Does Okanogan County need a public transportation system?

OKANOGAN – Does Okanogan County need a public transportation system, a special meeting was held last Wednesday begin discussion on the topic?

This is the question the Okanogan County Public Transportation Improvement Conference was designed to begin addressing. The meeting, in the Commissioner’s Meeting Room in Okanogan on Wednesday, Oct. 15, was led by Tom Hanson, Intercity Bus and Transportation Specialist from the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) and County Commissioner Andy Lampe.

Also in attendance at the conference were Jean Ramsey from the Tonasket City Council, Jerry Beeman from the Tonasket Senior Center, Ron Roberson from the Pateros City Council, Dave Acheson, the mayor of Winthrop, Len Goshel from the Omak City Council and Lee Webster, the mayor of Brewster.

Although specifics about what type of public transportation were not

discussed in detail, buses seemed to be the most obvious choice. When Chris Zaferes of

Tonasket asked what would be done if the buses were full, Hanson said the

board would have a back-up plan to deal with the problem of

full buses.

The main focus of the meeting was discussion of the draft of bylaws which Hanson brought with him. Of most concern was article two, section one, in which the bylaws state “the county commissioners of Okanogan County, an elected official from each city or town council within Okanogan County and an elected official from the business council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation shall constitute the Board of Directors.”

This statement was under scrutiny because, under these conditions, there were not enough members at the conference to have a quorum, meaning no decisions could be made. Hanson said he would revise the statement to include only those cities which were interested in a public transportation system.

Acheson noted all three commissioners were included in the board and said if that remained the case and only one commissioner came to each meeting, the board would always have a deficit of two members. Hanson said he’d be willing to reword the statement so it reflected only one commissioner needed to be in attendance.

Hanson said he’d like to revise the bylaws and form the board when the conference next meets.

“I would like to see all of Okanogan County, the portion of Douglas County which includes Bridgeport and Chief Joseph Dam and the corridor from Wauconda to Republic in Ferry County included in this plan,” Hanson said.

Before the decision to create an Okanogan County public transportation system can be made, the board needs to conduct a study to determine if there is a need in each city and if so, how much need there is. After determining need, the board will look at demographic information as well as census data, as well as look at the inventory of existing transportation programs and trip making patterns for those programs. In addition, the board will look at existing documentation including an Okanogan County economic overview, existing transportation plans for Okanogan County, cities and towns of Okanogan County and the Colville Tribe as well as North Central Regional Transportation Planning Organization and Human Services Transportation Plans.

Hanson said the board needs to develop a community outreach process so each community will be aware of the process the board is undertaking to make this decision. The board will also speak with businesses and employees to see what kinds of needs they have for public transportation. Those present noted that many people will ask questions about how the transportation system will be funded and what the schedules will be.

“I would stress the message that this process is the one that will get the answers to those questions,” Acheson said.

The board also discussed how they can get more of the cities in the county involved in the process. Lampe said the commissioners tried to get onto city council agendas but received no response from some. He said they would try again to get onto those agendas. Roberson said making the bylaws available to those cities before the next meeting might help increase attendance.

Hanson said after he revises the bylaws, he will send a copy to each of the representatives present at the conference and also try to send them to the others who did not attend this first meeting.

The next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. in the County Commissioner’s Meeting Room in Okanogan.