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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.

ICU
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Events
Today
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Wild Things

9:30am|Interurban Trail

Spanish Storytime

10:30am|Lynden Library

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Magnolia Street and Cornwall Avenue

Weird Washington

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Whatcom Humane Society Wine Social

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

PhotoLUSH 2017

6:00pm|Lairmont Manor

Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Always…Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

And I Remember

7:00pm|Village Books

King John

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

International Guitar Night

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

James Hunter Six

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Borealis Wind Quintet

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Cupid's Arrow Final Weekend

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

MBT Rovers Northwood Steak and Crab
Tomorrow
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Weird Washington

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

PhotoLUSH 2017

6:00pm|Lairmont Manor

Always…Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

King John

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Cupid's Arrow Final Weekend

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Snow Play Day and Survival Skills

8:00am|Mt. Baker Ski Area

Children's Literature Conference

9:00am|Performing Arts Center

What's New in Organic Gardening

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Plant Society Ramble

9:30am|Maple Creek Loop

UFO Primer

10:00am|Syre Hall

FiberFest 2017

10:00am|La Conner Middle/High School

Intro to Ancestry

10:00am|Ferndale Library

Winter Trail Run Series

10:00am|BBMX Park

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Smelt Run

10:00am|La Conner Middle School

Kids Can Cook

11:00am|Community Food Co-op

Washington Beer Open House

12:00pm|Whatcom and Skagit counties

An all-season outdoor expo

1:00pm

Tax Help

1:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Weird Washington

1:00pm|Lynden Library

Raising Pigs

1:30pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Peace Corps Revisited

3:00pm|Lynden Library

Geology Underfoot

3:00pm|Deming Library

Starry Night Chamber Orchestra

3:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Whatcom Writes

4:00pm|Village Books

Wishes for Our Stars Gala

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Varsity Vocals

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Comedy Fundraiser

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Boating Center Fundraiser

7:00pm|Elks Club

Light in the Night Gala

7:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Wetzel's World

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Bayshore Symphony Winter Concert

7:30pm|Central Lutheran Church

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Sunday
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Bayshore Symphony Winter Concert

7:30pm|Central Lutheran Church

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Refugee Talk

2:00pm|Christ the Servant Lutheran Church

Northwest Cancer Summit

2:00pm|Bellingham Golf and Country Club

Sting and Piano Chamber Concert

3:00pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

The Tao of Raven

4:00pm|Village Books

Making time with Oscar

4:30pm

The Irish Rovers

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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