After three years and endless political squabbles, the inter-agency work group that had been at loggerheads over cleanup strategies in Bellingham Bay has finally struck a deal. On the eve of leaving office, ex-Commissioner of Public Lands Jennifer Belcher signed a Letter of Understanding that captures the major concepts, principles and commitments agreed upon by the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot Project team members (see sidebar at bottom of page 16 for a list of the 13 members). These are the parties responsible for implementation of cleanup plans.
The entire pilot team also signed off on a Letter of Agreement detailing how the team will work to implement the comprehensive strategy presented in the final environmental impact statement, released in October of last year. These two documents attempt to solidify the relationships and responsibilities of pilot team members and detail the agreements made to date. In essence, the agreements set the direction for future pilot team actions, such as the choice of a preferred alternative that includes construction of a Confined Aquatic Disposal facility for contaminated sediment disposal in the bay. These documents were not subject to any sort of formal public review or comment.
Preferred Remedial Action Alternative
The pilot project will consist of several smaller projects, such as capping the Georgia-Pacific West Inc. log pond, construction of the Confined Aquatic Disposal facility, dredging the Whatcom Waterway, and capping some areas of low-level contamination. Key provisions of the agreements are as follows: Dredging: Approximately 820,000 cubic yards of sediments will be dredged. The majority of the dredging will occur in the Whatcom Waterway.
Confined Aquatic Disposal: A Confined Aquatic Disposal (CAD) facility will be constructed on state-owned aquatic lands, at the foot of Cornwall Avenue. The size of the CAD will be determined by factors such as the viability of treatment for up to 400,000 cubic yards of sediment as well as whether any of the dredged sediments can be beneficially reused (depending on their level of contamination). It is hoped that the CAD may also be enhanced to serve as a salmon migration corridor.
Ex-Commissioner of Public Lands Jennifer Belcher was very uncomfortable with siting a facility on state-owned lands. In the hopes of limiting the long-term liability to the state, Belcher was able to get a commitment from pilot team members that CAD would only remain on state-owned lands for twenty years.
There were, however, a number of provisos to this commitment. For example, the agreement states that the CAD will be removed, unless it is determined that it is beneficial to leave the CAD in place. Beneficial is a very broad term. There is no language that defines what is meant by this word, nor is there any discussion of what criteria will be used to determine when it may or may not be beneficial to pursue removal of the CAD . Certainly, garnering the political will to remove a CAD facility, with the attendant expense, will be difficult.
The status of the CAD will be reviewed every five years. During these reviews, the CAD’s performance will be assessed, along with the biological and habitat impacts of removal. Again, if the CAD is viewed as providing some sort of habitat benefit, then it will most likely stay in place.
Treatment: The preferred alternative calls for treatment of at least 400,000 cubic yards of the most contaminated sediments. But, the chances that treatment will occur are slim. This is because the type of treatment, criteria for which sediments get treated, the timing of treatment, and indeed whether treatment will occur at all, will depend on a variety of factors to be determined at some future date.
The pilot team asserts that treatment technologies have not developed sufficiently for this to be an affordable option at the present time. Under this aspect of the agreement, the worst sediments may be removed and treated now (highly unlikely given how the majority of pilot team members feel about the current state of the art in treatment technologies), or removed from the CAD at some future date, when technologies are better (and cheaper).
A pilot team work group will develop worst-out criteria to determine which sediments qualify for treatment. Additionally, this work group will consider the biological impacts of removal of these sediments. This could prove challenging as the CAD facility within which the sediments will be stored is being promoted as a habitat feature.
In theory, the CAD will provide shallow sub-tidal areas for salmon migration corridors. Removal of contaminated sediments within the facility could, therefore, be construed as a negative impact on the biota. For this reason, the as yet to be developed criteria for removal will be worth watching for.
During December and January, clean sediments from the Swinomish channel were layered over the contaminated area. This environmental cap will serve to isolate the contaminants. Then a habitat cap will be placed on top to raise the overall elevation of the cap, making it more amenable for migrating salmon.
The material for this cap will come from the soon-to-be-dredged Squalicum Creek waterway. This is clean material that must be removed to accommodate shipping berths for Bellingham Cold Storage. It is hoped that these materials will serve to seed the log pond with native organisms such as clams and eelgrass, increasing its habitat value.
By pushing for extensive capping, avoiding upland disposal, and minimizing treatment, the pilot team was able to pare project costs down to an estimated $29,400,000. This does not include natural resource damage assessments payments to the tribes for degradation and loss of these areas as usual and accustomed fishing areas, or any other soft costs.
Neither does it include the cost of land encumbering state-owned aquatic lands. Normally, when an industry or other party wants to construct a facility or run a discharge pipe across state-owned aquatic lands, a lease payment is made to the state Department of Natural Resources. Any such costs for this project have not been included in the project budget, so they will either be added to the final project costs or the taxpayers will subsidize the CAD facility by bearing that cost.
So what will the various liable parties pay? This is difficult to ascertain because, as one agency representative commented, the budget for this project is about as clear as mud. The preliminary allocations are approximately:
Note that all of the other parties are public entities, so the taxpayer share will be about $13 million. This assumes that there will be no cost overruns, nor does it include any of those natural resource damage assessments and soft costs. Expect overruns; expect the costs of this project to climb substantially before all is said and done. Expect Georgia-Pacific to rail against paying any more than that initial $17 million.
Costs Thus Far
Not included in the above numbers are the costs of the project to date. The estimated project cost to date is $4 million. This figure includes the cost of data gathering and analysis, consultant teams, production of the draft environmental impact statement and final environmental impact statement, and some agency and tribal staff time.
But many costs are probably not accounted for in this estimation. After four years of work with 11 government agencies, two Indian tribes and a major corporation participating, not to mention an army of consultants, it is doubtful that the true costs of project planning will ever be known.
An issue that bears scrutiny is that of long-term liability for the contaminants. The Letter of Understanding explicitly states: Liability protection will be afforded to the local parties (Georgia-Pacific, the Port of Bellingham and the City of Bellingham) to the extent allowed by law for material removed from the water for treatment, storage, refuse or disposal so that local parties will not be further liable for these sediments.
While the agreement further notes that Department of Natural Resources will not necessarily accept liability, one must ask: if the polluter is not held liable, the port is not held liable, and the city is not held liable, who’s left to bear the brunt of a potential claim but the Department of Natural Resources upon whose land the contaminants will sit?
To further complicate matters, the next provision of the agreement states that the local parties will indemnify the state from any future liability resulting from a CAD failure. Who pays? Who knows; we’ll leave that up to some future court to decide and, most likely, for our children to pay.
Now that the agreements are signed, the real work begins. It is doubtful whether either of the agreements are legally enforceable. They also contain very little detail such as who will be responsible for determining whether treatment technologies are viable and by what criteria this will be done.
Nevertheless, the pilot team proposes to use the agreements as frameworks for future action. Action teams will be assigned to flesh out the details of all the various components of the comprehensive strategy. Any actions requiring permits (dredging, capping, CAD construction, habitat restoration, etc.) will be subject to the requirements of the given permit application process, including public review and comment.
At this point, however, there is little for the public to comment upon. The final environmental impact statement that was released in October of last year did not provide any public comment or appeal provisions. The next opportunities for formal public involvement will be the various permitting processes required for each action. There is no word as to when we might expect to see these permits.
Technically, all of the meetings of the pilot team and its work groups are open to the public. The pilot team has, however, not done a very good job of publicizing their meetings. Work group meetings are generally scheduled to accommodate group members’ schedules and have not been advertised to the public in any way.
Meetings of the entire pilot team have been sporadically advertised, although after members of the public attempted to crash a pilot meeting last year, a commitment was made to hold team meetings in Bellingham and give the public advance notice. There has not been a meeting of the pilot team as a whole since October. The Washington State Department of Ecology has also committed to appointing a staff person to act as community liaison between the pilot team and the community. This has yet to happen.
