Council wants Clean Air Authority axed

The Sunnyside City Council's issues with the Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority came to a head last night, as Mayor Ed Prilucik received unanimous support for a request to ask the Yakima County commissioners to deactivate the agency.

The Yakima County Clean Air Authority was created in February 1968 by the Yakima County commissioners. The agency, under the guidance of director Les Ornelas, has been the target of harsh criticism in recent years. Some of the most vocal critics have been the Sunnyside City Council.

Some harsh feelings developed with the Sunnyside City Council when the county agency abandoned the city on an air quality monitoring project of the Monson feedlot a few years ago.

The Sunnyside City Council is now asking the county commissioners to deactivate the Clean Air Authority. If this was to take place the Washington State Department of Ecology, which has an office in Yakima, would take over the duties of regulating clean air regulations in the county.

Prilucik explained his reason for making the motion to have the Yakima County commissioners deactivate the agency.

The mayor shared a letter with Council he received from the Environmental Protection Agency. Prilucik summed the correspondence up by saying that the federal government basically removed the authority of the Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority to govern clean air regulations on lands and properties within the Yakama Nation Indian Reservation. Prilucik said this means the Clean Air Authority will no longer have say over regulations in Toppenish, Wapato and Harrah based on the move by EPA.

Prilucik said that at the last meeting of the Yakima Valley mayors, a nomination was sought to replace Sunnyside City Councilman Bruce Ricks, who had resigned his alternate board member position with the Clean Air Authority. At the same meeting, Judy Boekholder, a political fixture on the Toppenish City Council, resigned her position on the Clean Air Authority board of directors. Boekholder felt she couldn't have a proper say since the agency no longer had rule over Yakama Nation lands, which includes Toppenish.

"I think there are some real problems with this government agency," said Prilucik.

Prilucik said the Clean Air Authority serves no real purpose. Prilucik cited how difficult it has been to work with the Yakima agency and the trouble other communities have had.

"This is the responsible thing to do," said Prilucik about deactivating the Clean Air Authority."

Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell agreed with the mayor. He said the city pays $2,271 as its assessment for being governed by the Clean Air Authority.

"We haven't received much of any benefit," said Stockwell. "We kind of wondered what this group really does. It is time for us to stop spending money that won't benefit anyone."

Stockwell said with Toppenish, Wapato and Harrah no longer being under the rule of the Clean Air Authority, there is some concern that the remaining cities will have to pick up a larger chunk of the bill for the agency to operate.

Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar, though, wasn't nearly as sold as the rest of the Council. She felt the city should do more research and possibly work further with the agency. Aguilar also had some concerns about DOE taking over the role of the Clean Air Authority.

"We are confident they will do a far superior job," said Stockwell of DOE.

Councilman Jim Restucci asked Prilucik what the consensus of the other Valley mayors were. Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer, who was also at the mayors meeting, said most of the other mayors agreed with the need to rid the county of the Clean Air Authority, but said they still felt it was important to be involved with the process until those steps are in place to possibly disband the agency.

Prilucik said the benefits of doing away with the Clean Air Authority far outweigh the concerns of turning over control to the DOE. The mayor said DOE has at least been responsive to the concerns of the city while the Clean Air Authority has not.

"The service in this Valley is not being provided," said Prilucik.

Stockwell cited one area of what he viewed as incompetence concerning an asbestos report that the Clean Air Authority had for nearly two years on the now demolished Anciso building in downtown Sunnyside. Stockwell said the agency didn't share that report with the city, which caused significant delays with the project moving forward.

This morning, Ornelas was reluctant to provide comment on last night's meeting.

"We honestly have not been contacted by anyone from Sunnyside," said Ornelas. "I am very respectful of the concerns of the City of Sunnyside."

Ornelas said he wishes the city had approached him and started a discussion regarding its concerns before making the issue public.

"There is still some lingering angst over some of our history," said Ornelas. "It would have been very worthwhile for us to have some discussion (before this). Perhaps that would have changed the tone of this."

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