Read our September Highwater Marks E-Newsletter

by Friends of the San Juans on September 11, 2021 No comments

Check out the September issue of our e-newsletter – Highwater Marks! You’ll learn about: registering for our 2021 Annual Meeting with special guest Lynda Mapes, how to engage with the San Juan County Council this week about important issues for our environment and community, the latest shoreline restoration project at Salmon Point on Lopez Island, our “friends” of Friends – plus more actions, news, and updates! Read it here.

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Friends of the San JuansRead our September Highwater Marks E-Newsletter

Words from the Next Generation: Gift and Responsibility

by Friends of the San Juans on September 10, 2021 No comments

As humans, we can manipulate and change our environment. In the last few centuries, we have abused this power, killing thousands of species, destroying entire ecosystems, and bringing the planet to the brink of irreversible, catastrophic climate change, and all that comes with it (such as widespread fires, extreme heat events, and increasingly powerful storms). Now we face our last chance to live differently, to treat our gift of influence over the environment with the respect it necessitates and to reframe it as our responsibility to be stewards of the planet.

Braiding Sweetgrass is a book by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a professor of environmental and forest biology and citizen of the Potowatomi Nation. In this beautiful book, she weaves indigenous teachings with scientific knowledge in a way that bridges two rarely combined worlds. One topic she writes about is the gift-responsibility connection. She asks, “What is the duty of humans? If gifts and responsibilities are one, then asking ‘what is our responsibility?’ is the same as asking ‘what is our gift?’”

If our gift is the capacity to influence our environment, then it is our responsibility to heal the planet that supports us. For some people, this might mean dedicating time and resources to protecting and restoring the natural world. For others, it might mean implementing small, tangible changes into everyday life to lessen their impact on the planet. And for many, this may mean becoming advocates for environmental stewardship.

Recognizing gifts and responsibilities as two sides of the same coin takes an ideological shift. We must reframe our mindset to recognize resources as limited, our ability to manipulate our environment as a tool for stewardship, a living planet as invaluable. Gifts given by the earth should be shared in gratitude and must be returned to the earth in reciprocity. To quote Robin Wall Kimmerer, “sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.”

Written by Kaia Olson, high school junior from Spokane

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Friends of the San JuansWords from the Next Generation: Gift and Responsibility

Motivation, Values, and Attention

by Michel Vekved on September 10, 2021 No comments

What life can and will look like in the San Juan Islands is up to all of us. How will you help protect the island environment?

We live, visit, work, and play in the San Juan Islands, a magical place that many claim as one of the most magnificent in their worldly travels.

A place so special requires deliberate, strategic attention: Caring for the islands and the Salish Sea is a big responsibility, and none of us can do it alone. Together, we can achieve a simple goal to protect what you love—the Salish Sea, marine environments, shorelines, and rural, wide-open areas.

You can help by making a donation or becoming a recurring monthly or quarterly member. Or, aim for long-term sustainability and become a founding member of the Friends Science Endowment.

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Michel VekvedMotivation, Values, and Attention

Salmon Habitat Restoration at Salmon Point, Lopez Island

by Friends of the San Juans on September 10, 2021 No comments

It was an exciting week for local forage fish and out-migrating juvenile salmon as Friends of the San Juans and the Salmon Point Community have successfully restored priority shoreline habitat along their local beach.

At the south end of Lopez Island, two areas of failed rock armoring and rock fill were covering portions of a documented surf smelt spawning beach, negatively impacting the habitat available for forage fish to lay their eggs on. The beach is also in a priority area for out-migrating juvenile salmon, which feed on forage fish along with many other critters such as insects that benefit from a natural shoreline. Our endangered orca, of course, rely on healthy salmon populations.

Michael Budnick, of Northwest Concepts, implemented the project, which was designed by Coastal Geologic Services. Approximately 42 cubic yards of medium to large boulders along with four large toxic creosote logs were removed from the upper beach, along the forage fish spawning habitat zone. Last winter, to complement recent beach restoration actions, Flower Mountain Tree Service planted 220 native trees and shrubs along the shoreline. Restoration efforts were supported by a grant from the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Salmon Point Community Association.