So, the project lurches forward. Four years, $4 million, and countless squabbles later it appears that we will get a dredge and disposal project that is remarkably similar to that which pilot team members have been promoting for at least three years. It does lead one to wonder, what exactly is the point of these long taxpayer funded projects (that neglect to involve the taxpayer in any meaningful way) if the result is the very picture that the agencies started with? If I were cynical, I might say that the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot Project has been one long process of creating elaborate window-dressing for a corporate/agency slam dunk.
Bellingham Bay Pollution and Cleanup
1940s Harris Avenue Shipyard. This Fairhaven site includes unsafe levels of metals, phenol and PCBs.
1953-1965 Cornwall Avenue Landfill. The former municipal disposal site is eroding into the bay. Copper, lead, and zinc are among the contaminates that exceed state standards.
1965-1998 Georgia-Pacific chlorine plant discharges approximately 11 tons of mercury into Bellingham Bay.
1971 Washington State Legislature passes the State Environmental Policy Act.
1972 Voters pass the Shorelines Management Act.
1985 Puget Sound Estuary Program established in response to widespread concerns over the environmental health of Puget Sound.
Oct 1988 Urban Bay Action Program selects Bellingham Bay as a priority area for problem identification and corrective planning.
Mar 1989 Washington State Model Toxics Control Act goes into effect. The state version of the federal Superund.
Aug 1989 Bellingham Bay Action Program releases initial data summaries and problem identification.
July 1991 Bellingham Bay Action Program issues a draft report identifing four areas with chemical contamination.
May 1994 Cooperative Sediment Management Program formed by six state and federal agencies to address the need for sediment cleanup.
June 1996 Bellingham Bay Work Group established by the six agencies of the Cooperative Sediment Management Program.
Sep 1996 Bellingham Bay is selected as a location for a demonstration pilot project to develop sediment cleanup and disposal and associated habitat restoration. Bellingham Bay pilot team established.
April '97 to Jan. '99 Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot Project develops a strategy for sediment cleanup and source control, habitat restoration, aquatic land use and disposal site selection.
Spring 1999 Washington State Legislature passes SHB 1448 to remove authority over sediment cleanups from the Department. of Natural Resources and give it to the Department of Ecology. It also set the pilot process as the model to be used in future cleanups around the state.
May 1999 Governor vetoes SHB 1448 but directs Department of Natural Resources to compromise.
June 1998 Georgia Pacific chlorine plant closed; mercury discharges finally end.
July 1999 Bellingham Bay demonstration pilot team issues draft environmental impact statement.
Fall 1999 Negotiations on cleanup options; a tentative deal is struck.
Feb 2000 Bay cleanup agreement collapses.
May 2000 A new tentative agreement is negotiated.
Aug 2000 Final agreements again falter.
Oct 2000 Bellingham Bay demonstration pilot team issues final environmental impact statement.
Oct 2000 Pilot team considers new Letter of Understanding.
Oct to Dec 2000 Letter of Understanding and Letter of Agreement negotiated.
Jan 5, 2001 State and local officials sign agreements on Bellingham Bay cleanup.
ForewordWhen I heard that Presidential candidate George W. Bush said seven to eight percent of our nation’s energy would go to Internet servers, I was surprised. Now I know that Internet server farms use far more electricity than I possibly could have realized. The ABC Evening News on January 11, 2001, said this: In Seattle, server farms will soon use 50 percent of the power it takes to run the entire city.... And in 10 years, the technology industry alone may be using 30 percent of the country’s electricity.
The current media feeding frenzy on the electricity crisis in California, clearly resulting from deregulation, will not be reviewed here. However, here are capsule comments on recent energy controversies in Whatcom County.
Natural gas is the cleanest of fossil fuels. However, Sumas-2 is controversial principally because of its humongous size. It would discharge three tons of toxic chemicals and particles per day in addition to an enormous quantity of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
Natural Energy Systems, the firm proposing to build the plant, refuses to commit to the sale of electricity locally. We and our Canadian friends would get the pollution, and presumably the southwest states would get the electricity.
Population growth in the U.S. South, especially the Southwest, has been fed by air conditioning since World War II making southern living more comfortable. Populations in virtually all counties in California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah, have increased 50 percent or more in the period 1920-1999, according to the August 2000 Scientific American. Note that Phoenix, a desert city, is now the sixth largest city in the United States; moreover, residential development there continues with a manic drive. And for sure, National Energy Systems would get the profit.
The struggle between Puget Sound Energy, Whatcom County Public Utility District #1, and the public, over the sale to Georgia-Pacific West Inc. and Bellingham Cold Storage of electricity generated by hydropower and sold by the Bonneville Power Administration, has shifted. Now Georgia-Pacific in Bellingham wants to build its own gas-fired power plant. The controversy is between the public and Georgia-Pacific over locations of natural gas pipelines and electrical power lines and pollution from diesel engines powering generators to provide profits for the company and jobs for employees.
Energy hogs and deregulation in California are costing thousand of jobs, and the hardest hit are aluminum company employees in the Pacific Northwest. When the media recently announced that California had avoided a rolling blackout because electricity had been found in the Pacific Northwest, probably it came from aluminum plants that shut down and laid off employees. Here is the last count I have. Seven plants are totally shut down and two of them will never reopen. Five plants plan to reopen at 40 to 50 percent of capacity, four on October 1, 2001, and one on January 1, 2002. Employees laid off will receive 90 to 100 percent of their full pay until the plant reopens, but obviously many will not go back to work at plants operating at one-half capacity.
Here is the reason that employees laid off get good severance pay. When the Bonneville Power Administration was created as a government marketing agency for hydro power from dams built by the federal government, the Bonneville Power Administration made it clear to the aluminum companies that they had no inherent right to electricity from them. Moreover, during the long, bitter strike of Kaiser Aluminum employes, the union got government officials to agree to a good corporate citizen clause; aluminum companies could be refused electricity for environmental or labor practices. Now aluminum companies resell electricity from their contracts only if they take reasonable care of their employees during the shutdown. However, less than half will ever get their jobs back.
My son, Dick Hanners, was employed in integrating computer control of the Columbia Falls aluminum plant in Montana. Supply and demand for electricity is crucial to aluminum production. Hence, when he told me that George W. Bush had said seven to eight percent of our nation’s energy would go to Internet servers, I asked for more information. Here is his reply.
The McConkey Editorial
In reply to your request for information on the power consumption of the Internet, first here’s an entry from my Chronological Database for the book I am writing on the history of the aluminum industry.
The October 2000 issue of the Flathead Electric Coop’s newsletter contained an editorial by Warren McConkey, manager of the Coop, on the current power market problems in the Pacific Northwest. It’s an illusion that conservation will meet load growth needs, McConkey wrote.
As an example he described power problems in Seattle, Washington, where rapid growth of Internet service providers had put a heavy unexpected load on the power system. In 1995, about 20,000 Internet providers were operating in the U.S. with 75,000 domain websites, but by 2000 there were more than 1.5 billion domain websites and more than 5 million servers connected to 200 million personal computers in the U.S. The Internet server load in the Seattle area alone is 700 megawatts, double the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company load that has been producing aluminum since the 1950s. (That also is a little more than the capacity of the proposed Sumas-2 power plant.).
Another increasing load demand is for air conditioning by desert residents in California and the Southwest. With California calling for more and more power from the Pacific Northwest, McConkey explained, Our market has shifted from a Northwest surplus to a California deficit and our prices do and will reflect this situation until new power generation rebalances supply and demand.
The Paperless Office
Next, a little explanation of what’s going on with the Internet power market. Technological solutions often produce unexpected results, sometimes making things worse. An often quoted example is that of road construction in congested areas, where every time the government enlarges roads or highways more cars and trucks appear to fill up the new space.
In the case of personal computers, by the late 1980s there was serious talk about the paperless office. For an environmentalist this sounded great – less trees cut down. For businesses this meant cost savings, and for computer companies it was a great selling point.
