other non-violent crime.’”
They added that Olbrechts acknowledged data that shows “significant impact on police services in a number of cities and not ‘remote or speculative,’” that he feels evidence is “very compelling that patrons of MAT clinics engage in a high frequency of criminal conduct,” and that while “Crain testified that only 3-5% of the Sequim population causes problems,” Olbrechts acknowledged “a 13 percent rate of criminal conduct in a MAT study group, is ‘significantly higher than that of the Sequim population.’”
SOS board directors said, “these impacts have not been acknowledged or adequately studied as a problem for Sequim,” but “Olbrechts has done the community a great service by recognizing that these impacts are worth considering, and that they require action to reduce their effect on Sequim, which is a small town and therefore likely to suffer disproportionately” — and thus a mitigation plan is required.
However, SOS disagreed with Olbrechts on multiple points. Some of those include:
• Him finding busing patients to be mitigation, whereas they consider it a problem as he states Sequim’s “climate and isolation” may be an attractive feature to move here.
They also feel the Community Advisory Committee “is unlikely to advocate for our community” and that their “mitigation will (not) have any protective influence for Sequim citizens, visitors, or businesses.”
SOS board directors said that’s why they’ll continue to seek a “robust, public permitting process be followed (because) citizens deserve a procedure that will provide the kinds of evaluations we need to ensure the City of Sequim is not subject to the devastating impacts of Methadone Clinics as seen in other cities.”