Skagit County Signs on to Sustainable Communities Partnership with WWU

BELLINGHAM – During the 2017-18 academic year, Western Washington University students and faculty will be assisting Skagit County staff on a range of projects – such as developing recommendations on county setbacks, determining locations of abandoned septic systems, writing a community plan for Edison, developing and executing a public opinion survey on land use policy issues and making recommendations for proper disposal of junk that has collected in the county.

This is part of Western’s Sustainable Communities Partnership (SCP), housed in the WWU Office of Sustainability, which focuses the energy and ideas of WWU faculty and students upon the issues that communities face as our society transitions to a more sustainable future. SCP partners with communities during the academic year, facilitating a program in which many Western courses complete service-learning projects that address problems identified by the partner.

“This is a great opportunity for Western students, through their coursework, to gain real-world municipal problem-solving. While students may lack in experience, they often provide innovative ideas and creativity to solve sustainability issues,” said Grace Wang, WWU professor of Environmental Studies and academic program director for Sustainability.

Ryan Walters, assistant director, Skagit County Planning and Development Services, said that, "Skagit County is looking forward to this program not just to accomplish several important projects that we've not been able to get to, but also to continue our longstanding partnership with WWU. Skagit County has a history of productive internships with Western students, many of whom have gone on to obtain jobs with the County."

The Association of Washington Cities (AWC) and Western launched the Sustainable Cities Partnership last year in Edmonds based on a successful model pioneered at the University of Oregon seven years ago, now replicated in dozens of sites around the country.  The partnership paired students and faculty together with Edmonds to work on city-defined projects.

A similar partnership between Western and the City of Stanwood also is planned for the coming academic year.

In Skagit County, projects will include:

  • Development of a template design and guidance materials for rainwater catchment that it could offer to homeowners.
  • Recommendations on revisions to Skagit County code governing zoning setbacks, some of which is unnecessarily complex.
  • A public survey of county residents showing the true support for various land use policy issues, such as agri-tourism in agricultural land.
  • A plan to motivate meaningful behavioral change for the county’s Clean Samish Initiative, which is a program to reduce water pollution such as fecal coliform that results in closure of shellfish harvest in Samish Bay.
  • Locating unknown and abandoned septic systems in the county, an important way to mitigate pollution.
  • Designing an outreach program to increase rates of recycling in multi-family housing complexes.
  • Developing a community plan for the unincorporated community of Edison.
  • Developing recommendations on outreach for private land cleanup (items such as obsolete machinery, car parts, old appliances and more) in the county.

The Association of Washington Cities serves its members through advocacy, education and services. Founded in 1933, AWC is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan corporation that represents Washington's cities and towns before the state legislature, the state executive branch and with regulatory agencies. AWC also provides training, data and resources, and programs such as Employee Benefit Trust, Risk Management Service Agency, Workers’ Compensation Retrospective Rating Program, and Drug & Alcohol Consortium.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017