The computer companies, I’m afraid, have dominated much of the national opinion on computer use for the past 15 years. Most people don’t realize it, but the power of influence and money and intellectual righteousness have given the computer companies an edge. Not only are computers ubiquitous, but a lot of people think they’re cool or at least fun.
The paperless office was not only saving resources, went the logic, but it was going to make information flow more easily and help people make smarter decisions. Instead we got a situation where paper consumption increased several-fold in offices.
In a typical scenario, an office worker would make a simple error in a 20 page report and just chuck it in the garbage and hit the print button again. Another typical example involved large databases where reams of paper would be printed by mistake by someone hitting the wrong key.
The most egregious example would be the executive who keeps refining a document with minor glitches and sending it back to his underlings for another printing. At a meeting, 20 copies of an inconsequential document would be printed only to be discarded half an hour later.
Internet Energy Consumption
So if someone were to say that the Internet is the solution to our energy problems, that people would stay at home and work by phone lines, it might sound good. But according to Murphy’s Law, if something wrong can happen, it will. According to my earlier letter, I quoted George W. Bush’s comment that seven to eight percent of the nation’s energy would to go Internet servers. A high-ranking manager of the Flathead Electric Coop told me he believed the seven to eight percent figure applies to a forecast based on some new developments in the Internet business.
How does the Internet consume so much energy? The energy is not in the skinny phone lines or optical fibers. It is consumed in large buildings that look, from the outside, like modern sophisticated office buildings.
Inside are hundreds if not thousand of computers and hard drives, servers, routers, air conditioning equipment and other equipment. Essentially the thinking equipment in the building would be processing information for people requesting it over the Internet, while the rest of the equipment would be for communications and support.
You could imagine the thinking equipment like heat banks with energy going through complex circuits that generate heat, and the heat being removed by air conditioning equipment. The energy input that generates heat in these big buildings goes through heavy power cables. The energy leaving through optical fibers and phone lines is not great – it is mostly digital information.
New Internet Energy Consumption
A new development in the Internet could make things worse. I came across it this summer while helping my company choose a new software application for tracking plant assets and maintenance.
There is a trend for software companies to offer their services exclusively over the Internet. All of a client company’s information – whether for assets, client or personnel – would be saved on a server someplace else. The client company would no longer have to own and maintain expensive local area network equipment. Each of the client company’s computers would be connected to the Internet independently, and office workers would run applications and process information that is stored thousands of miles away.
For the aluminum plant located in an isolated spot in Montana, this would pose too many threats to our information security, so we would opt to keep our information and applications on our own servers and link our hundred-plus computers by our own local area network.
But many companies will probably go to this new system. In fact, Microsoft recently began promoting a new version of Windows that a customer does not buy as a CD-ROM disk at a store. Instead, one pays a monthly fee and uses software accessed over the Internet. The growth of this kind of Internet use could lead to the 30 percent figure cited by ABC News.
An editorial published in the October 23, 2000, Wall Street Journal had this to say about electrical energy in the United States:
Electricity is big. Currently, it accounts for almost 37 percent of the U.S. energy consumption. And demand for electricity is racing. During the Clinton-Gore years, demand surged 30 percent, pushed by the enormous appetite of the Internet for electricity. (In fact, the Internet now accounts for eight to ten percent of electric consumption.)
Coal, which accounts for 56 percent of power production, has been under monumental pressure from environmentalists and their attendant Environmental Protection Agency regulators. Most plants use old technology that is hard to clean up because the regulatory focus keeps changing from one emission to another to yet another.
Nuclear power accounts for 22 percent of our electricity. There have been no new plants since the early 1980s and none are currently planned. Hydro represents about 10 percent of electricity production. (Essentially, hydro is fully developed.)
With regard to alternative energy sources, note that Governor Gary Locke, during his inaugural address on January 10, 2001, called for tax cuts for businesses and consumers who convert to solar, wind and fuel cell technology. That confirms the current need for government subsidies to make primary alternative energy sources economically competitive with fossil fuel sources.
Note that while fuel cell technology holds a great deal of promise for conversion of primary energy into a more desirable form, fuel cells in themselves are not a primary energy source. In a sense, they are analogous to double or triple pane windows that save energy and make us more comfortable.
A Natural Gas Future
That leaves natural gas; it accounts for ten percent of electrical power generation and in many ways is the fuel of choice. Currently, 80 percent of the natural gas consumed is generated in the U.S.; 16 percent comes from Canada. It is no surprise then that almost all new power plant construction is for natural gas and that demand for gas is expected to rocket over the next 20 years, growing about two percent a year. And no surprise that the price pressure is already evident with natural gas prices more than doubling over the past couple of years.
Dick Hannerssaid, The hottest things in the energy market are gas-powered turbine generators. Just take an aircraft type engine, make slight modifications, hook it up to an electrical generator, and presto, you’re in business. Well almost. If you ordered one today, you would have to wait three years for delivery.
Canadian natural gas seems adequate to supply our needs for perhaps two decades or more. With the rise in natural gas prices, a Canadian gas pipeline from the Arctic to tie into a pipeline to Chicago is a reality to supply our Midwest and East. Alberta, in western Canada, will continue to be the principal source of imported natural gas in our West.
Hence, increased demand for electricity will be met largely by gas-powered turbine generators for quite some time. The fights of the future will not be so much over whether they will be built but where they will be built. Just find a convenient depressed area with little political clout and voila, you have a site. That is not justice; that is reality. And that is likely to be our national electrical policy for decades.
The United States is one of the countries that refused to ratify the Kyoto Climate Treaty of 1997 to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses. No industrial nation, including the U.S. has ratified the Kyoto Climate treaty. Here is an excerpt from the Associated Press report published in The Bellingham Herald on November 11, 2000. The United States released 13 percent more greenhouse gasses last year than in 1990 as emissions grow at about one percent per year. Greenhouse gases will continue to increase in the atmosphere, and temperature and sea level will rise.
Future Demand for Quality Power
Electrical energy loads may be categorized thus. Base load is the usual day-to-day demand. Peak load is the maximum anticipated demand under unusual circumstances such as during exceptionally severe weather. And quality load is an electrical load that must not be interrupted by any causes whatsoever, be they blackouts from lack of capacity to meet peak demand, or from power line failures. Here is what the ABC Evening News on Jan. 11, 2001, had to say about the growing need for quality power:
For most Americans, power that stays on 99.9 percent of the time is pretty good. But for high tech companies, even 99.99 means occasional blackouts and millions of lost dollars. They need power so reliable it stays on 99.9999 percent of the time. ‘Sun Microsystems estimates that the cost of an outage to them runs about a million dollars a minute,’ says Stahlkopf. Server farms keep their power steady with sophisticated backup generators that are larger than those used in hospitals. But eventually these huge facilities may become the primary source. ‘I would expect in the next two to five years,‘ says Stahlkopf, ‘you will see a substantial portion of our power needs being generated internally or on site.’ It is actually a prospect local utility companies are counting on, because right now, the power companies that keep America’s lights on are just barely keeping up.
Effect on Our Economic Future
Server farms and air conditioning in hot deserts give our unfavorable balance of trade a double whammy that concerns me. Those two voracious consumers increase our importation of fossil fuels, while rising energy costs cause the domestic production of some goods to be shifted to foreign countries. Thus server farms and desert air conditioning exacerbate importation of both fossil fuels and other products, and thus increase our unfavorable balance of trade.
The U.S. balance of trade deficit for the first ten months of year 2000 was running at an annual rate of $363 billion, up $100 billion from the previous year, according to a New York Times article on December 20, 2000. I am concerned that trade deficits of hundreds of billions of dollars year after year add up to real money, money we spend year after year living off our assets and not our income.
I suspect the media is largely silent about this long-term drain on our prosperity because democracies are largely ruled by reaction to disasters. Take a look at the breakdown of the balance of trade deficit for the single month of October 2000.
