The Skagit County commissioners will make a decision on whether to fluoridate the water for most of the county on May 15, and they’re likely to vote yes.
But that likely won’t be the end of the story.
If the commissioners vote to fluoridate the Skagit PUD’s main water system — which provides water to Burlington, Mount Vernon, Sedro-Woolley and surrounding areas — questions will remain about how much it will cost and how to pay for it.
The commissioners, as a whole, are leaning toward voting for fluoridation, although they’re not willing to quite admit that yet.
“I’ve pretty much made up my mind as to what I’m comfortable voting on it,” said Commissioner Don Munks. “I have a basis behind me, which is Anacortes, which has had fluoride since 1962.”
Opponents of fluoridation say it’s a health risk, and Munks said he takes that concern seriously.
“I can’t say whether, or guarantee to people, that there will never be a harmful effect that comes from fluoridating the water,” he said. But he said the benefits he has seen in Anacortes appear to outweigh the risk.
“Does that mean I’m telling you I’m voting yes? No, it doesn’t,” he said.
Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt was more forthcoming.
“I’ve been supportive of it all along,” he said. “The citizens voted yes, so I more than likely will vote yes.”
In an advisory vote last November, voters in the precincts served by the PUD’s main system came out in favor of fluoridation. The vote was 52 percent for and 48 percent against.
That margin may have been enough to convince Dahlstedt, but not Munks.
“We didn’t really get a message from the advisory vote,” Munks said.
The county’s newest commissioner, Sharon Dillon, hasn’t made up her mind yet, she said.
“I have to admit, I’m torn,” she said. “I’m going to have to do some soul-searching.”
What keeps her from voting for it are two “sticking points,” she said. One is that fluoride is readily available in toothpaste already. The other is that infants’ fluoride should be limited, but poor parents are unlikely to be buying bottled water for their children.
So, of the three commissioners, that’s one voting yes, one leaning toward yes and one undecided.
The Washington Dental Service Foundation, an arm of Delta Dental, has been promoting fluoridation and has offered to cover the costs of installing the system. But negotiations with the PUD have been slow, said Hal Clure, the Anacortes doctor who has been the point man on local efforts to fluoridate.
PUD officials have been discussing the issues with the county commissioners, said Ken Kukuk, general manager of the utility.
One possibility that has been discussed is having the foundation make the grant to the county, instead of to the PUD.
“We don’t care who we give the money to as long as it goes to a fluoridation system,” said Julia Hokanson, a senior program officer for the foundation.
Once the decision is made to fluoridate, it will still take time to go through the permit process, Kukuk said. And there will be design questions. Adding fluoridation equipment at the PUD’s water treatment plant would cost about $800,000, according to a consultant study last year.
But the system also gets water from the Anacortes treatment plant near Mount Vernon. Because Anacortes doesn’t fluoridate its water until it reaches the city, the water the PUD buys is unfluoridated. Adding equipment there would cost additional money, and would require shoreline permits because the connections are close to the Skagit River, Kukuk said.