SMOKEY POINT — Snohomish County Council member Ken Klein had planned on addressing the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, April 8, about his first few months in office, but as the Arlington native noted, “All our lives were radically changed by what happened in Oso.”
Klein praised agencies ranging from the helicopter pilots of Snohomish County Search & Rescue, for retrieving so many survivors on March 22, to the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation, for serving as a conduit for the community’s financial donations, while echoing compliments he’s heard from members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“FEMA couldn’t stop talking about how professional and focused everyone involved in the recovery efforts has been,” Klein said. “The people here saw problems and wanted to get them solved.”
Klein credited Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert with helping to implement a disaster recovery center in Arlington similar to those that had proven successful in Stanwood and Camano Island, before frankly acknowledging that “Darrington was in a precarious economic condition before the slide, and it continues to be after the slide.” Klein reported that, in response, parties as diverse as longtime political figure Bob Drewel and Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin have conferred with groups such as the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County, to develop clear paths for Darrington to succeed moving forward, even long after the ongoing disaster recovery efforts have been completed.
“The first thing that has to happen is that State Route 530 needs to be reopened as quickly and sensitively as possible,” Klein said. “As Darrington goes, so too could Arlington go, so it’s in all of our best interests to ensure that Darrington is a vibrant community.”
Klein also advocated paving the Mountain Loop Highway, to provide a reliable alternate access way, and preserving the historic Green Mountain Lookout, the latter of which he praised a number of local members of Congress for supporting.
“You can still go there and see some amazing views,” said Klein, who touted the tourism, recreation and quality of life benefits of such a feature, before moving onto a proposal to open state lands to sustainable logging. “The last lumber sale from that area was 2010, and the Hampton Mill is only at 60 percent capacity.”
Klein likewise called for a review of the list of roads that have been closed due to a lack of funds, characterizing them as just as essential to developing a recreational economy for Darrington.
“And I know you’ve heard about it before, but a manufacturing and light industrial center in Arlington and north Marysville would bring in up to 20,000 jobs,” Klein said. “A lot of Darrington residents already commute to Boeing, so if we could bring those aerospace jobs closer to them, it would benefit everyone.”
Three months into his first term on the County Council, Klein still sees one of his primary roles as serving as a conduit between the needs of the local communities and the county, state and federal levels of government that can serve them. In terms of non-Oso priorities, Klein is concerned with securing funding for infrastructure improvements to the Stillaguamish Valley as a whole, as well as the business that could be brought in by allowing commercial air service to Paine Field.
“I’m a man of faith, so if you could pray for me, that would be important,” said Klein, when asked how citizens could help him do his job. “And let me know what your issues are.”
When Dave Duskin asked how long it would take to clear State Route 530, Klein admitted, “It’s going to be a process. In a normal situation, this could be done within 17 days, from start to finish, but everyone is sensitive to the fact that there are still people within that area to be recovered. We’re looking at months.”
“I just want to thank you for your leadership, Ken,” Tolbert said. “It’s been a very complex process, and you’ve paid attention to your constituents.”
“I’ve just tried not to get in the way,” Klein laughed.