“The Salmon Point community members have been fantastic partners on this important project to improve habitat for spawning forage fish and juvenile salmon” notes Tina Whitman, Friends Science Director.

To learn more about Friends’ shoreline habitat restoration projects visit our restoration webpage.

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Friends of the San JuansSalmon Habitat Restoration at Salmon Point, Lopez Island

Philanthropy is a strategic act of optimism.

by Michel Vekved on August 7, 2021 No comments

The fact that you’re reading this shows you care about the future of the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea. Friends of the San Juans’ philanthropic donors share your values, and they are aligning their philanthropy with their passion for the serenity, health, and natural beauty of our Islands. For these supporters, a plan for philanthropic investments in Friends means protecting what they love. It means envisioning a future of sustainable communities and natural shorelines, free from the interruptions of jet skis, coal ports, and out-of-control development. A philanthropic approach like this is not about fixing a single problem or fleeting moments of doing the right thing, it’s about connecting the dots in an ongoing, systemic way between personal values, environmental stewardship, and the long-term vitality of our Island communities.

The challenges are many, but investing in Friends’ science-based, strategic solutions offers hope for the future of our Islands. For philanthropic donors, a plan for investment in Friends is an act of profound optimism, because the return on their investment is that, many decades from now, the hearts of their grandchildren’s grandchildren will resonate with the same awe and wonder that they feel today.

Contact Michel by email or phone at 360-378-3991 to share what resonates for you in this special place where we live, work, and play, and to discuss an investment strategy to protect and nourish it.

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Michel VekvedPhilanthropy is a strategic act of optimism.

Words from the Next Generation: Parties without Plastic

by Friends of the San Juans on July 8, 2021 No comments

For many, summer is a time for gatherings with family and friends, now more than ever after a year of isolation. However, parties can become synonymous with plastic—food, utensils, cups, plates, even decorations all comprised of the everlasting polymer. To help you participate in Plastic Free July, this articleexplores alternatives to the conventional plastic-based party.

A meal is often at the center of a get-together, but food does not have to revolve around plastic. When planning a gathering, buying in bulk is often a good option for both plastic reduction and cost reduction, and opting for fresh, local produce and homemade goods can help eliminate plastic packaging. While this may seem overwhelming, organizing a potluck is a way to shift some of the responsibility to the guests while continuing to keep food-related plastic use low. Going beyond plastic, food waste can be a product of gatherings, so make sure to encourage guests to take home leftovers.

The largest contributor to waste at parties is usually cutlery and dishware. Fortunately, this is also the category with the most convenient alternatives. Paper, bamboo, or reusable materials such as metal and glass can be implemented for everything from straws to plates. However, be aware that greenwashing (falsely implying that a product is more environmentally friendly than it is) is common. A product may be loosely labeled as “biodegradable” with no legal consequences for its legitimacy. Sometimes the best way to avoid greenwashed products while reducing dish-based waste is to use reusable items; mason jars are a good option for a lower cost. You could also ask party guests to bring their own cutlery and dishware, and this could be made into an event: guests could vote on the best reusable items in various categories, for example “most quirky” or “most innovative.” Friends of the San Juans also has a set of reusable plates and utensils for thirty people available for borrowing; contact us if you would like to arrange to pick them up at our office in Friday Harbor.

Finally, there are opportunities to reduce plastic with party decorations and gifts. Recent studies have highlighted the negative impacts of balloon pollution. Balloons are one decoration easily replaced with alternatives such as streamers or bunting made of paper. Plastic tablecloths, too, can be swapped out for reusable fabric ones. Wrapping gifts in newspaper or paper grocery bags and forgoing bows and ribbons can help reduce present-related waste.

Gatherings and celebrations are hallmarks of summer, and a few creative solutions and alternatives can eliminate the use of plastic for these events. I hope this article has been a helpful starting point for your party, just one of many opportunities for plastic reduction on an individual level. Happy summer!

