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Design Contest For San Juan Island Plates To Help Sustain Conservation Lands

Lincoln Bormann
San Juan County Land Bank
An example of a possible license plate design, for entry into the San Juan Islands Specialty Plate Design contest. Entries will be accepted through July 1, 2017.

When funds are tight, it might be tempting for government to try to raise taxes or fees. But what if you could just inspire people to opt in and pay extra to support something they love? That’s the idea behind a new campaign for a specialty license plate that would generate funds to support conservation lands in the San Juan Islands.

“So, basically a regular license plate is about $30, a specialty design license plate is about $60. And $28 of those dollars go to the organization that has financed the design of that,” said Monument Manager Marcia deChadenèdesas she briefed visitors to the offices of the relatively new San Juan Islands National Monument about the revenue plan.  

She came up with the idea for the funding plate. An umbrella organization will channel the revenue and have artists and non-profits compete for the winning design. The first step isgetting 3,500 consumers to sign up.

“We figure with 3,500 people, we will make a bottom-level amount of $100,000 every year to go straight to all the non-profits,” she said.

State Senator Kevin Rankeris sponsoring the legislation to make the license plate initiative a reality. He represents the 40th legislative district – which includes northern Puget Sound, Bellingham, Skagit Valley, Mt. Vernon, Anacortes and the San Juan Islands. He lives on Orcas.

“This is one of those – this is mom and apple pie,” Ranker said. “This is a really good opportunity to bring some revenue in for critical projects, to protect the natural resources, which are such an important economic driver as well, because they are recreational resources.”

Once the signatures are gathered, original artwork for the design will be accepted through June 1 this year and some of those will be exhibited on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Island. Then this summer, islanders could vote for their favorites. Part of the original concept is to have the number one plate go to the winner of the design contest.  The hope is that the new plates will be available in the summer of 2018.   

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to