Trade Deficit Balance Sheet
|October 2000||Billions of Dollars|
|Imports of Petroleum||$8.5|
|Deficit with Japan||$8.4|
|Deficit with China||$9.1|
|Total October Deficit||$33.1|
Even a blind pig could spot the sources of the problem at a glance. Do you suppose that no politicians of any stripe want to own up to a flawed foreign trade policy? Pollution harming people’s health, global warming, and living off our assets and not our earnings, will continue. But sooner than we think there will be a very rough road ahead in our future.
As part of Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to expand the public’s right to know, EPA Region 10 announced today the debut of Environmental Compliance (EC) On-Line, a pilot Internet site that will provide for the first time comprehensive information on the environmental performance of thousands of regulated facilities in the Northwest.
Putting high-quality environmental information into the hands of citizens is one of the most powerful tools for protecting public health and the environment in our communities, said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Chuck Findley. I am particularly gratified by the effective partnership we have had with state agencies involved in this effort.
The web site is the result of a joint effort by EPA and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and the Washington Department of Ecology.
The new database covers over 5,000 facilities, and for the first time collects in one place information that the facilities must provide under a number of federal environmental statutes. The public can view facility reports detailing inspections, enforcement actions, facility compliance status, and reported releases of chemicals into the environment. Demographic data about communities near the facilities are also included.
The online service has multiple uses. Facilities can monitor their own regulatory performance. Environmental and community groups now have easier access to information about environmental performance of individual facilities. Government agencies at all levels can use the information as a planning tool.
As part of the effort to ensure the best data possible, each facility included in the data base received a notification of this project and was afforded the opportunity to review and comment on the quality of its own data. State agencies also received the information for review, since a large portion of the data is provided to EPA by state governments. The states and EPA have been working to modify the data as appropriate, based on these comments. EPA encourages all users of this data to provide feedback and will continue taking comments as this pilot project evolves.
The facility reports are available at Internet address http://www.epa.gov/r10earth/ec-on-line.html
For more information:
Jeff Philip, Public Affairs Specialist
Environmental Protection Agency, Region 10
(206) 553-1200 firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: http://www.epa.gov/r10earth
Jennifer has lived here in Whatcom County for 12 years and enjoys wilderness travel and bonsai. Rick, a resident for 25 years, is an environmental activist and also enjoys wilderness travel.
The Honda Insight—the first mass marketed gasoline-electric hybrid automobile available in the United States—frequently goes silent amidst the drone of other engines and the clouds of exhaust smoke. No, it’s not broken. It’s just made that way. Both engines—gas and electric—automatically turn off when it’s in neutral and when it’s traveling less than 19 miles an hour. From a technology standpoint, this is our favorite feature of the little hybrid we bought nine months ago on Earth Day.
Honda envisioned three types of buyers for the Insight, including: 1) early adopters of new technology who will appreciate the technological innovation, and 2) young singles with active lifestyles who are concerned with fuel economy. We clearly fall within the third type: Environmentally concerned individuals who are more likely to purchase products that help preserve the environment. The Insight fits snugly into our philosophy of reducing our ecological footprint.
The unique technology molded into the zippy little Insight is the reason it achieves the highest fuel economy of any gasoline-powered automobile sold in the United States—68 miles per gallon on the highway. It’s also the reason it meets California’s ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV) standard and the reason it received Sierra’s Club’s first product award in that organization’s 108-year history.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, No It’s a ...
The Insight is by no means an organic car. But this little high-tech two-seater is built more like an airplane than a tank. It simply uses less of everything. Light and aerodynamic, the extensive use of aluminum and plastic in the Insight’s body results in a curb weight of 1,847 pounds. Combined with a 1.0 liter gas engine, this gives it the performance of a car with a 1.5 liter engine, without the attendant fuel consumption of an engine that size.
When you see one of the three or four Whatcom County Insights on the road, you may notice the distinctive airplane-like features. The aerodynamic styling gives this car one of the lowest coefficients of drag—.25 Cd—of any mass marketed car in the world.
Some of the most notable aspects of this tiny airplane include:
1. The distance between the rear wheels is 4.3 " less than the distance between the front wheels, giving it a teardrop shape when viewed from above.
2. The rear wheels are covered by a skirt or cowling, which reduces drag and gives it a slightly futuristic spaceship look.
3. The three-cylinder gas engine is boosted, when necessary, by a one-quarter-inch thick electric motor mounted between the transmission and the engine. Amazingly, the electric motor is powered by a cluster of 120 D cell nickel-metal hydride batteries. And, no, there’s no need to remember to plug it in at night. It automatically charges its batteries when you brake and decelerate!
Yes, the degree of new technology we were buying into concerned us. Although normally extended-warranty averse, we decided to purchase Honda’s extended warranty program. This extension pushes the normal three-year, 36,000-mile limited warranty up to a seven-year, 100,000-mile blanket of protection. Even the batteries are protected by this blanket-protection that added about $1,200 to the $24,000 price tag.
Trim the Fat, Please
Since we bought the Insight for environmental reasons, we didn’t spend a lot of time examining the optional features. We immediately rejected the single largest option — air-conditioning — given its huge bite out of the optimum gas mileage that so attracted us to the vehicle in the first place. Overall, we found Honda put the same quality into this hybrid vehicle as it puts into its other vehicles.
Please Observe the Location of Your Nearest Exits
The Census Bureau estimates there will be one billion Americans by the year 2100 (The Environmental Magazine —E— Nov./Dec. 2000). More conservative estimates predict a population of 571 million, a staggering number which will have a disproportionate impact on the rest of the world because, according to the U.N. Development Program, the average American’s environmental impact is 30 to 50 times that of the average citizen in a developing country like India.
There are currently three cars in the U.S. for every four people. If we take the more ‘optimistic’ prediction of population growth — 571 million — a population increase of 300 million people during the next century would put 225 million more cars on the road. That’s almost as many additional new cars as there are Americans alive at this moment.
Even if every one of those new cars were an Insight, which has emissions between a third and one-half less than ‘standard’ vehicles, the damage to our air and the exhaustion of resources would be staggering.
We are a society, as philosopher Jacob Needleman points out, that ....has generally tended to solve its problems without experiencing its questions. Can we afford to ignore the questions embedded in population growth, congestion, sprawl, environmental damage, and dwindling resources by stocking our roads with Insights?
The answer is obvious. Although it’s far from perfect, the Insight simply reduces the speed at which we continue to degrade our environment. But it clearly does not address the larger questions which we must face head on.
We can’t grow on like this. There’s danger just ahead. The stop sign stares at us.
Perhaps the Insight lives up to its name, with important lessons for us to heed—travel lightly on the planet; consume less; use what you do consume more efficiently.
The vehicle recharges its batteries as it slows down on its approach to a stop sign. Perhaps we, as a society, and as individuals, can also learn to recharge ourselves as we, too, slow down.
To read more about the Insight, go to the Environmental News Network site: http://www.enn.com
Russell Hugo is originally from a small town south of Olympia, WA. He has lived in the Bellingham area long enough to discover that we have some of the best hiking in the Northwest. He has also enjoyed the opportunity to write for music/video related publications over the years.
Recently I had the opportunity to converse with local artist Tim McHugh. Tim has played nationally for many years, released a quantity of well-received albums, and gained enormous respect from fellow musicians and activists alike. I must add that he is also a great sport for sticking through a small crisis concerning a faulty tape recorder/operator.
Russell Hugo: You have played both as a solo artist and with The Lost Poets. What is the line-up and history behind the project?
Tim McHugh: We formed in 1991. I was looking for a rhythm section for the You’re Not Alone release, and found Jim and John. The musical chemistry was perfect and we were having such a good time practicing for the studio that we started doing live shows. Over the years we’ve had a revolving roster of guest players/singers ranging from Jon Trimble Mack to Caryn Simmons, to Bruce Harvie to Anna Schaad who currently has the longest tenure as a lead player in the history of the band.
Q: What were some of the factors that convinced you to move to the Whatcom area? Was music one?
McHugh: I moved here to go to school as an English major, and have been here more on than off for twenty years.
Q: I also see that you have played with some well renowned acts, from Sarah MacLachlan and Bonnie Raitt to Jim Page. What was one of the most interesting or amazing gigs you’ve had the opportunity to play?
