The Gristle

Fire and Water

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

FIRE AND WATER: With a stalemate continuing in Olympia over the issue of residential wells in basins of restricted supply, Whatcom County Council this week extended their ban on building permits for rural homes that require wells in basins of restricted supply.

The state Supreme Court in Oct. 2016 determined—in a ruling against Whatcom County that’s come to be known as the Hirst decision—that a reliable, year-round supply of water is required for new homes or developments, and that must be determined as part of a county’s planning and permitting process. County planning has done a credible job of covertly, sub rosa moving along a limited number of mature development applications that were already underway when the moratorium curtain fell—contrary to breathless and bloodcurdling reports, the number of homebuilders who were truly trapped mid-action, mid-investment, have been quietly addressed—but County Council is fairly paralyzed until a more clear direction emerges from Olympia.

Undoubtedly, the assurance of adequate water supply will have to be determined by county planners as part of their future permitting; but the county and other jurisdictions would prefer to have the state—notably the Dept. of Ecology—take a lead role and set the standard for defining adequate supply. This—in forms more aggressive or less aggressive—is at essence what is sought through a legislative “fix” at the state level.

State Senate Republicans have issued a bright-line demand that the concerns of the Supreme Court get sponged away by new legislation. Democrats have shown some flexibility in considering new legislation, but believe—along with their supporters, including environmental groups and the tribes—the court’s concerns about water availability and senior water rights must be recognized and accommodated, not simply obliterated. But Republicans have the leverage, holding hostage the state’s $43.2 billion capital budget. The 2017-2019 budget funds hundreds of projects and thousands of jobs around the state.

Since the politics of Hirst are likely to energize and influence election outcomes statewide for all of next year—as Republicans seek to capitalize on the rage of frustrated homebuilders and the cash contributions of powerful construction interests—it’s unlikely the Legislature will come to terms on a “fix” any time soon.

Meanwhile, Whatcom County is not the only entity paralyzed in the impasse.

Gov. Jay Inslee is in Bellingham this week, discussing climate change and the need for individuals and local and state leaders to take action. His presentation at Western Washington University is the first of several meetings and town halls the governor will host to emphasize the importance of climate action and policies to promote clean energy and technology, carbon and greenhouse gas reduction, energy efficiency and more.

A number of those climate change initiatives are addressed in the stalled capital budget.

The governor’s climate action plan was dealt an additional blow this week by the Trump administration’s rollback of the Clean Power Act, dismantling President Obama’s signature policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. In a statement this week, the Environmental Protection Agency said repealing the measure will “facilitate the development of U.S. energy resources and reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens associated with the development of those resources.”

For Washington, which receives its coal-fired electricity from a single aging plant outside the state that is scheduled to be shuttered, the EPA action is of vanishing concern. The state is not investing in coal-fired energy. But symbolically, the rollback means partnering states are no longer committed to combatting climate change through policies that encourage investment in clean energy, energy efficiency and climate resilience.

“By repealing the Clean Power Plan, President Trump and his EPA administrator are recklessly removing any meaningful, science-based federal restraint on the carbon pollution that power plants are allowed to pump into our atmosphere,” Inslee said. “The United States Supreme Court has ruled on three separate occasions that the EPA has a responsibility, under the Clean Air Act and other federal laws, to protect American communities from harmful carbon pollution. The Clean Power Plan was constructed to give states the flexibility to choose its own path to a clean energy future.

“Washington state is already feeling the harmful and costly effects of climate change—in more devastating wildfire seasons, strained water resources, increasingly acidic coastal waters, and more. And we are taking action to respond,” Inslee said.

Which circles back to the paralyzed capital budget and the projects held hostage within it. Many are designed to help Whatcom and other counties address concerns about resources, including water.

More than $640 million was requested in the capital budget for Ecology projects planned for the 2017-2019 biennium. Among those projects are $5.5 million to improve channel flows in Swift Creek to help reduce naturally occurring asbestos, and $3.7 million for a number of stormwater projects around the county, as well as funds for the continued cleanup of Puget Sound.

The irony of holding the state budget hostage to Hirst is there are projects within that budget that can in many cases help address the underlying concerns of oversubscribed water supply and degraded water quality. Whatcom County Council is in no certain position to move forward on any programmatic response to Hirst without assurance their programs will be supported by legislation.

