The Gristle

Twice Zero

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

TWICE ZERO: The first law of holes is, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

Whatcom County found itself at the bottom of an enormous deep hole earlier this month when the Washington Supreme Court agreed with the findings of a state growth board that determined the county had failed to protect ground and surface water resources and had oversubscribed its water supply, “granting building permits for houses and subdivisions to be supplied by a permit-exempt well even if the cumulative effect of exempt wells in a watershed reduces the flow in a water course below the minimum instream flow.” The county must come into compliance with state growth goals, justices warned.

Armed with this information, county planners furiously set to work on the depth of the hole with pickaxes and shovels.

“We are continuing to process plat and permit applications per current code,” Planning and Development Services Mark Personius announced in an email to the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County. “Therefore, unless and until the County Council or the [Washington Growth Management] Hearings Board (upon remand) takes action directing PDS otherwise, we will continue to schedule permit pre-application meetings, permit application intakes, and process development permit applications that may rely on a permit-exempt well.” The quote was included in a BIAWC email broadcast to its membership.

On remand to the WGMHB, the board will undoubtedly reassign its original order of invalidity to the county’s Comprehensive Plan. The board has already repeated its order in several instances, and there is no reason for the county—having gotten its ass kicked on this issue, with none of the county’s expensive legal sophistry bearing fruit—to believe anything substantive has changed.

The broadcast will almost certainly invite another stampede of permit applications similar to that observed in 2009 when spiteful county policymakers—hostile even to the idea of planning—threw open rural areas to a massive upzone, an upzone so large that none of the residential development over the next 20 years need occur in any of the county’s designated urban growth areas (this alone should have rightly triggered a class-action lawsuit from the cities, starved of real estate excise taxes and construction-related revenues). Under Washington law made even more unwieldy by absurd county code, every one of those permit applications gains certain immediate vesting privileges even if incomplete—privileges that once granted cannot be easily clawed back, greatly complicating the work the county faces in trying to comply with the directives of the high court.

We can predict with a high degree of confidence how this may all play out if resolved through the courts: Those with a recognized water right under Washington law (“first in time, first in right”) will be in line ahead of those with longstanding water claims, and those with no rights or claims at all (e.g., 30,000 permit-exempt wells) will be hindmost. Why exacerbate this certainty by advertising for new applications based on wells? Ultimately, it is cruel.

The second law of holes is, “If you find yourself in a hole, find some way to climb out.”

Help on issues of water resource inventory does not appear to be speedily on the way, as the county last month finally entered into a belated, aggressively negotiated interlocal agreement with a tangle of tribes, the cities, the public utility district, Ag water board, state fisheries and various stakeholder caucuses to merge two do-little efforts into one larger, more complicated and presumably (the multiplication of zero functioning as it does) do-little effort to kick the can down the road. Under the agreement, the WRIA-1 Watershed Management Project Joint Board will merge with the WRIA-1 Salmon Recovery Board, and get them communicating.

The Gristle has noted before the two fundamental failings of the WRIA-1 Planning Unit authorized under Washington law—namely, it is not a unit but a loose cohesion of competing caucuses, some with poor representation, some seemingly without representation at all; and it is not planning in any demonstrable sense, being both byzantine and balkanized. Judging from its output, the primary goal of the Planning Unit was to fiddle and dither while underhandedly permitting the buildout of the county and exhaustion of its resources. A 2005 water action plan stalled and collapsed in 2011. The most functional (and responsible) continuing partners on the Planning Unit are, of course, the governmental entities with budgets, staff, broad public goals and mandate as lead agencies.

WRIA-1 is the technical description for the Nooksack River drainage basin, and therefore this consolidated team of governments and agencies will take the lead in tackling issues related to groundwater and instream flows. Shorn of paralysis of the competing caucuses by subordinating their  role, and energized by the addition of tribal and state fisheries interest, this merged group now has a slim chance of success. The tribes played a significant role in knocking the nonsense out of the former mash of competing interests by insisting on official government-to-government representation for the board.

“Certainly the goal is not to keep going without resolution,” Gary Stoyka, Natural Resources program manager reported to County Council. “The goal is to answer the questions of instream flow, the out-of-stream water needs, and get it resolved.”

“This still gives us the opportunity to work collaboratively moving forward. It gives the caucuses the ability to listen to constituents,” County Executive Jack Louws noted. “This has been a two-year process getting us to the point where we are right now, where we have all of the entities in support of making this major step, recognizing that the Planning Unit continues to have their statutory authority under state law. This is a workable solution for us to work collaboratively on projects, a logical step for moving forward.”

Past Columns
‘I Have A Dream’

January 15, 2020

Olympia Olympics

January 8, 2020

What Dreams May Come

January 1, 2020

Alt-America

December 25, 2019

Missing Middle

December 18, 2019

War Waged on Two Fronts

December 11, 2019

Work Horse, Not Show Horse

December 4, 2019

Toward A Housing Summit

November 27, 2019

Dueling Data

November 20, 2019

Of Apples and Barrels

November 13, 2019

Hide the Money

October 30, 2019

Anchors Are Weighed

October 23, 2019

A Working Waterfront?

October 15, 2019

Keep Working

October 9, 2019

Signs of Hate

October 2, 2019

Trust Gap

September 25, 2019

Netse Mot

September 18, 2019

A Rising Tide

September 11, 2019

The Power of Change

September 4, 2019

Hands Against Hate

August 28, 2019

Events
Today
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Paddling With Spirits

6:00pm

The Curious Savage

7:00pm|Alger Community Church

Beauty and the Beast

7:00pm|BAAY Theater

Contest of Crowns

7:30pm|ACT Annex

The Revolutionists

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Space Trek

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Conference

8:30am|Whatcom Community College

WNPS Field Trip

9:00am|Larrabee Park

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Cooking

10:00am|Blaine Library

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am

Winter Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Your Life is a Story Writers Group

10:30am|South Whatcom Library

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Womxn's March

11:00am|Bellingham City Hall

Propagating Perennials

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

Seed Swap, Barter Fair and Skillshare

12:00pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Camera Unobscura Workshop

1:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

More than a label

2:00pm

Bird Smarts

2:00pm|Everson Library

Discovering Sherry Tasting

2:00pm| Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Rising Above the Pain

4:00pm|Village Books

Sunrise Night of Music

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Blue Abode Comedy Showcase

7:00pm|Blue Abode Bar

Patsy Cline Tribute Concert

7:00pm|Magnolia Grill Hall

Hot Club of Troy

7:00pm|Walton Theatre

Whatcom Wind Ensemble Winter Concert

7:00pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Space Trek

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Salsa Night

9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

Tomorrow
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Beauty and the Beast

7:00pm|BAAY Theater

The Curious Savage

7:00pm|Alger Community Church

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Space Trek

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Birding for Kids

2:30pm

An American in Paris

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

An American in Paris

7:30pm

Monday
Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Birding for Kids

2:30pm

MLK Day Work Party

9:00am|Barr Creek

MLK Day of Service Work Party

10:00am|Whatcom Creek

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Read-In

10:00am|Village Books

Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration

12:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Teen Art Club

3:00pm|Blaine Library

Community Soup Kitchen

6:00pm|Little Cheerful Cafe

Cider U

6:30pm|Thousand Acre Cider House

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event

7:00pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »