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
Trust Is Reciprocal

July 18, 2018

Pressure in the Bottle

July 11, 2018

Sharing the Pain

July 4, 2018

A Supreme Shifting

June 27, 2018

The Costs of Failure

June 6, 2018

Thumb on the Scales

May 30, 2018

Bungle in the Jungle?

May 23, 2018

Heating Up

May 16, 2018

Home Run

May 9, 2018

State of the County

May 2, 2018

Symptoms of Pain

April 25, 2018

A Last Ditch Effort

April 18, 2018

Much ADUs About Nothing

April 11, 2018

The Sin of Sinclair

April 4, 2018

All Thumbs on the Scale

March 28, 2018

The Boundaries Between Us

March 21, 2018

Dirty Deeds

March 7, 2018

Events
Today
Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Northwest Raspberry Festival

10:00am|Lynden

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Summer of Blood

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

LOL-apalooza

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Raspberry Pancake Breakfast

7:00am|Lynden Community Center

Tour de Whatcom

7:30am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Christmas in July Bazaar

9:00am|Bellingham Masonic Center

Twin Sisters Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner, North Fork Library

Four Democrats seek election in the Skagit

9:00am

Primary Election Forum

9:30am|Bellingham High School

NW Art Beat Studio Tour

10:00am|Skagit County

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Summer Seersucker Bicycle Ride

10:00am|Gilkey Square

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery Store

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Downtown Market Walk

11:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Street Food Saturdays

11:00am|Zuanich Point Park

Show & Shine

11:00am|BelleWood Acres

Hot Ticket

11:00am|North Fork Library

Public Sail

12:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

The Nandia Trilogy

1:00pm|Barnes & Noble

Craftapalooza

1:00pm|Point Roberts Library

Concrete Saturday Market

1:00pm|Concrete Community Center

Field Games

1:00pm|VanderYacht Park

Wren and Della

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Lynden Cemetery Tour

1:00pm|Lynden Cemetery

State Street History Tour

1:30pm|Depot Market Square

The Secret Garden

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Ferndale Uncorked and Uncapped

3:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk Park

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Whatcom Democrats Country Picnic

4:00pm|Hovander Homestead Park

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Feast and Frolic

5:30pm|Viva Farms

Saturday Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Music at Maritime

6:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Austin Jenckes

7:00pm|Eagle Haven Winery

Bellingham Youth Jazz Band

7:00pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert

7:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Bebel Gilberto

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre

Gerrymandering Update

7:30pm|Island Library

Trove Web
Tomorrow
Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Summer of Blood

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

NW Art Beat Studio Tour

10:00am|Skagit County

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Vietnam Veterans Car Show

10:00am|Barkley Village

Edison Farmers Market

10:00am|Edison Granary

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Langar in Lynden

11:00am|Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

La Conner Live!

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Skulls and Skins

1:00pm|Tennant Lake

Mosaic Stepping Stone Workshop

1:00pm|Chuckanut Center

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Fiddlin' Fox Summer Concerts

2:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Trivia Time

3:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Trivia Time

3:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Monday
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Rainbow Reads

12:00pm|Ferndale Library

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Paddling Whatcom County

6:00pm|REI

Cuban Salsa

6:00pm|Bell Tower Studios

Books on Tap Two

6:30pm|Tino's Pizza & Pasta Co.

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »

2018 Cascadia Kids Village Books Trove Web Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1