"}
The Gristle

Of carts and horses

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

OF CARTS AND HORSES: Carl Weimer performed some magnificent policy jiujitsu on Whatcom County Council last week.

But first, some basics: You will not find an example similar to Bellingham’s municipal water supply in the state of Washington. Of the state’s ten Class A cities, of which Bellingham is a member, all others have closed, protected municipal reservoirs. You will not easily find another example of it in the Pacific Northwest or on the West Coast. All cities of size in Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia have similarly protected water supplies. So when local governments propose to set progressive policy on Lake Whatcom, understand: They’re spitballin’.

Two decades ago, Lake Whatcom was listed as an impaired water body under federal clean water statutes. In 2008, after lengthy delay, the state Dept. of Ecology released its preliminary study on pollutants entering the lake, a primary factor in the continued decline of the reservoir’s water quality, a decay known as eutrophication. Ecology’s finding was that the watershed was substantially overbuilt and outlined a number of potential rollback scenarios to reduce the total maximum daily load (TMDL) of pollutants entering the lake through urban runoff.

“A zero percent reduction would represent the [current] scenario,” DOE officials explained, “while a 100 percent reduction would represent a full rollback to natural conditions.”

It perhaps goes without saying that Whatcom County’s policy response to date more resembles the former than the latter. For the past decade, council has imposed a series of temporary bans on additional subdivision of small lots in the watershed, little else. For its part, Ecology set the rollback of paved and impervious surfaces at 86 percent and has remained (unhelpfully, it may turn out) open to any variety of solutions to achieve this goal. To date, the county has proposed several and implemented none.

In 2011, the City of Bellingham filed a petition with DOE, demanding the state close the lake to further withdrawals, claiming its senior rights as a supplier of clean water to municipal customers were being impaired by county development policy in the watershed. As city administrators had not met with county administrators to directly resolve the dispute, Ecology (again, unhelpfully) declined to take regulatory action, calling instead for a county stormwater plan—a plan that has yet to manifest.

It’s worth noting—again—that any remedial plan for restoring Lake Whatcom is, at best, optimistically speculative, as there are no examples or models of this having ever been achieved short of closing the reservoir. On the contrary, hundreds of lakes have been destroyed through approaches similar to the county’s.

Taking a more aggressive stance than Ecology, the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board in December criticized county development policy in the watershed, citing a state Supreme Court ruling that similarly found that counties must consider and address water resource issues in land use planning.

“The 86 percent target already assumes no additional phosphorus runoff (zero discharge) from new lots,” the state board noted, finding Ecology “made it clear that to the extent new development was not required to meet a zero-discharge standard, additional requirements (i.e., beyond 86 percent reduction) would have to be imposed on existing developments in the watershed. Ecology has made it clear that restricting new lot development is only part of the solution; pollutants from existing development and from development of previously platted parcels must also be brought under control. Thus, the necessary measures to protect water quality must go beyond down-zoning.”

Yet rather than respond to this finding, County Council opened their first meeting of 2013 with a discussion of permitting additional development of clustered lots in the watershed. These clustered lots would be exempt from the moratorium on subdivisions.

In their usual method of placing the cart athwart the horse, council proposed the home exemption before they’ve developed the standards under which these exempt homes would be built. As proposed, their exemption contained no standards addressing the TMDL or reducing eutrophication, the idea being they’ll get around to doing that work… someday.

But these subdivisions vest under the development standards in place at the time they’re created!

Weimer proposed amendment language that “all such development on lots created through such divisions and lot line adjustments provide a stormwater plan to be approved by County Planning and Development Services that shows such development will provide no increase in runoff of phosphorus beyond what would be expected from a natural forested condition.”

His amendment is a restatement of what council says they intend to get around to doing someday, achieving Ecology’s target, lord knows how, now inserted as a qualifier in their proposed exemption. Horse and cart disentangled, rehitched.

Weimer’s proposal caught the thunderstruck majority off guard.

“What we are saying is we are going to adopt an ordinance that presumes that that standard is adopted, and I have so much as admitted that that’s probably where we’re headed,” Council member Sam Crawford stammered.

For more than a decade, council has used successive extensions of the county’s moratorium to delay their own stormwater and development policy decisions while stalling final decision to property owners who expect they hold some natural right to subdivide their lots to build additional homes in the watershed. Council’s failure to resolve one served as handy excuse to avoid deciding the other.

Weimer’s amendment binds the two, so that future delays on the subdivision side of the equation are the direct consequence of council’s failure to resolve the enacting policy. In order to pound the drum of development über alles, County Council must first become treehuggers.

SVCR-0604_GritsGlamour_770x150-CW
Past Columns
A Matter of Equity

August 24, 2016

A Lock on the Crypt

August 17, 2016

Zombie Terror

August 10, 2016

A Raucous Caucus

August 3, 2016

Lockup Lockstep

July 27, 2016

Polar Wastes

July 20, 2016

Chapter Two

July 13, 2016

Close the Schools!

June 22, 2016

Closing a Circle

June 8, 2016

Roads to Nowhere

May 25, 2016

Trails versus Jail

May 18, 2016

‘We Draw The Line’

May 11, 2016

Four, or Forever

May 4, 2016

Five Favor Five

April 27, 2016

Ag Gag

April 20, 2016

State of the County

April 13, 2016

Events
Today
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Hiking Basics

6:00pm|REI

Final History Sunset Cruise

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Final BIFT

6:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Amnesty International Meeting

7:00pm|Community Food Co-op

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tomorrow
Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham City Club Meeting

11:30am|Northwood Hall

Wednesday Market

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Lynden Book Club

12:30pm|Lynden Library

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Brewers Cruise

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

The Gun Show

8:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Artifacts Wine Bar
Thursday
Skagit tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bow Little Market

1:00pm|Belfast Feed Store

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

After-Hours Market

4:00pm|Depot Market Square

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

First Thursday Art Walk

5:00pm|Downtown Mount Vernon

Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

5:00pm|Skagit Riverwalk Park

Memory to Memoir

5:30pm|Village Books

Fiesta 4 Cuba

8:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

see our complete calendar »

Zoots Side Bar Northwood Steak and Crab Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Andrew Subin Artifacts Wine Bar Swinomish 2016 Bellingham Farmer’s Market