McHugh: In the summer of 1992, Sarah James, a Gwich’in tribal activist and dear friend arranged a two week boat/music tour of remote native villages along the Yukon River. The first stop was Circle, Alaska — a seven hour bus ride from Fairbanks, half of which as I remember was on a dirt road.
When we got to the end of the road, it was raining and there was nobody there. Only the Yukon River flowing silently through the tundra. We then realized that we were supposed to have been there the day before, but Sarah decided to call Circle Hot Springs Resort (about fifteen miles back up the road) to see if they wanted a live band to do a show in the bar. The owners were intrigued with the idea of a lost group of musicians they’d never heard of playing for them, and offered to put us up for the night if we played.
When we got there to set up, the bar was jam-packed with miner and logger types and a scene from the movie Deliverance flashed through my brain. We decided that it might not be a wise idea to start off the night with our songs about environmental destruction and the injustices against Native Americans, given the way some of the people were already staring at us.
We instead began figuring out a set of cover tunes that we’d never actually played together ranging from Creedence to The Doors. As I remember, we opened with Born on the Bayou with John Neighbor singing lead, and instantly, the dance floor was packed and beer was flying as the whole place came unglued. They loved us! After we exhausted our meager offering of covers, we launched into our originals, and alas, they loved them too! Besides...who listens to lyrics anyway? That was truly the wildest gig ever.
Q: I can assume then you have been following the movement to preserve the Arctic refuge from the oil and mining companies.
McHugh: Sarah James: Although she would never admit it, she is a huge reason that the Arctic Coastal Plain is still beyond the reach of the oil industry’s slimy tentacles.
Q: What are some local ecological concerns that you see as being a priority?
McHugh: The most critical issue facing us locally is water quality in the watershed. It’s such an apparent no-brainer that I never cease to be amazed at the fact that protecting this resource is even a controversial issue. I guess some people in positions of influence as well as developers and property owners are not going to budge from their own self-centered positions for the good of the whole. The fact that operating motorized watercraft on our drinking water is permissible shows what kind of visionaries we have elected.
SE-2 Plant—Horrifying... I mean, who cares if the damn thing’s built right over one of the most active faults on the West Coast? There are profits to be made, and the public and environmental interest be damned!
Q: You released a solo CD in 1999 titled Fools like Me which received great coverage. Do you have any plans for an album in 2001?
McHugh: We have a show coming up that is sponsored by The Underground Coffee House at the Old Main Theater on Saturday, March 3. This show will be recorded live, and will be the first of several recorded shows as the band gears up for a future live release...
Q: Sounds like a great event for the community to be a part of.… Are there any books that have sparked your interest lately you would care to recommend?
McHugh: Tolstoy, Dostoyevski, and Into the Wild by John Krakauer.
For More Information:
Tim McHugh’s CD’s may be purchased at Cellophane Square or direct from the artist.
Keith Hunter is Chahta/Scotch Irish descent and has lived in Neah Bay, Washington, for one and a half years. He is deeply involved in traditional healing, traditional ecological issues, noxious weed control management plans, and traditional conflict resolution and advocacy strategies. He was raised in West Texas, has lived in Mexico, and has a lifetime of experience in cross-cultural relationships with indigenous peoples.
It is the silence which is so loud. And it is into this silence that my words are offered.
The past few weeks I have been deeply involved in the campaign to stop the appointment of Gale Norton as Secretary of Interior. In the process of doing this I worked closely as an indigenous Affairs Advisor with many Washington, D.C., executives of the national environmental organizations. I was in contact with many tribal governments, indigenous support organizations, and grassroots people.
From reservations to the suburbs, from Florida to Alaska, California to New York, from my living room desk in the tiny fishing village in Neah Bay to offices in Washington, D.C., this network grew rapidly as information concerning Gale Norton and her positions on indigenous issues were distributed. When I began there was a loud silence.
In speaking and communicating with many people concerning environmental or Indian Affairs issues, I began to see not only was there a common concern about who the Secretary of Interior may be, but this common concern came because all these people loved the land and waters and what moves and breathes. It was love that motivated these heartfelt communications, a deep sense of caring and trying to do what was best not only about the public land use policies and environmental protection issues but also the human rights issues through which all of these so impact the indigenous people. But there was this loud silence.
The plain simple truth is that for the most part environmental organizations and indigenous people are not speaking to each other about issues which impact both. There is this obstacle that has grown through time that still exists, although almost all people involved do not wish it to be so. And there is this loud silence.
I have spoken to many of the same people that at times were on opposite sides of an issue which has helped to create this silence. I do not doubt the intentions of those who wanted to align with indigenous peoples on certain issues, but what I have seen is that often times these intentions were sabotaged not because of ill will but because of a lack of understanding of cultural perspectives or the ability to communicate and share in culturally appropriate ways. And this same barrier exists between indigenous people trying to communicate or seek support of non-indigenous peoples as well. And now there is loud silence.
Indigenous people take action oftentimes in a different way than non-indigenous people. Sometimes the issue may be the same but the way it is handled becomes a real obstacle. Impatience grows, pressures build, and relationships which could have been mutually rewarding are harmed. There is a lack of understanding and a lack of validating what is a culturally appropriate response and cooperative efforts cease. And the result is a loud silence.
Ending the Silence
During this confirmation process I was very inspired and honored. I was inspired by the work which involved not only protection of our Mother, but the issues of human rights and cultural protections involved. It is powerful when you step into the energies that such important matters produce. And this experience of working with all the very many facets of society was awesome. But the most inspiring of all was receiving 300-400 e-mails a day and countless phone calls from people, from many tribes and environmental groups across our country who were willing to speak and end the loud silence.
We need to keep speaking to each other. We need to learn to do this in culturally appropriate ways that do not create obstacles or deprive cultural needs. We need to learn how these relationships can be nurtured to grow so that the needs of all people are met.
To heal the earth we have to heal our human relationships. The people and the Land are inseparable and to speak to one is to speak to both, but the words cannot be sent to just one ear. I am willing to do my part to end this loud silence and to help the voices of mutual love and shared concerns be heard. The silence is too loud.
For More Information:
Keith Hunter (Kii yaa tuk)
Hollow Bone Alliance
P. O. Box 482
Neah Bay, WA 98357
Location: 3224 Meridian/2800 Cornwall
Area: 65 acres
In 1909 an editorial in The Bellingham Herald excerpted an article from Park and Cemetery magazine when it printed the magazine’s report on one of Bellingham’s newest attractions: Mrs. Bertha Cornwall-Fischer, realizing that Bellingham, in a manner characteristic of Western cities, was increasing in population very rapidly, has given the crowning feature of the system by presenting to the city a beautiful park of approximately sixty acres with a market value today of one hundred thousand dollars. It is to be known as ‘Cornwall Memorial Park’ in honor of her father. Pierre Barlow Cornwall (1821-1904), besides being a dedicated father, was also a leading and respected San Francisco industrialist and philanthropist who was involved with many successful businesses along the West Coast. In Washington, he owned the Bellingham Bay Coal Mine in the town of Sehome. The mine was opened by Captain Henry Roeder soon after his arrival in 1853 and was eventually purchased by Cornwall as Roeder shifted to other business pursuits. For a brief time it was the main industry of Sehome, before being closed in 1873 after unpredictable fires and flooding made it unprofitable.
Company Molds City’s Future
In September 1889 Cornwall created the highly influential Bellingham Bay Improvement Company as a way of contributing to Bellingham Bay’s growth towards becoming a new metropolitan center. This was his dream for the primitive and underdeveloped bay communities. Among the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company’s activities was the purchase and sale of land, coal mining, operation of a railroad, lumber milling and numerous other philanthropic-based programs that were meant to draw settlers and commerce to Bellingham Bay.
In 1905, following the death of Cornwall, the holdings of the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company were divided into four separate companies – the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company, a real estate company; the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia Railroad; the Bellingham Bay Lumber Company; and an electric power plant that was sold the same year to the local trolley company, Stone & Webster.
