Clallam Transit considering proposal for Narcan at Gateway center

Board members want time for more discussion before next meeting

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam Transit System board postponed making a decision on providing Narcan at the Gateway Transit Center until its June 26 meeting after members spent more than 45 minutes discussing the issue.

The motion passed 4-1 Wednesday with board chair Brendan Meyer dissenting. Clint Wood, Mark Ozias and Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin were absent.

Board members said they wanted to gather more information, speak to downtown resource officer Zach Moore and the full board be involved in the discussion before they vote on a resolution.

The board was responding to a request made last year by the Clallam County Department of Health & Human Services that it be permitted to place a box for dispensing free Narcan at the downtown transit center.

The dispenser, which resembles a newspaper box, would hold 30-40 doses of Narcan (generic name naloxone), a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of a known or suspected overdose from opioids, such as fentanyl, heroin and prescription opioid medications like Oxycontin.

The Narcan kits would be provided by Health & Human Services’ Harm Reduction Health Center.

Board member Kathy Downer urged others to approve allowing the dispenser to be installed.

“I think that it’s better to have it and not need it than it is to have somebody — it could be any of our family members or any of us — need it” and it not be available, Downer said. “I researched it, and I could not find any scientific research that implied that it increased drug activity.”

Clallam County Commissioner Mike French said the Harm Reduction Health Center that opened last year just a half-mile from the transit center dispensed Narcan and provided substance abuse treatment.

French said he understood concerns that providing Narcan would attract the kind of problem behavior the transit system wants to avoid.

“I would really prefer the whole board to have this discussion,” French said. “I don’t want to make a final decision when we barely have a quorum.”

Rick Burton, the non-voting union representative on the board, said there was no need for the transit center to provide Narcan kits when it was already free and readily available throughout the community.

“It is no secret that the administration and employees do not want this,” Burton said. “Your ‘no’ vote doesn’t mean Narcan won’t be available in Port Angeles or Clallam County, it just won’t be available at Gateway.”

Casey Rudd, a 24-year transit employee, told the board that making Narcan available, like its decision to approve a one-year zero-fare pilot program, would have a disproportionately negative impact on maintenance workers like himself. They are responsible for dealing with what he said is an increased amount of drug paraphernalia and needles at bus stops and more frequent biohazard spills on buses since fare became free on Jan. 1.

“All it is going to do is attract more of these people to Gateway, which is the first thing people see when they get off the ferry,” Rudd said. “If you keep enabling people, you give them no reason to get cleaned up. If they hit rock bottom, they know they can go get Narcan and keep doing it. We don’t have to be everybody’s savior.”

General Manager Jim Fetzer said that, as the system’s former operations manager, he had first-hand experience with problems at the transit center before Moore was hired last March and the new bathrooms were installed.

“I do see the need for Narcan, but I do see the employees’ point because we’ve had such a struggle,” Fetzer said. “We had campfires in the mezzanine, we had people down there that were just completely out of their mind, feces, all kinds of things. It’s been very exciting for the employees to see that center clean up and there’s some pride there.”

The availability of Narcan, particularly during the hours when the center is unsupervised, could reverse what has been a positive trend, Maintenance Manager Gary Abrams said.

“We’ve done so much work and put so much energy into cleaning it up, we want to keep it going,” Abrams said.

The high rate of overdose deaths in the county merits serious consideration for making Narcan readily available, said Mayor Kate Dexter, an alternate board member sitting in for Schromen-Wawrin, a city council member. But she said she is also sensitive to the impact it would have on employees.

“It sounds like it’s more available downtown than it has been in the past, so maybe we take a wait-and-see approach, continue the conversation with other folks and first responders,” Dexter said.

In other items from the meeting, the Hurricane Shuttle will resume service May 25 through Sept. 2. Buses will leave from the Gateway Transit Center starting at 8:15 a.m.; a 5:30 p.m. departure from Hurricane Ridge has been added due to high demand last year. Information about the service can be found at www.clallamtransit.com/HurricaneRidge.

Delaney Ronish received the transit system’s employee of the first quarter award. Ronish was hired as a temporary COVID-19 cleaner in 2021 and in less than three years worked her way up to become a full-time mobility coordinator who assists riders in accessing transportation services.

The board’s next meeting will be June 24. Its regular meeting on the third Wednesday of the month was pushed ahead one week because the regular meeting would fall on Juneeteenth, a federal holiday.

At a special meeting before its regular business meeting Wednesday, the eight-member board approved maintaining its current composition of two elected officials each from Port Angeles, Forks, Sequim and Clallam County and a non-voting union representative.

Every four years, Washington public transit systems are required to hold a composition conference to determine the makeup of their board. There was discussion of adding a non-voting member to the board who is a regular bus patron that could be taken up at a later time.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at paula.hunt@peninsulanews.us.

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