Michael Wagar Commentary: NIMBY Opposition to Centralia Quarantine Motel Is Misguided


I’m fortunate to live near Mossyrock up on a hill with views of Mayfield Lake, the foothill mountains of East Lewis County and Mount Rainier.

When friends and family stop by, they take in our view and proclaim, “What a beautiful view. Wow.”

They seem to miss a small blight in my view: a rock pit just across the way. In addition to operating from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, you can sometimes hear the whirl of rock being dug up and sorted.

The rock used by the pit goes toward all sorts of projects depending on size. Big boulders are used to build seawalls and landscapes, rocks the size of a quarter are used for gravel (and the materials to help build and maintain our roads) and rocks the size of your hand are used for such projects as stabilizing railroad tracks.

When the pit started to expand years ago, I complained about the spoiled view to my neighbor, a wise man with plenty of experience. His view of the lake and mountain was even more stunning than my peek-a-boo view of the lake.

My neighbor said, “Michael, you have to have paved roads to drive on. If we made it so that only rock pits could be located in places where nobody would be bothered, we wouldn’t have many rock pits.”

The “not in my backyard” — going NIMBY — is a strong impulse. A few years ago, for example, a neighborhood near Randle rallied against a company that wanted to start a water bottling plant along the Cowlitz River. The neighbors won; the plant moved to easier pickings.

But when my neighbor pointed out the obvious, the small view of the rock pit from my deck started to fade away. Of course we need rock pits. Sometimes, such necessities offer the greater good, and we just have to look the other way.

For Lewis County and Centralia, a “not in my backyard” situation has popped up. Last month the state Department of Health, without advance notice, opened up a COVID-19 relocation, isolation and quarantine facility at the 40-bed Lakeview Inn in Centralia.

The motel is a voluntary quarantine site, serving those stuck in Washington state who have the virus or have been exposed to the virus. It serves such people as travelers, shipping vessel crews, military personnel and prison work-release inmates. Basically, it houses anyone temporarily flowing through the state who is not a regular citizen of a particular county. For example, a shipping crew docked in Port Angeles had an outbreak. All of the crew members needed to go into isolation. They are now at the site in Centralia.

The state chose the Lakeside Inn because of its proximity to the Tumwater-based Department of Health headquarters. State officials said they had little time to pick the Centralia site and that they expect a permanent site will likely replace the Lakewood Inn in the coming months. They hope to be out of the motel by late next month.

The Department of Health officials apologized for the initial lack of communication, and according to county officials, has done a 180-degree reversal and is now commended for its now open and transparent dealings complete with daily briefings to the county.

Only 32 people so far have been quarantined at the motel. Of those, two are inmates on work release. Two have had to be hospitalized.

A Department of Health official said so far, no one has tried to leave the facility, which is ideal for quarantine due to separate rooms with their own bathrooms, proximity to a hospital and decent ventilation.

Beyond the initial lack of communication by the state, the Lakeside Inn is a proper location for a temporary quarantine site. The people infected have to go somewhere. Fortunately, unlike my rock pit, the quarantine motel will soon be returned to normal operations, but not before the Lakeside Inn serves a valuable service as we tamp down the virus.


Michael Wagar is a former president, publisher and editor of The Chronicle.