In 1912 the Bellingham Securities Syndicate, made up of local businessmen and former executives of the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company, bought the real estate company and tried to continue working towards Cornwall’s dream of bringing a great economic boom to the area. In 1931 the Bellingham Securities Syndicate closed its doors and was labeled an unsuccessful but earnest attempt.
Park Land Donated
Cornwall never resided on Bellingham Bay, but made frequent trips to the area. He attempted to take the community under his wing and guide it towards a prosperous direction. Though his endeavors did bring settlers to the area and help improve the community, he was never able to create the economic boom he wanted and felt the community needed for any long-term growth.
It was in honor of Cornwall’s dedication to the struggling bay towns that his daughter donated family held land to the city in March, 1909, for use as a park. The land for Cornwall Park had been in the family since the formation of the Bellingham Bay & British Columbia Railroad in 1883, its tracks running along the north side of the park.
Limited funding allowed only minor improvements to occur to the undeveloped park land during its early years. In fact there was such a small amount of work that in 1912 a petition of 50 names was presented to the park board by realtor W. F. Follis asking for the board to start major development work to the park to improve the unsightly mess of trees and plants. As a gesture to show their shared concern for the park the board commissioned pipes to be laid for a drinking fountain system.
Archway For Meridian Street Entrance
In 1918 J.J. Donovan contributed lumber to construct an archway over the Meridian Street entrance dedicated to Bertha Cornwall-Fischer. This was replaced in 1923 with a stone archway. The following year enough money was available to purchase playground equipment for the park.
In 1922 the Fischer estate donated a gift of $30,000 to the park board, explicitly for Cornwall Park’s development. It was the first installment from a fund of $150,000 that would be slowly given to the park board over a period of years.
One of the first improvements with the donated money was the construction of a south entrance to the park with a winding road connecting it to the Meridian Street entrance. The road was eventually cut in half due to destruction of the fragile street by speeders and commercial vehicles taking advantage of the shortcut.
In 1920 the park board created an automobile tourist camp just inside the Meridian Street entrance. The next year a similar camp was set up in Fairhaven Park. An automobile tourist camp was an alternative to hotels, with travelers setting up tents next to their cars. This was part of a national movement of automobile tourism.
During the peak summer months each of the parks would receive close to a thousand visitors a month. The Cornwall Park camp closed in 1927, and the Fairhaven Park camp the next year.
In 1938 a $4000 clubhouse was built for the Cornwall Park lawn bowling club at a new second entrance on Meridian Street. In 1975 Bellingham parks director Phil Schwind suggested moving the park headquarters to Civic Field to improve public access, but the Cornwall Park site was chosen instead. In 1977 the lawn bowling clubhouse was converted into an office, making the park the flagship of the Bellingham parks department and locale of its headquarters.
The parks department administrative offices were previously located on Woburn Avenue in a building that also served as the Bay View Cemetery caretaker’s residence and cemetery equipment storage facility. Today, the Woburn Street building is the parks operations department headquarters.
Next Month — Part Eight: Arroyo Park
The idea that government does not enforce or even obey its own environmental laws is hardly a revelation, and Puget Sound salmon have not been the only victims. Logging in Northwestern national forests ground to a halt in the early 1990s because a federal court refused to let the federal government keep ignoring a law that protected habitat for the northern spotted owl.
[M]ore is involved here than a simple failure by an agency to comply with its governing statute, Judge William Dwyer wrote. The most recent violation of the [National Forest Management Act] exemplifies a deliberate and systematic refusal by the Forest Service . . . to comply with the laws protecting wildlife. This is not the doing of scientists, foresters, rangers, and others at the working levels of these agencies. It reflects decisions made by higher authorities in the executive branch of government.1
Higher authorities in federal, state and local agencies have made similar decisions about Puget Sound salmon.2 There are gaps in the law, but most observers think they pose less of a problem than the misinterpretation and non-enforcement of existing laws.
William Rodgers argues that the state’s hydraulics code, which includes the law against blocking fish passage, could give the state control over virtually all activities that disrupt salmon habitat — but virtually no one takes an expansive view of the law’s potential.3 We have plenty of good law, suggests Rachael Paschal. People say that all the time. They’re right. We have to enforce the laws that are on the books. 4
On the federal level, we seem to have little choice. Although some people believe the Clean Water Act needs improvement, no one expects the current Congress to make positive changes in major environmental laws. And environmental groups will not risk opening any major law to Congressional tinkering. We cannot expect substantive improvements in federal legislation any time soon. Congress must fund the new fishing treaty with Canada and appropriate money to remove the Elwha dams. Beyond that, we must simply do better with the laws we already have. Respect for law, not new legislative initiatives, should be the federal government’s focus.
The federal government has limited ability to save Puget Sound’s wild salmon anyway. Habitat must be preserved and fishing regulated at the state and local levels. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of Puget Sound chinook does not change that. The ESA primarily limits action taken or authorized by the federal government. Exactly how it will limit private behavior or force local government to act depends on how the National Marine Fisheries Service and ultimately the courts define a take of threatened salmon.5
Oregon’s Savage Rapids Dam
It also depends on how aggressively the National Marine Fisheries Service is willing to confront institutions and practices that are bad for fish. On Oregon’s Rogue River, the National Marine Fisheries Service has concluded that the Savage Rapids diversion dam takes threatened coho, and has won a restraining order that prevents the Grants Pass Irrigation District, which owns the dam, from diverting water until juvenile coho have made their way downstream.6
The irrigation district built the Savage Rapids dam in 1921. Thirty-nine feet high and 500 feet long, built with inadequate fish passage, the dam has reduced salmon and steelhead runs on the Rogue River by an estimated 22 percent.7 The National Marine Fisheries Service has called it the biggest fish killer on the Rogue. 8 Studies released in 1994 by irrigation district consultants and the federal Bureau of Reclamation said that removing the dam and replacing it with pumps would be the best way to solve fish passage problems.9
The Oregon Water Resources Commission extended the irrigation district’s temporary permit to withdraw additional water on the strength of the district’s promise to move toward removing the dam. Then, the district changed its mind. The Oregon Water Resources Board consequently cut its water allocation by roughly one-third.10 And the National Marine Fisheries Service ordered it to let the fish get through.11
The Savage Rapids dam case is particularly egregious. The dam provides very limited economic benefit: it generates no electricity, does not help to control floods, causes obvious environmental harm, and is operated by a political entity that has openly violated a formal agreement. The situation has not yet been finally resolved.
Nevertheless, some western environmental lawyers, asked for an example of a government agency doing things right, point without hesitation to the Savage Rapids Dam. But they quickly add that it is more the exception than the rule. One says, you can say that Savage Rapids Dam is very unusual …if not unique. 12 Another says that it is the only example I know of where the government has gone against [local economic interests], especially irrigators. 13 A law journal article calls the case highly unusual. 14
There is no reason to expect such draconian action on the periphery of Puget Sound. One top federal fisheries attorney suggests, I have heard it said that without a dead fish and a pretty strong link to causation, we can’t make a ‘take’ case.
Clean Water Act a Better Tool
Many people believe that the Clean Water Act, despite its current flaws, provides a better tool for protecting salmon.15 If one takes the legislative language seriously, it protects the biological health of all the nation’s waters; therefore, it focuses not simply on salmon—which cannot live in isolation —but on the complex aquatic systems that salmon need. But since the federal Environmental Protection Agency has delegated enforcement of the Clean Water Act to the states, the law joins the list of statutes and ordinances that depend on state or local interpretation, enforcement and monitoring, which is precisely where most of the current problem lies.
