Kool-Aid and YOYOs
KOOL-AID AND YOYOs: Despite growing infestations of harmful invasive species being introduced into the city’s drinking water reservoir, Bellingham City Council earlier this summer declined to close one probable source for that infestation, the public boat launch at Bloedel-Donovan Park. Council responded to the request of city staff that their department needed to collect additional data and help educate boaters as to the potential threats their hulls and bilges may introduce into the drinking water supply for 95,000 people.
Council’s inaction ignored the recommendation from its own Lake Whatcom Watershed Advisory Board to immediately close the public boat launch until a comprehensive aquatic invasive species program can be developed and implemented to prevent aggressive zebra and quagga mussels from infesting our reservoir.
One wonders what additional data city staff may collect they don’t already know, or what education they intend to deliver that has not already been received… and ignored: Boaters will use boat launches until they no longer can. Then they won’t. It’s that simple, although city staff have spent recent weekends at the park serving Kool-Aid to boaters along with the lectures.
Whatcom County Council drank a Kool-Aid of similar flavor when, in 2010, they summarily wrecked their program for on-site sewer inspections for homeowners living in the Lake Whatcom watershed. In its initial phase, the county Health Department program called for professional inspections. In a second phase, revenues from those inspections might’ve built a financial assistance plan, a low-interest loan program, to help ease costs to those homeowners. In essence, the second stage would set up an insurance pool to replace ailing systems, the logic being that the entire system of water users benefit from the higher standards of professional inspection. Rather than implement the second stage, however, County Council destroyed the first stage, caving into the shrill demands of lakefront property owners and swapping in a Do-It-Yourself, You’re On Your Own model for on-site septic inspections.
As might be expected, those who screeched at the threats to liberty and the costs of professional inspections have also proved uncooperative in shelling out for the revised YOYO model. Nearly half of those homeowners have required costly prodding and nagging by Health Department staff, with more than 100 property owners in flagrant violation of inspection requirements. Obviously, destroying the original program also destroyed the revenues that might pay for this prodding and nagging enforcement. Suggestive of the quality of inspections, when professionals were doing the looking, they found roughly a third of septic systems they examined were in need of maintenance or replacement; when homeowners started policing themselves, the number of systems reported to require no outlay for improvements jumped to a miraculous 92 percent! Hallelujah!
Back in December, Bellingham City Council tumbled to the realization that the city was paying half the cost of the county’s shoddy OSS program—in which costs are shifted from specific homes around the lake causing the impacts on to general taxpayers paying for those impacts—while perhaps only a single home inside city limits actually operates a septic system inside the watershed. All other homes are hooked into city sewers.
The city will withdraw from participating in the program at the end of 2012, at a loss of revenue to the county of $93,000.
The state, too, may withdraw its grant funding by 2014, putting the county in its struggle against OSS scofflaws in a particular bind, with funding for their OSS program slashed by two-thirds.
Revisiting their folly this week, County Council belatedly considered introducing the low-interest loan program they destroyed their OSS program in 2010 to avoid. Yet they kept in place the inferior YOYO self-inspection program and all its inefficiencies and lack of safeguards: All of the “socialism” with none of the social benefit.
At the intersection of COB’s inaction to the nascent emergency of invasive species potentially clogging the city’s water supply and the county’s half-assed approach to septics leaching into the reservoir, one finds the pattern and response of public policy toward Lake Whatcom. The lake has held a 303(d) listing under the federal Clean Water Act as an impaired water body for the better part of two decades, yet the public policy response is invariably status quo or glacial in execution.
An infestation discovered concentrated at public boat launches was a priori evidence to close those launches to motorized craft pending further investigation, a wonderful excuse to do what they should have done long ago, yet city staff turned this on its head: Do nothing until investigation is complete and, presumably, the problem has exploded beyond solution. Since the county would not be a reasonable partner and close public launches outside the city’s control, the city declined to take any action on public launches within its control.
The county, meanwhile, takes responsible action on septic systems only when (and likely because) the city declined to continue to be a willing financial partner in the farce and folly. Jammed with the full responsibility and cost of their lunatic decision, County Council softens up and makes changes, but keeps in place a “race to failure” dynamic that promises no net improvement.
The intersection defers to a particular view of the reservoir as the plaything of the propertied class, whether a home or a boat, or in some cases both. “Management” becomes a euphemism for decline. So come on down, everybody, refreshments will be served!
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