Written by Kaia Olson, high school junior from Spokane

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Friends of the San JuansWords from the Next Generation: Parties without Plastic

The Joys and Responsibilities of Stewardship

by Michel Vekved on July 8, 2021 No comments

Living in the islands brings joys and responsibilities — we benefit deeply from our connections to nature, and in return we work to ensure the long-term health and vitality of our islands and the Salish Sea. As one of our Friends members once said, “You have to be more careful with an island.” Together we can fulfill that obligation of thoughtful, intentional stewardship.

The story of Friends of the San Juans began nearly 42 years ago; the organization was created by its founding members and dedicated to protecting and restoring the natural beauty in the San Juan Islands. Today, environmental issues are far from resolved; new impacts and demands are arising from a changing climate; and our county is experiencing unprecedented development and growth. The need for Friends’ work has never been greater.

Your story at Friends begins when you connect with the islands’ natural beauty and discover a feeling of awe and responsibility. You align your community engagement and support with your values, and those values bring you to engage with Friends of the San Juans. As a Friends member, you tap into the power of community: Through membership, you are investing in what matters to you, and your voice joins the voices of your neighbors to create powerful change.

We know you value the stunning and fragile island environment, intertwined with the shorelines and the Salish Sea. We also know you share our feelings of obligation to be good stewards, and as a member, you trust Friends to carry on the work — and Friends relies on your support to do that.

If you’re a member, you received a copy of our Annual Report in your mailbox. If not, you can find it here.  Read the Annual Report, pause for a moment on the shoreline, witness what we have accomplished together this year and for the past 42 years, and ask yourself, how will I be part of the solution? The work described in Friends’ Annual Report can only continue with your support. This work is not haphazard or an afterthought — it is strategic and impactful. We have ambitious goals to meet the challenges on the horizon. If you have the means to align your actions with your values, then please renew your membership and join the family of Friends today.  

Members of Friends, ask your friends to join Friends! Membership at every level makes a difference. You are investing in the big picture and our community’s future: the critical work of a local, grassroots nonprofit protecting the islands and all that lives in and around the Salish Sea.

One more thing, before you go: many of our members have found it easier to become monthly donors. There is no amount too small, and recurring gifts are the best way to give us the financial security to plan our work going forward.

Thank you.

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Michel VekvedThe Joys and Responsibilities of Stewardship

Read our June Highwater Marks E-Newsletter

by Friends of the San Juans on June 11, 2021 No comments

Check out the June issue of our e-newsletter – Highwater Marks! You’ll learn about: where our waste goes in San Juan County from two Spring Street International School students, engaging in important actions for Southern Resident killer whales, how to get involved with the County’s Comprehensive Plan update – and lots more! Read it here.

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Friends of the San JuansRead our June Highwater Marks E-Newsletter

Following Waste in the San Juans: A Comprehensive Update

by Friends of the San Juans on June 11, 2021 No comments

Research by Linnea Morris and Ela Angevine, Written by Ela Angevine

When people tell you that you can do things at home to be more environmentally friendly, live more sustainable, recycling is one of the first things that comes up, right? They say, “Recycling. It’s easy.” Well, I’m here to tell you, to console you, that it is not easy. If you feel frustrated by our system not only globally, but also on the San Juan Islands, you are not alone. Spring Street Garbage Patrol—the environmental club founded by myself and Linnea Morris—researched the journey of our recycling on the three largest of the San Juan Islands. The compilation of information comes from the websites each island’s facility operates, interviews with employees and managers of all the transfer stations, and speaking with locals who work in tandem with the waste business. If you live on Lopez, Orcas, or San Juan this important information pertains to YOU!

Linnea and I were not prepared for what turned out to be a frustrating research journey. We had no appreciation for the complexity of waste management in general, let alone on remote islands. We started with the idea that there are five waste facilities and with the notion that we could separate recycling and not focus on the trash. Needless to say, we were wrong. There are three transfer stations: San Juan Transfer Station (SJTS) on San Juan, Orcas Recycling Service (ORS) on Orcas, and Lopez Solid Waste Disposal District (LSWDD) on Lopez; there is one hauler: San Juan Sanitation (on Orcas, servicing all the islands); and, to top it off, on San Juan the town’s Refuse and Recycling Service (RRS) only picks up inside the town’s limits.

