City council discusses ideas for student involvement with boards and commissions

Members of the Mountlake Terrace City Council meet via Zoom July 15.

Updated with new information.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council discussed youth representation on city boards and commissions and also learned about programs that can aid property owners in their efforts to remove and/or remedy underground fuel storage tanks.

The council had previously talked, in late 2019, about providing opportunities for increased student input on issues that come before boards and commissions. Those discussions were put on hold in 2020, during the pandemic, but councilmembers continued to express support for the idea at their annual planning retreats. With pandemic restrictions easing, and the possibility of soon returning to in-person public meetings, conversation on the matter resumed Thursday night.

After researching ways in which other cities involve youth in their local government, City Manager Scott Hugill presented the council with three options that are commonly used.

One involves designating specific positions on boards and commissions to be held by students. Mountlake Terrace had previously included student-designated positions on boards, such as the Library Board and Community Policing Board. But those were removed over time when it proved difficult for students to consistently attend meetings due to various conflicts with other obligations such as school and work. Hugill added that another potential problem with having a student-specific position on boards or commissions can be the burden of one student attempting to represent a larger group.

Another option that some cities utilize is to have multi-member student boards that can represent a variety of interests and perspectives. Hugill explained that the city currently faces a challenge in having such a board due to its lack of staffing resources needed to support the committee’s efforts.

A third approach is to hold specific events for students to provide their input, similar to the monthly Coffee with the City forum but in a student-focused version. It could possibly be scheduled at various times and days, and possibly even with a virtual component, which would then allow students to attend when they are able to.

Councilmember Steve Woodard introduced a fourth possible option, which wouldn’t necessarily be a standalone program, that would involve providing an annual project for students to work and report back on. He said that could allow the students to demonstrate leadership while also giving them “something tangible to bring to the city.” Woodard added that it would also involve working with schools to recruit students or generate their interest and would likely be more difficult than establishing a board or commission positions.

All of the councilmembers expressed their general support for getting youth involved in some way. Many acknowledged, however, that determining exactly how to get students consistently engaged is important to any such program’s ultimate success and may also prove to be its most difficult component. In addition to reaching out through the schools, it was also suggested that perhaps engaging with scouts and similar youth organizations would be effective for gathering young people’s input and ideas.

Council discussion on the matter will continue in the future and as Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto Wright noted, “this is the beginning” of that process. Community Relations Director Virginia Clough said she and staff would be following up with the council shortly about various ideas and also may use the next city newsletter “to get that conversation started” with the community.

Another topic discussed Thursday night was underground residential heating oil tanks. Following public comment earlier this year regarding the city’s requirements for handling abandoned heating oil tanks, the council had asked for further information about state programs designed to assist owners with the costs of cleaning up contaminated soils when a tank has leaked.

Washington state law provides two options for owners of residential underground oil tanks to abandon the tank —  either by removing it or abandoning the tank in place by filling it with an inert material such as sand. Mountlake Terrace requires a permit for either method in order for the fire marshal to evaluate the work and the potential for contaminated soil if the tank leaked at some point.

When a residential heating oil tank is removed, it is emptied of oil, and the soil around the tank is excavated so that it can be lifted out of the ground and hauled away. The excavation associated with this process then enables the fire marshal to look for any evidence of contaminated soil around and underneath the tank. If there is an indication of contamination, soil samples are taken to confirm if and how much contamination occurred from a leak in the tank. Confirmation of contaminated soil then leads to a cleanup of the site.

When a tank is simply abandoned in place, then little — if any — excavation occurs. The tank is instead emptied of oil and a contractor then fills the tank with typically with sand. If the tank leaked at some point, it would have to be detected using records of how often the tank was filled in the past.

Representatives from the Washington Pollution Liability Insurance Agency (PLIA) provided a presentation, Thursday night, which covered the programs it offers in the area to help residential property owners with the environmental cleanup from those storage tanks.

The agency has an available heating oil insurance program where it acts as a reinsurer for coverage that pays up to $60,000 per tank for cleanup and monitoring of contamination from a heating oil tank release. But following state legislative action it is currently only available for owners who registered their tanks prior to July 2, 2020 — although registration transfers are permitted within 180 days of a property’s sale.

It also offers a pilot heating oil loan and grant program that provides loan awards to heating oil tank owners and operators to assist with heating infrastructure upgrades. Under that program, participants are awarded a $5,000 grant to help pay for preliminary planning and assessment to help determine the extent of any contamination present on the property and then estimate the cost of cleanup.

That program also makes available low-interest loan awards of up to $70,000 which requires underwriting based on information provided in the owner’s application. The money can be used to pay for cleanup and infrastructure, but property owners must first use any insurance policy funds available to them.

All property owners without heating oil tank insurance that need to pay for cleanup and/or those seeking financial assistance for heating infrastructure upgrades are encouraged to apply. More information about that program and application information can be viewed here.

If cleanup is required, the agency also has a heating oil technical assistance program that can help provide owners with related services including a site manager, a review of the data obtained from site sampling and testing, toxic control requirements and issue opinion letters. The program costs $1,000 to enroll in, although participants accepted into the agency’s loan and grant program can use grant funds to pay the enrollment fee.

Opinion letters can provide a plan for property cleanup and those sites determined to have been cleaned up are then issued a no further action letter, which can help owners with obtaining bank loans. That program’s application and agreement can be viewed here.

In other business, Virginia Clough was congratulated, during council comments, on her recent 20-year anniversary date of working for the City of Mountlake Terrace.

The city council will hold its next regular business meeting Monday, July 19 at 7 p.m. It will include a discussion of the reopening plan for city facilities and a review of the 2021 first quarter financial report. See the agenda and information for watching/participating online here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

  1. A fantastic effort by the Mountlake Terrace City Council, the Washington Pollution Liability Insurance Agency (PLIA), and the Mountlake Terrace News to make the public aware of the need to clean up the environment for the next generation and to make the public aware of financial assistance available to citizens and property owners for the cleanup and monitoring of contamination from heating oil tanks.

    Thanks!

  2. Getting students involved is the right thing to do. My suggestion is to reach out to the students currently sitting on city boards and commissions and get their perspectives on what works and what doesn’t as well as former students.
    When adults make decisions for youths without their input, there is a good chance the best solution is missed

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