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Diking commissioner resigns amid pump brouhaha

Disgruntled residents of Island County Diking District 1 won’t have Bob Kohlwes to kick around anymore.

Kohlwes, 77, a member of the diking district’s three-man board of commissioners since March, resigned at the board’s meeting Friday night.

“I didn’t care to do it anymore,” he said Monday. “I probably would have hung in there if it didn’t bother me, but it did. I kind of take things personally.”

“Of course, being 77 probably had a lot to do with it, too,” he added.

Kohlwes and fellow commissioners Ray Gabelein and Steve Arnold have been under assault by some district property owners angry over a $439,000 assessment to install a pump.

The pump was put in over Christmas, in time to handle the melt from the recent snow. The device can drain 6,000 gallons of water a minute.

“It’s a thing of beauty to see that pump running,” Kohlwes said. “It’s something we’ve needed for years and years.”

Residents opposed to the pump have accused commissioners of quietly pushing through the project without proper notification. The residents say they will continue to urge the Island County Board of Commissioners to suspend the diking district’s activities until a new board can be appointed.

Last fall, the county commission declined to get involved, but it now has two new members, Helen Price Johnson and Angie Homola.

Besides the new pump, the unhappy residents said they were also concerned about the environmental impact it would have on the wetlands, a wildlife habitat.

Kohlwes, who has lived in the district all his life, said that, thanks to increased population and development, the water runoff into the wetlands is probably “a hundred times greater” then it was when the current gravity flow drainage system was put in.

Kohlwes spent several of his younger years volunteering in the district, going down in the middle of the night to clean outflows at low tide.

His uncle, Tom Kohlwes, was a diking commissioner for many years, he said.

“I’m too old to do the gates anymore,” he said. “Ray Gabelein and his boys do that now.”

Gabelein said he was sorry to see Kohlwes go.

“His grandfather helped to build the dike,” he said. “His knowledge of the area and the history were invaluable.”

Gabelein said he and Arnold will accept applications for someone to complete Kohlwes’ term. They hope to make a recommendation to the county commissioners next month.

Gabelein said he would like to see someone from the Sunlight Beach community step forward. Historically, that neighborhood has been represented on the board.

The district, which spans 743 acres surrounding Deer Lagoon on Useless Bay, includes the neighborhoods of Sunlight Beach, Olympic View and Sun Vista and the Useless Bay Golf and Country Club.

Gabelein said that those interested should send a letter to the Island County Diking District 1, PO Box 1116, Clinton, 98236. Candidates must be residents of the district and registered voters in the state of Washington, he said.

Also at the meeting, commissioners hired Edwards & Associates of Freeland to handle administrative work for the district beginning in February.

The firm will keep district records at its office, handle phone service and clerical work and provide a space for public meetings. It will be paid $40 per hour per service provided, Gabelein said.

“The district is growing,” he said. “At least all the controversy has brought about some necessary upgrades. It’s time to step it up.”

The district commissioners meet the first Thursday of every month.

Roy Jacobson can be reached at 221-5300 or rjacobson@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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