Sunday, April 29, 2012

It's Only Money

Whatcom County Council just voted to spend $104,000 for more studies on dredging gravel from the Nooksack River.  The purpose of the studies, apparently, is to “provide the opportunity for the community to better understand the complexities of permitting,” according to this article in today’s Bellingham Herald. 

This made me wonder.  How many hundreds of thousands of dollars does it take for Whatcom County to understand that we’re not living in the 1800s any more, and that permitting isn’t going to go away?

I don’t even want to talk about the County’s current, endless, dispiriting noncompliance with the Growth Management Act.  I’ve spent far too many hours of my life over the past few months with, and listening to, the Whatcom County Planning Commission, as it boldly rebels against any hint of “planning” in response to the County’s (current, and apparently permanent) noncompliance with the Growth Management Act. 

How many hundreds of thousands of dollars has the County spent on this effort?  How many hundreds more will we spend?

As for the gravel studies – in 2010, I attended a presentation by consultants who told the Council about an existing gravel dredging program on the Fraser River in Canada.  They pointed out that, unlike the situation here in Whatcom County, the Canadians started with decades of data on fish habitat.  These data are lacking here, and would be needed in order to understand the impacts of dredging.  (The Herald article neglected to mention that we share the river with fish).

The consultants also pointed out that this gravel dredging program is extremely expensive for the government, although apparently some private companies in B.C. are making money by selling the gravel. 

So – here we are, throwing good money after bad to pursue an idea that isn’t going to pass any kind of cost-benefit, much less environmental, test.  Just so people will understand that it’s complicated. 

The article also made it clear that Carl Weimer, who voted against the expenditure, is the true conservative on the County Council.  So-called conservative Bill Knutzen told the Herald that “the $130,000 [that figure must be adding in funds that the County has already spent] is a lot of money, but, in the scope of things, when you start dealing with floods, it's really not."

Just one problem with that:  the $130,000 won’t deal with flooding.  Its only benefit will be to start to address the County’s state of denial 

If the County really wants to deal with flooding, it might address some of the root causes.  For example, the Planning Commission just voted to allow unlimited impervious surfaces (hardscape) on rural properties.  Why?  As far as I could tell, to make sure that all rural property owners would be able to have paved parking lots if they want to.  Honestly, that's what they talked about.  Not water quality or flooding, that's for sure. 

Here are just a few examples of sources that describe the relationship between impervious surfaces and flooding:  one  , two   , three.

Don't look for Whatcom County to take a preventative approach any time soon, though.  There’s no reason to worry about an ounce of prevention when tax dollars can be spent on a "cure."