The Gristle

The alchemy of reconveyance

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

THE ALCHEMY OF RECONVEYANCE: As above, so below; and thus as rational policy based on fact and consensus becomes impossible at the national level, so too does a deep polar political and cultural divide make rational policy difficult at the county level.

Angry hordes descended on Whatcom County Council this week, stung into action by a deeply misleading, mendacious whisper campaign designed to knock over the proposed transfer of 8,700 acres of state land to management as a county park. Doing the stinging was a toxic admixture of arch-conservative political interests, steeped in a deep red “tea,” stitched with the threads of partisan political interests, glued with extraction industry cash, gummed with a tissue of lies and glittered with the tin foil of conspiracy theory.

A gauge of greater passion and organization, perhaps, supporters of a park appeared to significantly outnumber opponents to the land transfer at council’s roiling, beyond-capacity meeting Tuesday.

It bookended June, where, reorganized after an election and bolstered by a private agreement that made a school district whole, County Council bent to the obvious and reinitialized the land transfer process. After all, the county had already paid the money—$298,000 to the state Department of Natural Resources to complete the audit and intertrust exchange of forest board lands. That exchange consolidated harvestable state timber lands and separated them from lands less harvestable or not-at-all harvestable. Included among the lands that, by degree of slope or access, were not suitable for logging at all is perhaps 2,200 acres that might be logged.

Agreeing with the majority 5-2, Council President Kathy Kershner explained her vote for a park: “It’s going to be a beautiful place for generations that will come after us to go to and recreate,” she said, “and I think that’s important that we sometimes do things just because it’s a beautiful area and we want to keep it that way.”  

It was a beautiful sentiment, and in part it convinced DNR’s governing board the following month to approve the transfer from their end, which—after a public hearing—they unanimously did.

Attending that hearing was a growing ruckus of rabble-rousers, intent on knocking over the deal. Included among them were council members Bill Knutzen and Barbara Brenner, who raged against the agreement and foamed against council.

A word about that: When councils decide policy, it is decided as a whole. Individuals do not surrender their private, personal opinions, but there is something unseemly, wrong, about climbing on a bandwagon to Olympia to screech and beseech a governing board to reject the decision of a council supermajority. The will of the council had already declared on the matter.

The craziness began there. Rather than being answered by debate and decision, the crazy escalated.

In the weeks since, opposition forces collected documents from the public record and created a highly misleading presentation, a ferment that managed to turn Kershner from her reasoned, even beautiful decision to honor the promise she made that if school districts were answered and made whole she would support the land transfer. Republicans groomed her as an alternate delegate at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., last month. There, honored on a party stage, she declared she would not and not ever support the Lake Whatcom Reconveyance.

Well, one can understand and pity her: Voting in favor of it, she would have to go right back into the den of hyenas and ask for their support for her reelection in 2013.

All the opposition must do now is turn Sam Crawford, an unusually firm stalwart in support of the logic of acquiring the state’s largest county park for 33 cents an acre. For comparison, the City of Bellingham has spent $16,000 an acre for a fraction of that acreage in the watershed. For additional comparison, a paved county road is built and maintained at a cost of roughly $1 million per mile. Funny you don’t hear the coalition of naysayers and nitwits bellyache about that cost.

As Crawford has noted, seldom has the council been presented with a proposal so extensively debated (the fate of Lake Whatcom Forest Board lands is 30 years in the making), the costs and benefits so thoroughly documented, the partnerships so appropriately formed and understood, the questions so exhaustively answered, the hurdles so remarkably cleared as in council’s consideration of this transfer. The public process here should honor everyone involved.

A forward guard attempted to sow discontent with other taxing districts—haranguing Port of Bellingham commissioners, lecturing the City of Bellingham and Bellingham Public Schools—and could not lure them to bite against the transfer because, to anyone knowledgeable, the benefits so obviously outweigh the risks, the cost outlay of doing nothing for Lake Whatcom so outweighs the loss of revenues here.

Of course, in the inverted world of Wacky Whatcom’s rightwing-o-verse, public documents are evidence of private collusion, democracy is conspiracy, and scheduled meetings only matter if they’re allowed to stand in the midst of them and shout their anger and discontent and bluster their threats. Elected officials should listen only to them; else it is fraud.

Knowing more, the Alchemists of this anger and fear, transmuting leaden nonsense into political gold, know better; and it is perhaps most instructive to view their whipsaw wizardry around reconveyance as mode and method to rally the footsoldiers and keep them in line through the 2013 elections. The bitter brew of resentment is powerful in the hermetically sealed cauldron of Whatcom County.

As below, so above.

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