Friday, June 21, 2013

News and Views

Shamelessly emulating other bloggers, I thought I'd do a news roundup today.

I have an Op Ed in today's Bellingham Herald.  I submitted it on Monday, and on Tuesday, the County Council voted to spend your tax dollars to go to court.  The County would rather fight than work to prevent pollution or to make sure that farmers have water in the future.

That's your County Council, folks.  They say that voters get what they deserve.  Is this what you deserve?

Riley Sweeney blogged today about some folks who are going to be front and central in the County's water issues.  If their views are your views, then not paying attention to County politics over the next year or two will be a good strategy.  On the other hand, if you think that fighting against tribal water rights is a bad approach, you might want to participate. 

Riley directed my attention to the Whatcom Excavator, an "anonymous" Tea Party blog that tends to predict the words and  deeds of our Planning Commission and County Council.  Does it reflect or inform those views?  Only the anonymous Excavator, and our public officials, know for sure.

The most recent article on the Excavator is a particularly splenetic rampage about our water case.  

Nobody could accuse the Excavator of a sense of irony.  Apparently the authors find nothing ironic about screaming that they, and the County Council, are being "bullied" by David Stalheim and me -- who participate in the public process publicly, under our own names, making our interests and identities clear to all. Heck, we even blog under our own names.

While the Excavator authors, lilly-livered chickens that they are, hide behind anonymity.  

My favorite part of this week's Excavator hissy-fit is their outrage that the Hearings Board cited scientific sources to support its water decision.  Look at all the footnotes in the Hearings Board's decision! complains the Excavator.  Be outraged!

There's an old saying in the law:  When the law's on your side, argue the law.  When you have the facts on your side, argue the facts.  When you don't have either the law or the facts, pound on the table.

The Excavator is an outlet for table-pounders.

Update:  Including the 42nd Legislative District's own State Representative Jason Overstreet, who posted a link to the Excavator article on his Facebook page. 

The Excavator altered Futurewise's slogan ("Building Communities, Saving the Land") to read instead "The ends justify the means."  One of Representative Overstreet's Facebook friends commented that he was astounded by Futurewise's "fascist slogan."

Vintage Excavator tactics: libel and confuse from behind the wall of anonymity.  Lilly-livered chickens, the lot of them, and everybody who links to them, too.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

County Council Update: Representing Your Interests?

The Whatcom County Council had a big day yesterday.  Or so I hear, as reports from shell-shocked survivors trickle in. 

The Council voted to give its Seattle law firm $40,000 more for the Council's crusade against the Growth Management Act.  As the County cuts its budget in other areas, there's always enough money to pay Seattle lawyers up to $375 per hour to defend the County's decisions to flout the law. 

Rather than deciding to buckle down and plan to protect its water resources, the County voted to appeal the Growth Management Hearings Board's recent decision, which found that the County has not adequately protected water quality and quantity.  And that will be another few hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Speaking of not defending water quality and quanitity, the Council decided not to adopt an ordinance that would give some indication that the County cared, even a little bit, about Lake Whatcom water quality.  Rather than saying that new development should not increase Lake Whatcom pollution, the Council sent the ordinance back to committee.

Why?  Because it was shocked, SHOCKED to hear that the Department of Ecology is serious about wanting phosphorus pollution to be reduced by 87%.  This is NEWS requiring more SITTING IN COMMITTEE! 

Never mind the fact that the County promised Ecology, two years ago, that it would adopt regulations resulting in zero increase in phosphorus pollution in the Lake from new development. 

And last but not least, the County voted to flagrantly violate state law by refusing to come into compliance with another Growth Management Hearings Board decision.  I'm not even sure what to say about this one, because I've never worked in a jursidiction that had the gall to thumb its nose -- openly -- at a tribunal.

To make a complicated story short, the County has taken a couple of shots at coming up with a valid plan for its "Rural" area.  After its second shot, the Growth Management Hearings Board found that the County still wasn't in compliance with state law in a number of areas.

The County appealed some of these decision in court.  It didn't appeal others.  That means that the time for going to court to say "The Hearings Board is wrong" is over.

The County now has to show the Board what it did to comply with state law.

All the County can say on several issues is:  We decided not to comply.

So how will your tax dollars -- the $375 per hour that you and I are paying the County's lawyers -- be used to defend the County's decision to go outlaw?

First, the County will go before the Hearings Board.  It will have to argue that "We complied with your order by defying your order."  The Hearings Board could well decide that outright defiance is not compliance.

Then the Seattle lawyers can appeal that decision to court.  Will they be able to argue that the Hearings Board is illegitimate, that my clients and I and Futurewise are bad, bad, bad, bad, awful people (disparaging us is a huge part of the County's decision-making process), and that the Board made a wrong decision?


All that they'll be able to argue is that the Hearings Board was wrong to decide that defiance is not the same as compliance.

Is that how you want your tax dollars used? 

If so, please do ignore County politics.  If not, I hope that people start paying attention.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Hearings Board to Whatcom County: You -- Yes, You -- Have the Responsibility to Take Care of Your Own Water Resources

Big bubble:  all the freshwater on earth, including groundwater.  Little bubble:  lakes and rivers. . 
On Friday, the Growth Management Hearings Board issued a "Final Decision and Order" that, again, found Whatcom County out of compliance with the Growth Management Act. 

The Board found that the County's rural planning has not protected water quality or water quantity.

Click here to read the decision.  Skip to page 22 to get to the "deciding" part.

The Board's decision is thorough and well grounded in evidence.  All of its conclusions are supported by citations to and quotes from objective sources.  

A few excerpts from the decision: 

"Ecology provides technical assistance and model regulations, but County land use plans and  regulations are necessary to assure protection of rural character, including water resource protection."

"The Board also read reports on contaminated groundwater and drinking  water; increase in shellfish contamination; an increase in exempt wells for single residential uses without required proof that the groundwater withdrawal will not impact stream flows; governing regulations from the last century (1985 state administrative regulations and a 1999 County Water Resource Plan); and the County's own resolution and Comprehensive Plan, stating its water resources are unknown and future water uses are uncertain.

"The Board finds the link between land development and water resources is well-established." 

"[C]urrent science-based studies conclude that most water resource degradation in the Puget Sound region and Whatcom County in particular can be attributed to land use and land development practices."  

"The proliferation of evidence in the record of continued water quality degradation resulting from land use and development activities underscores the need for protective measures for water resources."

"The Board has previously held that exemption for private wells does not exempt the County from complying with the GMA's mandate to protect critical aquifers.  Similarly, the exemption does not exempt Whatcom County from complying with the GMA rural element requirements."

Along the way, the Board discusses a few of our local peculiarities, including "self-inspection" of septic tanks and the County's failure to limit impervious surfaces in rural areas.  

It concludes:

"In sum, the County is left without Rural Element measures to protect rural character by ensuring land use and development patterns are consistent with protection of surface water and groundwater resources throughout its Rural Area.."