Ultimately the paralysis serves no one, other than the elected representatives who will rage and storm about the impasse for the many months of campaigning ahead.

Past Columns
Gifts of the Three Magi

December 13, 2017


December 6, 2017

Gulag Goulash

November 29, 2017

Bronze Rule

November 22, 2017

Napkin Plan

November 15, 2017

Less Wave Than Slosh

November 8, 2017

Statistics of Shame

November 1, 2017

Cashing Out, Cashing In

October 25, 2017

A Creeping Paralysis

October 18, 2017


September 27, 2017

Ounce of Prevention

September 20, 2017

Dwelling On It

September 13, 2017

Keeping the Dream Alive

September 6, 2017

A Bridge Too Far?

August 23, 2017

The Missing Middle

August 16, 2017

The Last, Best Solution

August 9, 2017

Fire and Water III

August 2, 2017

Fire and Water II

July 26, 2017

Fire and Water

July 19, 2017

Some Assembly Required

July 12, 2017

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

Santa's in Town

10:00am|Yeager's Toyland

The Lights of Christmas

5:00pm|Warm Beach Camp

Little Women, the Musical

7:00pm|Sudden Valley Dance Barn

Anne of Green Gables

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Connelly Creek Nature Area

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am|Sunset Square

Hot Cider & Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

COffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Hidden Narrative Tour

3:30pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Drayton Harbor Shell-ebration

4:00pm|H Street Plaza

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Jingle Belles

4:00pm|La Conner

Ukulele Concert

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Holiday Movie Night

6:00pm|Bellingham High School

Holiday Night Market

6:00pm|Commercial Street

The Snow Queen

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Holiday Ball



7:00pm|Cirque Lab

Community Orchestra Winter Concert

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Skagit Valley Chorale's Heralding Christmas

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Ghosts and Brawling

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Santa's in Town

10:00am|Yeager's Toyland

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

The Lights of Christmas

5:00pm|Warm Beach Camp

Little Women, the Musical

7:00pm|Sudden Valley Dance Barn

Anne of Green Gables

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Hot Cider & Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am|Sunset Square

The Snow Queen

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Skagit Valley Chorale's Heralding Christmas

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Ghosts and Brawling

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Make It and Take It

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Breakfast with Santa

9:00am|Bellingham Childcare & Learning Center

Coast Salish Winter Festival

10:00am|Lummi Gateway Center

Jingle Bell Dash

10:00am|Seafarers Memorial Park

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Sleighbells Ring

10:00am|Bellewood Acres

Holiday Tea

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Chainsaw Sculpting Open Studio

10:00am|Tomas Vrba Studio

Baker Beacon Rally

11:00am|Heather Meadow

Fairhaven Winterfest

12:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Peter James Holiday Gallery Sale and Reception

1:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Hansel and Gretel

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Youth Symphony Holiday Concert

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Eat Your Words Cookbook Club

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Holiday Wines from Spain

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Mozzarella Class

3:00pm|Appel Farms

Winter Dance Celebration

3:00pm|Brodniak Hall

Noel Trio

3:00pm|Jansen Art Center

The Nativity

6:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Not So Silent Night

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Winter Star Mountain Journey

7:00pm|Blaine Performing Arts Center

Kulshan Chorus Winter Concert

7:30pm|Bellingham High School

Skagit Symphony Holiday Concert

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Wizard People, Dear Bellingham

8:00pm|Alternative Library

Teen Library Lock-In

8:00pm|Ferndale Library

Christmas Milonga Tango Experience

9:00pm|Presence Studio

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Wizard
Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

Santa's in Town

10:00am|Yeager's Toyland

The Lights of Christmas

5:00pm|Warm Beach Camp

Pacific Arts Market

10:00am|Sunset Square

The Snow Queen

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Skagit Valley Chorale's Heralding Christmas

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Sleighbells Ring

10:00am|Bellewood Acres

The Nativity

6:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Winter's Return Concert

2:00pm|Skagit Valley Unitarian Fellowship

Nonfiction and Memoir Writing Group

3:00pm|Village Books

Nutcracker Holiday

3:00pm|Jansen Art Center

Holiday Chorus

3:00pm|St. James Presbyterian Church

Whatcom Chorale's Messiah

3:30pm|Church of the Assumption

Backgammon Session

5:30pm|Parkway Village

Way North Comedy Showcase

7:00pm|Farmstrong Brewing Co.

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