The town leases the SJTS on Sutton Road to San Juan County (SJC) which in turn has a contract with Lautenbach Industries, a company based in Mount Vernon. Friday Harbor’s RRS has a contract with SJTS apart from the county’s (this is why waste pickups are cheaper in town), yet SJS picks up the recycling (only) from a few big businesses in Friday Harbor because the town, which owns the garbage trucks that do curbside pickups, doesn’t have the equipment to do commercial pickups of recycling (SJS’s recycling goes to a different place than SJTS’s). However, the town does the commercial pickups of material solid waste (MSW) or garbage which goes to SJTS. On San Juan both the town’s trucks and SJS’s trucks drop off MSW at SJTS which then goes to Cowlitz County Landfill.

The more research one does on recycling, the more confusing it becomes. What constitutes as recycling at one facility might not be accepted on another island even though it is “recyclable”. This is because what’s “recyclable” really depends on where it is sent or, in other words, who is buying the material. A lot has changed in the past 10 years, starting with the leasing of the County run transfer station—on the town of Friday Harbor’s land—in 2011 which led to Lautenbach Industries becoming the operator, to the more recent “China Sword” where China banned almost all recycling coming from the US (which included all of our recycling for some time) due to the contamination. Thirty percent of the 16,000,000 tons of recycling sent to China in 2016 put in their landfills, and they said enough. Although, many of you might remember that we did not stop recycling. This is because our transfer stations quickly found new buyers, and these buyers were renting huge warehouses to store the recycling in until they could find places to send the separated materials. Malaysia became the “new” China until this February when the Basel Convention—of which the US is not committed to—made it illegal to ship plastic numbers 1-7 through international waters. (As of right now, the San Juan County operators have committed to only taking numbers 1s, 2s, and 5s because they are said to be the most “recyclable.”) Still, this is the simplified version of the story.

Going back a step, all of the recycling in the San Juan Islands is commingled—all except Lopez’s, that is, which gets separated by the customers and volunteers. Because it is commingled, it must be sent to Material Recovery Facilities (MRF) which sort it (in our case either Waste Management Woodinville or Recology in Seattle). In between and around the two aforementioned major events, ORS took over the contract for management of the Orcas Transfer station from the county (2012); The Exchange—the thrift house that is part of ORS—was rebuilt after it burned down in 2013; LSWDD started the ReMakery; and ORS has plans to start crushing glass into sand for construction, etc. that would take glass from all the islands (LSWDD also crushes glass to fills a gravel pit as part of a Lopez Sand and Gravel’s DOE reclamation program).

Each material that is separated out of the commingled recycling stream or that is separated by hand at a waste facility is sent to a different place or to a company that takes multiple separated and baled (in some cases) items—places like Skagit Steel and Recycling that take aluminum, steel, and cardboard separated at ORS or other separated products like specific plastics and paper from LSWDD. Other examples include Ecycling WA which keeps electronics out of the landfills and is among quite a few state-funded product stewardship programs, car tires which go to Les Schwab preventing more of the rubber chemicals from pollution and killing our salmon, or motor and antifreeze which get filtered then recycled in Seattle (in the case of ORS). These programs and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws are big steps the local and federal government can make in terms of sustainability. They push companies to make greener products and packaging by factoring in recycling costs at the point of sale instead of externalizing costs onto waste management operators. Without product stewardship local governments are left with much of the cost for which there is no real funding. Not to mention that these laws hold companies that make non-recyclable products accountable.

It is estimated that 45% of the nation’s recyclable waste goes into the garbage annually, and 25% of recycled waste should have gone to the landfill, in other words, it’s contaminated (which is a predetermined concept invented by manufacturers). On the islands, we are not an exception. No one could tell us exactly what percentage of the recycling on any of the islands gets tossed in the landfill because “we haven’t done a trash audit in many years,” says Nikyta Palmasani, Education & Outreach Coordinator at LSWDD. However, we did hear repeatedly from Logan Luft at SJS, Pete Moe at ORS, and Troy Lautenbach at SJTS that, according to what they have heard from Recology, “we have some of the cleanest materials in the state when it comes in” (Moe). Moe estimates that 60-75% of recycling in general gets recycled, separated out by the MRFs, but also that the islands have a higher percentage. Lautenbach says something similar: “they love our material … I would say [the percentage getting recycled] is in the high 90’s.”

