Freeland sewer opponents raise alarm about voters missing from rolls

FREELAND — Opponents of the plan for a $40 million sewer system for Freeland are amazed — and alarmed — after discovering that as many as half of the voters who live within the boundaries of the Freeland Water & Sewer District aren’t on the county’s roll of voters.

The revelation is timely, as members of the group formed to fight the expensive sewer project view the November election as crucial. Two candidates, Lou Malzone and Marilynn Abrahamson, hope to unseat sewer commissioners Jim Short and Nolen “Rocky” Knickerbocker and take control of the three-member board.

Malzone and Abrahamson have begun campaigning for the seats.

But planning for the upcoming election took an unexpected turn when Abrahamson, who gained fame as a member of POOPS (Property Owners Opposed to the Plan for Sewer) before announcing her election bid, recently received a protest letter from a property owner who wanted to go on record against the sewer expansion project.

The letter came “out of the clear blue sky,” she said.

And when Abrahamson checked the voter database to make sure the Cameron Road resident was listed, she found he wasn’t — and no one else on Cameron Road was, either.

“So then I looked at a few more roads. And I discovered nobody on Honeymoon Bay Road,” she added.

Other areas followed, also empty of potential voters.

The voter database also didn’t have any voters from Shoreview Avenue, the Harborside development on Bercot Road, Vesel Court, Roxlin Drive and other neighborhoods, she said.

Though opponents of the sewer system originally thought their list of 383 voters in the sewer district was a “little short” when they received it from the county, what they discovered next confirmed their suspicions.

Members of the citizens’ group that has been researching the sewer issue, FAIRS (Freeland Advocates for Informed Responsible Solutions), then visited the county elections office in Coupeville. They asked to see the map of the Freeland sewer district that was used to verify who was eligible to vote.

John Chaffins said an elections department employee walked over to a file drawer and pulled out a large and yellowed map of the Freeland district, and he was told that was the most recent map that the county had received from the Freeland Water & Sewer District.

It was from 1981.

Chaffins said the map didn’t include new roads, subdivisions or annexations into the district.

“For 30 years, people who should have been voting in these elections have not been allowed to vote,” Chaffins said.

FAIRS members said they were stunned, and then some.

“I’m pissed,” said Chelle Brunke.

“This is a very important election,” Abrahamson explained. “It’s an opportunity for people to speak against the sewer, to vote against it. And we have some very irate people within the boundaries of the Freeland Water & Sewer District.”

Michele Reagan, deputy auditor in the elections department for Island County, said the county has requested a new map that shows the location of the sewer district’s boundaries.

“We need to get an updated list to make sure our records match,” Reagan said.

She added that the 1981 map doesn’t automatically mean the county’s records are all 30 years old; it just means the county is only aware, at this point, of getting the 1981 map and not a newer one.

“That doesn’t mean we’ve never gotten any updates,” Reagan said.

FAIRS members said they have estimated there are 699 voters within the district. Abrahamson said she expects the sewer district will remake a map of the district boundaries, with the hope that it is submitted to the county by Sept. 12.

Time is running short, she said, because ballots will go out the first week of October.

Abrahamson said that if FAIRS disputes the list of registered voters, or the new map, the only recourse the group will have will be to hire an attorney.

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