Proposals for Immediate Action
Some state laws and local ordinances do contain significant gaps. But we should not need new legislation to:
Proposed LegislationNew legislation would be useful in a few areas:
NEXT MONTH — PART NINE Conclusion
1 Seattle Audubon Society v. Evans, 771 F.Supp 1081 (W.D. Wash.) (1991)
2 In fact, they have made such decisions about salmon throughout the Northwest. In the Columbia River basin, [i]f salmon recovery is now the primary environmental issue in the nation, this distinction is due to repeated failures to achieve what Congress ordered [in the explicit terms of the Northwest Power Planning Act] a decade and a half ago. Blumm, Michael C., et. al., Beyond the Parity Promise: Struggling to Save Columbia Basin Salmon in the Mid-1990s, 27 Environmental Law 21 (1997)
3 Rodgers, personal communication
5 True, Todd, Earthjustice Legal Foundation, personal communication
6 Hunter, Robert G., Water Diversions and Salmon: Pressure Mounts to Remove Savage Rapids Dam, Western Water Law & Policy Reporter (December 1998)
13 Lucas, Laird, Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, personal communication
14 Hunter, op. cit
15 Bayles, David, Pacific Rivers Council, personal communication
16 Karr, personal communication
Barry Ulman is an artist, photographer, and musician who became interested in birds when he was 13 years old. He plays clarinet and saxophone with the Whatcom Symphony and plays jazz around Northwest Washington.
After going on about a half dozen eco-tours to Latin America, I figured it was payback time. So while leafing through a brochure of Costa Rica tours through Holbrook Travel, the title, Turtle Tagging in Costa Rica caught my eye. Here was an opportunity to help out with research on sea turtles, all of which are endangered. Volunteers like myself wouldn’t actually tag the turtles, but we would do everything else.
I put together a three-week visit to Costa Rica. The first week would be spent at Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast, where I would help out with turtle research, and the remaining two weeks would be spent on a birding tour.
Green Turtle Season
Tortuguero has the largest nesting population of green turtles in the Atlantic Ocean. The giant leatherback turtle also nests here, and on rare occasions loggerhead and hawksbill turtles will visit. The season for leatherback turtles is from February to June, while the green turtles come from July to October. I arrived at Tortuguero on the last week in June, so the green turtle season was just beginning.
Because the female turtles come ashore only at night to lay their eggs, our work was done at night. Work parties of three or four people would work one of two four-hour shifts between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. Each crew would cover a two and a half to three mile stretch of beach looking for nesting turtles.
Flashlight use is severely restricted because the turtles are very sensitive to lights and are easily disturbed by the flashlights. We were allowed to use flashlights with red gels, but were encouraged to use them as little as possible. So we were walking in almost complete darkness, with what little light we got from the stars, if indeed the stars were out.
To make matters worse, Tortuguero has black sand due to the volcanic soil, so there was very little light reflection at all. In addition, there were lots of obstacles: driftwood, coconut shells, changes in terrain, etc. So the going was rough.
If your night vision is good enough, you will spot an even blacker line crossing your path in the already-black void. This black line will turn out to be turtle tracks.
Sometimes these turtle tracks will loop back into the water. These tracks are called half-moons or false crawls, indicating that the turtle didn’t like the site or was scared back into the water for some reason.
If the tracks went up and didn’t return, we would follow the tracks up and find a turtle. If we reached the turtle before she started laying eggs, we could get an egg count. This was done by lying down on the beach behind the turtle and putting out one hand underneath the turtle to feel the eggs drop into the nest. In the other hand would be a counter; each egg dropping down was clicked off on the counter. If an egg count were obtained, the site was flagged and carefully measured with coordinates for future nest excavation to determine hatching success.
All nesting turtles were checked for tags. If there were no tags, two were inserted in the front flippers and their numbers recorded in the data book. If there were two tags already in place, their numbers were recorded. If there were just one tag, the missing tag was replaced and both numbers recorded.
Every nesting turtle was measured. Two different measurements were taken: 1) from the front notch to the rear notch of the carapace (top shell), using a tape measure, and 2) on one side of the carapace notches, using a large caliper. Each measurement was done three times to allow room for error. By the time the measurements would be taken, the turtle was starting to fill in the nest. Her powerful flippers would throw sand in all directions. You would get sand in your face, your eyes, your hair, and just about everywhere else!
After counting eggs, tagging, measuring, and checking for tumors, the turtle was finally left by herself to finish filling in the nest and return to the sea.
So what has been learned by this research? Sea turtles disperse throughout the western Caribbean, but most go to the Miskito Banks of northeastern Nicaragua, where there is an abundance of marine vegetation. Female green turtles always return to the same nesting sites, but not at regular intervals. It can be anywhere from one to four years or more between visits to the nest sites. Three years has been the most frequently-recorded nesting interval, then two years, then four. Frequency of visits fluctuates with each individual.
Yearly nesting populations of green turtles along the five-mile stretch of northernmost beach at Tortuguero have varied widely, from a low of 428 in 1979 to 4,908 in 1986. It is believed that this fluctuation has more to do with coinciding of different nesting intervals rather than actual changes in population. Apparently the average number of visits per year has increased in more recent years, perhaps due to protection of the turtles at Tortuguero.
Sea turtles have an uphill battle all the way. First the hatchlings must struggle to the surface after hatching. Then they must make the journey down the beach to the water without being eaten by a crab or frigatebird or other predator. If they make it to the water they must survive for thirty years or more before they reach sexual maturity. When the adult females climb ashore to lay their eggs, they run the risk of being eaten by jaguars (an unusual case of endangered species eating endangered species).
These are just some of the natural hazards the turtles face. Add to that the additional threats imposed by humans, such as destruction of beach habitat due to development and the accompanying lights that distract and confuse the turtles, and poaching of the turtles and eggs for food, and it is easy to see why sea turtles are so endangered.
Birds of the New World Tropics
I have to admit that the main reason I came to Costa Rica was to see birds. So after my week-long stint at Tortuguero, I joined up with a tour group specializing in birding. We rendezvoused at the Hotel Bougainvillea just north of San Jose, the nation’s capital. With beautiful gardens on the hotel grounds, birders can get off to a good start right at the hotel.
From the Hotel Bougainvillea we headed for the high country. Our first destination was on Cerro de la Muerte, a peak over 11,000 feet high. We stayed at the Savegre Mountain Lodge, at an altitude of about 7,000 feet. At this elevation the climate was downright chilly despite its location in the tropics; we had to turn the heat on at night.
Some of the most fun birding was right at the lodge, where five hummingbird feeders were set up just outside the restaurant. At least five species of hummingbirds would regularly visit these feeders. They ranged in size from the tiny scintillant hummingbird, only two and half inches long, to the five-inch magnificent hummingbird, whose range reaches southwestern United States.
There was an almost constant feeding frenzy of hummers at these feeders, with the magnificent hummingbird more or less at the top of the pecking order, though they got plenty of competition. Another major contender for the feeders was the green violet-ear, whose violet ear-patches were often puffed out as a gesture of aggression.
The predominating habitat in this region was cloud forest, and it was here where we got our first looks at that glamour bird of Costa Rica, the resplendent quetzal. The male, with his shimmering green head and upper body, crimson underside, and long tail streamers, is considered by many to be the most spectacular bird in the new world tropics. The long streamers are not the real tail, but are actually the upper tail coverts, which grow just above the tail. Quetzals eat various fruits, especially wild avocado, but they will also take insects and small frogs and lizards.
There were other colorful birds too, such as collared redstarts, flame-throated warblers, and sooty-capped bush tanagers. Two other birds, the gray-breasted wood wren and the black-billed nightingale-thrush, were nondescript and hard to see, but to make up for that they had loud, beautiful songs that resounded in the forest.
Lowland Rain Forest
From Cerro de la Muerte we crossed over to the lower Caribbean slope and visited Selva Verde and the La Selva Biologica Research Station. Here in the lowlands the climate was very warm and muggy, more what you would expect of the tropics. Selva Verde is an eco-lodge built by Holbrook Travel Company amid 500 acres of prime rain forest. Many flowers are planted around the lodge to attract hummingbirds, and there is a network of trails through the jungle. Here we saw three colorful species of toucan: the keel-billed toucan, chestnut-mandibled toucan, and the collared aracari.
