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Letters for the week of June 16, 2021

People first

Many of you may have noticed the beautiful artwork by local artist Phoebe Wahl adorning the People First Bellingham Ballot Initiatives yard signs scattered about in our city. The serendipity of them is sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face.

Only a few days remain to gather the 7,500 signatures needed (30,000 total) to get each initiative on our November ballot.

The four initiatives are: Renter Relocation Assistance, Restrict Invasive Policing Technologies, Protect the Right to Organize, and Expand Workers’ Rights.

The hope is that these initiatives will help move us toward fostering a more equitable, just and inclusive community.

By coming together to care for each other we can ensure all have equal protections and access to the resources they need to live safely without economic and racial oppression.

All registered voters in the City of Bellingham are eligible to sign the petitions. Signing these ballot initiatives will provide voters a choice in this November election.

Visit the PeopleFirstbellingham.org website or Facebook page to learn more about the initiatives and to find locations where you can sign the petitions with one of the dedicated signature-gatherers.

—Kristina Heintz, Bellingham

A legal framework for water use

Time is running out. Summer flows throughout the Nooksack River basin are far below what is needed to restore and maintain healthy salmon and other wildlife. And flows are certain to decline further during the coming decades because of climate change. 

We may have only a few years to design and implement solutions to our longstanding water problems. These solutions include new water supplies, water storage, and—especially—water use efficiency. I emphasize efficiency because this option has been ignored for decades, even though it is often more cost effective, easily scalable, environmentally friendly, and requires fewer (or no) regulatory approvals than supply or storage projects.

Agriculture is, by far, the largest user of water, especially during the critical low-flow summer months, accounting for more than two-thirds of the total. Unfortunately, much (about half, according to the farmers themselves) of the water used by farmers lacks authorization from the state Department of Ecology. 

Farmers, because so much of their water is at risk, oppose adjudication (the legal process that determines who has access to water, how much, where, when and for what purposes). Farmers suggest that collegial discussions will solve our local water problems. Alas, we’ve been down that road for more than two decades, with no lasting, sustainable solution.

The Lummi Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe also favor settlement discussions. But they want these discussions conducted as part of the adjudication process. Absent the hammer of adjudication, it’s too easy for people to walk away when negotiations get difficult. 

I am glad that Ecology, Governor Inslee, and the state Legislature all agreed to begin adjudication for the Nooksack basin. The pre-adjudication process starts in July. Serious settlement discussions should begin soon thereafter. 

The ultimate outcome of such negotiations will likely provide less water than desired for all interests, both human and environmental, but enough water to support healthy ecosystems, farms, homes, business and industry. As examples, we may not water residential lawns and golf courses; farmers will likely irrigate fewer acres than they do now, shift to crops that require less water and are more profitable, install more efficient and better maintain irrigation equipment, and use internet-based methods to schedule irrigation. And we will all have to pay more for water, to reflect its increasing scarcity and to pay for the many projects needed to solve problems.

—Eric Hirst, Bellingham

Property owners have rights, too

Governor Jay Inslee’s eviction moratorium is frightening in its overreach of power, and allows no recourse for landlords to seek adjudication.

I’m one of the mom-and-pop landlords. I own one small, old rental house. I have never had a signed lease agreement with the person who occupies my home. He is a squatter. He was a roommate who was invited to live there by the official renter, then the renter died in spring 2020.

The squatter decided that he was not going to pay rent. He also stopped paying the water bill (which will be placed in lien against our home by the public water company, so we have to pay it). He openly admits that he is working but he “wants to save up his money.” He owes us more than $8,000 and counting.

Even though he has never had a signed lease agreement to be in our home, even though he is still working, even though we cannot sustain this loss of money—we cannot evict him.

We are desperate to sell this home to get out from under this financial burden placed on us by our government, yet we cannot because any buyer who buys it (even if they want to occupy the home themselves) cannot evict this person who is playing the system.

There has to be some renter accountability built into this moratorium, because there are abusers who are causing deep financial harm simply because the government has given them too much power and no oversight.

I am begging Jay Inslee’s office to rethink this poorly executed moratorium.

This moratorium should only apply to renters who 1) have signed a lease 2) are proven to be suffering financial hardship. There has to be a change made so landlords have the chance to seek adjudication.

My private property has been subsumed, my right to sell my property has been taken away, and oddly, I have been made responsible for a stranger’s water bill even though I have no control over his use of the water.

—Laura Harrigan, Anacortes

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