Local lawmakers put aside politics for needle cleanup

Candidates and elected officials came together to search in Smokey Point.

SMOKEY POINT — In these often acrimonious political times, an amble through the woods can be a therapeutic reminder that some issues don’t have to be partisan.

Such was the case Saturday when Democrats and Republicans, candidates, elected officials and precinct officers of both stripes, tromped along trails amid ferns and cedars.

At times, it had the feel of an Easter egg hunt minus the chocolate and gooey filling. The object of their search was far more sobering. With eyes cast down toward forest floor, they scanned the underbrush for discarded needles.

Their outing was a window into the narcotic netherworld that seems to exist along the periphery of just about every community these days.

Arlington Police Chief Jonathan Ventura served as a tour guide and instructor in the proper technique of picking up the dangerous debris. Each searcher was armed with tongs and thick gloves to deposit into handheld receptacles.

Ventura has worked as an Arlington police officer for 18 years. That’s long enough to remember a time when the number of homeless could be counted on two hands, with several fingers to spare. In recent years, that figure has ballooned to more than 200, many of whom take refuge in the disappearing greenbelts.

Saturday’s stop was a wooded area several blocks south of 172nd Street and east of Smokey Point Boulevard. On the outskirts were deserted shopping carts from three local businesses. The trail passed by homes before a sagging, makeshift footbridge crossed a ditch and led into the timberland. It was somewhere around that spot where Arlington city limits end and Marysville’s begin.

Empty bags of Cheetos and Doritos, plastic forks and tossed pop bottles serve as bread crumbs to spots where addicts get high.

Eventually needles are found in the trodden grass among fast-food bags and candy wrappers.

Some are scattered. Others are found by the dozen.

Ventura tells the gathering of 18, including fellow police officers and nonpartisans, that he’s seeing fewer needles than he has in the past. He speculates that more users are swapping used for new through a needle-exchange program.

There is no talk of hot-button issues on this outing. State Rep. John Lovick described what he puts in his daily smoothies, including the berries and walnuts. Former Marysville City Councilwoman Donna Wright reminisced about municipal projects dating back a quarter-century.

The work party was arranged by Snohomish County Councilmembers Nate Nehring, a Republican, and Stephanie Wright, a Democrat. Ventura and Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert joined in the planning.

Nehring represents the north county; Wright, a pocket of the south county. Both graduated from Marysville schools.

Both also serve on the Snohomish Health District board, as did others involved in the cleanup.

“This event serves to show that the opioid epidemic is not a partisan issue, Nehring said. “As partners, we can make a positive difference in our communities and the lives of our neighbors.”

On this day and this issue, there is common ground.

“The only way we are going to make any progress is together,” Wright said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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