I find this hard to believe. Not one person at Spring Street International School could tell me where their recycling goes (besides the secretary who manages that) or what can be put in the bin. The reason being lack of knowledge or interest and lack of faith, frankly, in the lists provided by the facilities because of rumors that go around claiming some of the things on the lists are not recyclable. For example, Tetra Paks (like paper milk or juice cartons with the foil lining) are only recyclable when there is a factory that has the technology to separate the layers of paper, foil, and plastic. This is why not many companies list them (or cartons, the other common name) as recyclable (while Recology does, they do not tell the public where they send each recyclable material—we must take their word that it is being recycled). SJS includes cartons, but Luft claims to not see them normally in his recycling stream. When pressed, he admitted that perhaps the paper is “recyclable with air quotes” and the plastic liner maybe not. SJS sends their recycling to Woodinville where cartons are not listed as recyclable.

There are other discrepancies in the lists between islands, such as plastic bags that SJTS includes when they are not on Recology’s list because they gum up the sorting machines. At the same time, I can believe what Moe and Luft claim because Recology compares cities like Seattle that recycled 456,458 tons in 2017 according to their Waste prevention and Recycling Report with Orcas, Lopez, and San Juan that recycled about 1,722 tons in 2017 (this is an estimate because I could only find exact numbers for recycled tonnage for Lopez and Orcas). I chose the year 2017 because that was the year I could find accurate information for both Seattle and the islands, however, it should be noted that this was the year of “China Sword.” After, some prices went up, and the tonnage of recycling for both ORS and Seattle went down a considerable amount.

Not only are we possibly (and I say possibly because it seems to me that in this industry nothing is certain and everything changes on the daily) putting items in the recycling that shouldn’t be there, but we are not following proper procedures. To quote Nikyta, “rule number one: it’s gotta be clean! … Dirty equals garbage. Dirty equals landfill. I don’t care if it’s a sweater, or a can, or a bottle, or a piece of cardboard. If it’s got stuff on it, it’s garbage.”

While it is every individual’s responsibility to recycle to the best of their ability, it is not black and white. We cannot simply blame our own “wish-cycling” just like we cannot place the blame on the people who take our waste while we look the other way—and they do at a certain level. Many people who work in the waste industry are not really sure what is recyclable because it is changing constantly according to the market. They take what the buyers say is recyclable without second-guessing because, by law, they do not need to.

The state of Washington and the nation are doing us a great disservice, the national government for that matter. Law does not require MRFs to report where they are selling recyclables and who is buying them, although some do on common courtesy. Sorting facilities are only required to sell it to buyers who claim it is being recycled, and some of these buyers are underdeveloped countries that get paid (in some cases like plastics that do not have a good market) to take trash recycling. Is this really trying our best? Because I think we can do better. Much like Palmasani and Moe, who have zero-waste goals for their prospective facilities, say it is also up to the companies that sell materials and create waste to educate the consumer and willingly take part in EPR programs. It is up to the government, local, state, and federal, to put EPR policies in place so that companies do take initiative and action. Mark Ingman derives from his experience as the SJC Solid Works Public Waste Program Coordinator that:

Corporations benefit from us perpetuating the sense that we are ourselves to blame, and I more recently realized they have created this self-blame situation for us. We need to free ourselves from being the main problems—it’s my experience that shame doesn’t motivate people—and it’s really a situation of organizing/lobbying to make corporations pay and have an incentive to be sustainable. When organized, we are in the driver’s seat.

Linnea and I are deeply saddened by the lack of cohesion and disregard for where our waste goes that some members of this community have. A lot of us have given up, and we understand that. It took a year to slowly collect this information because no one could give us straight answers. We struggled to gain and maintain contact with our sources, and some did not bother to respond at all when we reached out. However, we appreciate all the help our sources and other resources have given us, and we empathize with the struggle. It is reasonable to say that no one in the industry could possibly know everything due to its complexities. Many are already extremely busy trying to keep up and work with the system, but maybe it is time we worked outside the system.

