Support and urgency grow for adding strong climate language to San Juan County’s Comp Plan

OPALCO, San Juan County’s cooperative energy provider, has announced its support for adding a Climate Change Element to San Juan County’s Comprehensive Plan. This support comes as the County prepares to finalize its first update of the plan in more than ten years. Authored by Friends of the San Juans (Friends) in collaboration with experts in science, law, and policy, the proposed Climate Change Element was first suggested to the San Juan County Planning Commission on June 6th, 2022. The proposed Element would help ensure San Juan County’s prioritization of proactive climate action, as well as climate change preparedness and resiliency.

“The climate emergency is the greatest threat that the San Juan Islands have ever faced and – given climate change’s already-unfolding impact on our economy, our lands and waters, and our way of life – we can’t afford to kick this can down the road any further,” shared R. Brent Lyles, Executive Director of Friends of the San Juans.

Adapted from climate language in other County documents, the Element focuses on incorporating that language into the County’s core planning document, its Comp Plan. In supporting the Climate Change Element, Foster Hildreth, General Manager of OPALCO, said, “San Juan County must not delay adding strong climate change language to the Comp Plan. OPALCO is committed to working together with Friends, the County, and the community to address the urgency of the climate emergency in our county planning and land use designations.”

Vince Dauciunas, OPALCO’s Board President, added: “Incorporating this new Element into the Comp Plan represents a powerful statement for San Juan County.” Daciunas also serves on San Juan County’s new Climate and Sustainability Advisory Committee, which considered the Climate Change Element at its meeting on August 25th. “There was broad agreement among the Committee members that we want to see the strongest climate language possible in the Comp Plan.”

At that meeting, Councilmember Cindy Wolf objected to adding the Climate Change Element to the Comp Plan, expressing concerns that doing so might slow the Comp Plan’s adoption process down, thereby costing the County some additional funds because of the delay. “I don’t doubt the validity of that claim,” said Lyles, “but at some point, our community has to draw the line and say yes, addressing climate change as soon as possible is worth it. Leaders all over the world are wrestling with this same problem and are coming to the same realization: being bold on climate will cost a bit more in the short term, but the longer-term costs and consequences of dragging our feet are much larger, not just in terms of money, but in terms of protecting our way of life. We’re all in this together and San Juan County should do its part. The time to act on climate is now.”

Community members can read the proposed Climate Change Element, as well as OPALCO’s statement of support for it, using the links below. The County Council will be considering adding the Climate Change Element to the Comp Plan in the months ahead, and community members can express their opinions on the Element via email to their respective County Council members:

Christine Minney, [email protected]
Cindy Wolf, [email protected]
Jamie Stephens, [email protected]

Background Information:

Proposed Climate Change Element for the San Juan County Comprehensive Plan, submitted by Friends of the San Juans in June 2022

OPALCO’s letter of support, endorsing Friends of the San Juans proposed Climate Change Element, August 2022

Now more than ever Friends of the San Juans needs our support. Learn about the Friends, educate yourself, and you will inevitably want to be a Friend because that is who we turn to when we need support to protect this place.

Liza Michaelson

member, San Juan Island