Continuation of Orcas canal causes rising community tension

Blast extending the Orcas canel / Photoshopper: Dagney Krüger

In 1963, a permit was issued to the company LD McIntyre to dig a canal from the North Shore of Orcas Island into the middle of Eastsound. McIntyre planned to use the canal for water access into town, increasing shipping and tourism.

Unfortunately, a difficulty was encountered that halted progression of the canal in its tracks: the technology of the time made it economically unfeasible to continue digging. The unfinished canal was sold to Harold Lewis Brandt in 1970. A marina was constructed inside the canal and named Brandt’s Landing. Today it is commonly known as “The Ditch.”

This year, the San Juan County decided it would be beneficial to resume excavation. The project has also grown in scope over the years: instead of creating a channel that simply enters Eastsound, this new waterway will divide Orcas Island in two. This will allow for shipping traffic to deliver directly to island stores, and for cruising boats to cut their travel time in half. Unfortunately, a few houses and buildings will need to be gently moved out of the way of the blasting, but the county is confident a new place will be provided for them. Do not be alarmed if you arrive at your business in the morning to find your place of work has apparently vanished. It has simply been moved to a new location.

Another issue is that, with the completion of the canal, Orcas will be separated into two islands, and some east versus west hostilities are already rising. Upon being interviewed on her opinions regarding the Western Orcasites, Ms. Stahl said “We are going to build a wall, and we are going to make them pay for it.” With these new tensions, it seems that cordial relations between the two sides will soon become impossible.

As far as affordability, the project will be receiving significant state subsidies of $543 million, part of which will be directed towards a new ferry landing for the East Orcasites and a new school for the West Orcasites.

The state has also declared that with the use of the subsidies, an annual water-based sporting event will take place in the canal in an attempt to ease the rising tensions. It is likely that a San Juan County ballot will soon be sent out so that voters may determine the nature of this event.

The next few months may get noisy with sounds of blasting and drilling, but residents are urged to stay calm. County officials say the Orcas canal will be a great benefit to everyone.

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