Langley debates county population projection

Langley is one step closer to determining a population projection for the next 20 years.

The city of Langley is one step closer to determining a population projection for the next 20 years as part of countywide comprehensive planning efforts.

In December 2023, Island County commissioners adopted a population projection of 102,639 by the year 2045. The estimate, which was the medium projection, came from the state Office of Financial Management. The county currently has an estimated population of 88,150, according to 2023 data.

It’s now up to the municipalities of Island County to approve the projection, which the Langley City Council did this week. But it was not without some concern.

How much this projected growth might affect Langley specifically, however, will be discussed at a future meeting. The council plans to convene a special meeting at 1 p.m. on Monday, March 11 to talk about the amount of population and housing allocated to the Village by the Sea.

Director of Community Planning Meredith Penny fielded questions from the council Tuesday night related to climate change and the island’s carrying capacity.

According to a state demographer she consulted, the Office of Financial Management does not have a specific factor that accounts for climate-related migration or climate refugees, but that existing data sources such as school enrollment numbers, voter registrations and driver’s license issuances may already be picking up this data.

At a previous meeting, council members had wondered if the carrying capacity for the islands should be determined before selecting a population projection. Penny spoke to a county hydrogeologist, who told her that Island County Public Health’s groundwater program monitors areas and ensures development does not create issues with seawater intrusion.

Groundwater withdrawals from neighboring areas like Freeland and Clinton have never indicated even a potential to impact groundwater in the vicinity of Langley’s wells, Penny added. Though the city’s wells are within an area identified as medium risk for sea water intrusion, they have not shown any indication of it happening.

County commissioners have included a 2025 legislative funding request to conduct a comprehensive water study, aiming to better understand the quantity and quality of water in the county’s aquifers.

Penny reminded the council that population projections are for planning purposes only, and don’t guarantee the county will see growth of that exact amount. A majority of the legislative bodies representing Coupeville, Island County, Langley and Oak Harbor must ratify the projection.

She cautioned the council against choosing a projection that is too low, since it could affect infrastructure. The recommendation is to select the medium projection.

Councilmember Rhonda Salerno expressed a preference to delay the decision until a future meeting, citing climate-related concerns about countywide saltwater intrusion and sea level rise.

“Our Climate Crisis Action Committee is just now starting to think about doing a climate action plan,” she said, adding that Langley needs to set an example for the other jurisdictions in Island County. While she supported the projection, Salerno said she wanted to have the time to include some caveats.

Councilmember Chris Carlson said he was inclined to approve the medium population projection.

“It’s better for us to have excess capacity than to be caught flat-footed when we end up growing faster than we planned for,” he said.

Councilmember Craig Cyr, however, did not see a point in delaying the vote for the projection, and advocated for it to take place that night.

Members of the public shared concerns about aquifer recharge as precipitation in Western Washington decreases.

The majority of the council voted against Salerno’s motion to delay the vote, with Councilmember Gail Fleming choosing to abstain because she felt she didn’t know enough. Salerno made another motion to approve the medium projection, but with the inclusion of a letter to county officials citing some of the concerns discussed by the council. This motion also failed to pass, so a third motion was made just for the medium projection, and it was unanimously approved.

“I think we’ll have plenty of opportunities to convey our values and goals with relation to climate throughout the comprehensive plan process, and it’s not necessary for us to hold up procedural steps in order to do that now,” Carlson said.