Everyone always tells me that youth can make a difference, that people want to hear from youth, not the older generations who have the jobs. There is a fundamental difference between waiting for youth to make a difference and helping youth make the changes we all want to see because, really, we do all want to see these positive changes. Contrary to the beliefs of some, becoming a zero waste community and separating recycling to decrease contamination are realistic goals.

The San Juan Islands are working un-unified with the laws that have been put in place in the system that exists rather than pushing to change it, but no matter how one looks at it, it simply is not sustainable. For example, we need to stop accepting tourists and residents who do not recycle properly with the excuse that it is not easy enough. This mindset is flawed, and it lets us get away with not having responsibility: out of sight out of mind. But that is not the reality. It is our responsibility to make sure that people coming to our home treat it the way we do and the way we treat them—with respect and dignity. When you go on vacation do you litter and think it is logical to excuse it just because you don’t live there? No. It is expected that if one is a responsible citizen and traveler that they respect the rules of each country—recycling and MSW are no different.

While ideally we work to improve and change the system, we still need to work with what we have in the meantime. At home you can find out what is recyclable, clean your recycling, reduce the packaging you buy and use, and become more active in the policy making scene. Educating yourself is very important because if you do not know what needs to be done, how can you do it?

See all the San Juan County waste tracking information in one place on the Following Waste in the San Juans Flow Chart.

Ask questions and learn more from Ela and Linnea at a community conversation hosted by Friends via Zoom on July 1. Click here for details and to register.

It should be noted that the information in this article is based on research done in 2021 and may not be applicable in the near future.

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Friends of the San JuansFollowing Waste in the San Juans: A Comprehensive Update

Explosive Development Drives Interest in County’s Comp Plan Update

by Friends of the San Juans on June 10, 2021 No comments

Judging by construction permits and real estate transactions, the pressure and speed of development in San Juan County has never been greater. Fortunately, the County’s Comprehensive Plan, or Comp Plan, can be a key tool for managing growth and protecting our County’s rural character. Right now, citizen interest is growing in how this tool can best ensure that sensible, science-based planning and environmental stewardship manage growth and development in our County.

One element of the Comp Plan update is that the County can change the designation or zoning of land. For example, the County is currently considering opening up 127 acres of protected forest lands to allow for more intense development. In San Juan County, we need forest lands as they are essential support for our current forest economy, rural character, and benefits like air and water quality, aquifer recharge, recreational activities, healthy wildlife habitat and connectivity, and carbon sequestration.  The parcels in question are currently zoned as Forest Resource Lands, but the County’s Planning Commission recently voted to preliminarily recommend changing these parcels to the Rural Farm Forest designation. A Rural Farm Forest zoning would allow vacation rentals and non-forestry commercial uses and would triple the allowance for impervious surface on the properties.

Citizens are mobilizing to oppose this decision through efforts like Friends of the San Juans’ Comp Plan Action Team. Both at the Planning Commission and County Council meetings, our community has the opportunity to weigh in on whether opening up these Forest Resource Lands to more intense development makes the most sense for environmental stewardship, climate resilience, and preserving the rural character of our island communities.

In addition to the Comp Plan’s importance for guiding how development unfolds in the San Juan Islands over the next 20 years, it also lays the groundwork for the County’s response to the climate crisis. To their credit, the County’s Community Development staff have done an admirable job in making climate-forward recommendations to the Planning Commission on environmental issues in the Comp Plan update. For example, new language in the Comp Plan update includes recommendations for a County-wide climate change impact study, energy-efficiency upgrades, and climate mitigation in a variety of contexts. But a strong climate response requires strong voices from our community, watchdogging the process to make sure our County’s climate response is strong and bold; climate action should be a requirement, not just a recommendation.

Through the Comp Plan Action Team and other efforts, Friends of the San Juans is joining with other organizations and community efforts, encouraging San Juan County’s citizens to engage effectively in the Comp Plan update process, both to address the current explosion of development and to put climate response and climate resiliency front and center. For information about joining in on the Comp Plan Action Team’s monthly meetings, email Brent Lyles.


Photo above by Rainshadow Consulting

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Friends of the San JuansExplosive Development Drives Interest in County’s Comp Plan Update