Not far from Selva Verde is the La Selva Biological Station. Here research is done on every possible form of life found in the rain forest. Visitors are allowed but must have a permit. There are paths through the lush rain forest giving ample opportunities to view the rich wildlife found here. To name all the birds we saw there would take too much space, so I’ll mention a few specialties.
We saw a pair of pied puffbirds near the entrance to La Selva. They had a nesting hole in a tree by the road. These small birds, boldly colored in black and white, would sit sedately on a wire or branch and periodically dart out after insects.
We saw two kinds of motmots, rufous and broad-billed. Motmots are neotropical members of the kingfisher family. Most of them have long tails with bare shafts near the end and racquet tips. The tail actually grows in full, and the racquet tips develop.
There are two theories about how the racquet tips develop. One theory is that the webbing near the end of the long central tail feathers is not attached strongly, and so when the bird preens or crashes through brush the webbing gets knocked off, leaving the racquet tips. The other theory is that the birds deliberately pluck the webbing out of their tails.
No matter how they develop, the racquet tips seem to serve a purpose, for motmot tails are very expressive. They will swing back and forth like a pendulum, they will be jerked up over the bird’s head if the bird is alarmed, and are often held in a variety of positions.
We saw several crested guans. These long-tailed, turkey-sized birds live mostly in the forest canopy, where they feed mainly on fruits from various trees.
From La Selva we crossed over to the Pacific coast and visited the Tarcoles region. Here the Tarcoles River flows to the sea right under the main highway. The bridge over the Tarcoles is a great place to view American crocodiles basking on the banks below. This area is a good place to see the spectacular and endangered scarlet macaw. Seeing these 33-inch birds flying over the jungle with slow wingbeats is an unforgettable experience.
Carara National Park protects a large area of choice Pacific rain forest. The forest buzzes with life. White-faced capuchins cavort in the trees. Agoutis, large tail-less rodents, scurry through the forest floor. Colorful poison-dart frogs, whose skin secretions are quite poisonous, lurk on the ground. Lizards are everywhere.
And so were the birds. We saw slaty-tailed and baird’s trogons, brightly colored relatives of the quetzal. At the river we saw boat-billed herons, with huge bulbous bills. In the forest under story were birds of several different families collectively known as antbirds. We saw barred and black-hooded ant shrikes, dot-winged antwrens, and chestnut-backed ant-birds. All these birds and many more share a common trait. They follow hordes of army ants, not to eat the ants themselves but to prey on other insects that are scared up by the ants.
Visiting the Cloud Forest
For the final crowning climax to our tour, we drove up the long, tortuous dirt road to the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest. Even with the road the way it is, Monteverde gets flooded with tourists. It is probably a good idea to leave the road as is, because if it were paved there would probably be all the more visitors to add stress to the already-crowded destination.
Monteverde’s reputation is certainly well-deserved. It is a beautiful place, a prime example of cloud forest on a long ridge at 4,500 to 5,000 feet. As the name implies, the forest is usually in the clouds. Moisture from the clouds bathes the trees and coats the branches with water.
Almost every tree is covered with epiphytes, plants whose roots are suspended in the air. The lushness of the vegetation is totally pleasing to the senses, and the climate is amazingly like the Pacific Northwest, with daytime temperatures usually in the sixties.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve is privately operated by a Quaker group. There is a network of trails running through the forest; most of these trails have brickwork over them to keep you out of the mud.
We saw quetzals again at Monteverde; actually we got better looks at them here than on Cerro de la Muerte. Quetzals are cavity-nesters; they seek out rotten snags that they can easily excavate into nesting holes. One such nest site was right beside one of the trails, and I managed to get some photos.
Bizarre Voice of Monteverde
The voice of Monteverde is the three-wattled bellbird. The male bellbird is bizarre, both to look at and listen to. He is bright rufous with a white head, and has three pendulous wattles hanging down from his beak.
Equally bizarre is the sound he makes — a loud Bonk, not sounding much like a bell.
Bellbirds probably have the loudest voices of any bird; their Bonk carries for over a half a mile, and thus the birds are heard far more often than they are seen. Bellbirds are apparently declining due to deforestation of adjacent forests. Though Monteverde is protected, the birds need other healthy forests to support them, as they more around considerably in search of food.
Another loud voice to be heard at Monteverde and throughout the rain forests of Costa Rica is that of the howler monkey. These large dark monkeys bark as well as howl. Their almost unearthly roar resonates through the jungle and carries for long distances.
Over ten species of hummingbirds are found at Monteverde. Hummingbird feeders are set up at the entrance to the Cloud Forest and at a private establishment called the Hummingbird Gallery. Such names of species as purple-throated mountain gem, green-crowned brilliant, violet sabrewing, and coppery-headed emerald give you the idea of how colorful these birds are. The dominating hummer here is the violet sabrewing. At six inches long, it is very large for a hummingbird. The violet sabrewing usually gets its way, but all the hummers get in the act in a constant patter of activity at these feeders; there is never a dull moment.
One more bird I have to mention is the emerald toucanet. This rather small member of the toucan family is found mainly in cloud forests. As the name implies, they are mainly green all over with black and yellow bills. Emerald toucanets feed mainly on fruits but will also eat insects and small lizards as well as eggs and nestlings of other birds. They are perhaps the greatest natural enemy of the resplendent quetzal.
Of course the greatest enemy of all to the quetzal, and to all other wildlife for that matter, is Man. With rapid deforestation, much valuable habitat for wildlife is being lost. Costa Rica is a paradox; it has twelve percent of its land protected in national parks and wildlife preserves, and also has perhaps the fastest rate of deforestation in the tropics. Although Costa Rica is considerably more advanced than most tropical countries in terms of an environmental ethic, the same battles of environmentalists versus developers go on there as well as here.
Certainly Costa Rica has a worldwide reputation as a prime destination for eco-tourism, and I believe enough people down there are aware of that. What we need is responsible eco-tourism, where tourist dollars stay in the country and benefit the local economy. Indeed, responsible eco-tourism is one of the most sustainable industries, for both the people and, in the long run, the wildlife.
So you have decided you want to attract wildlife to your yard or you like the look of a ferny glade. With a little bit of patience, preparing a site to accommodate a native garden can be as easy as raking up the fall leaves and throwing some bark on top.
Site preparation is the key to ease of maintenance and garden performance in the future. One of the most common ways to convert a lawn to garden space is to dig out the sod from the desired area. Apart from requiring a good back, this method removes a layer of soil and organic matter that is high in plant nutrients. Moreover, weed seeds exposed waste no time in making their presence known.
An easy way to convert sod to humus and suppress some of those lurking weed seeds is to sheet compost the site. The basic method consists of laying down a layer of a material that the grass cannot grow through easily, covering it with a layer of mulch or bark to maintain humidity, and letting the soil denizens do their thing. If grass stems and weeds are consistently removed as they appear, the grass will decompose in two to three seasons leaving a site in which holes for planting can be easily dug. The final product is a garden bed with good tilth and compost already incorporated.
If you are an advocate of organic procedures, skip this step.To speed up the process, I spray the area to be converted with Roundup, (glyphosate), before putting the layer of leaves or newspaper down. This improves and accelerates the grass kill which gets the composting started much sooner. I have not found that a single application of Roundup affects soil activity.*
The easiest time to start this process is in the fall when leaves can be swept over the area to be converted. If the size or the shape isn’t quite what was desired, the leaves can be swept into a more pleasing space. Newspaper or cardboard are useful if leaves are not available.
Three to five inches of leaves or a minimum of four sheets of newspaper are required to create a layer that stifles the growth of grass through the media, especially if Roundup isn’t used. It is important to keep any sod at all from getting established in the planting site. Grass takes up nutrients greedily and out competes most young plants readily as it spreads. A physical border around a site surrounded by grass discourages creep in along the edges.
Bark mulch or sawdust make excellent mulches to cover the leaves or paper. Aside from making the site more attractive and keeping the leaves or paper from blowing away, woody mulches are low in nutrients and highly porous which slows the growth of weed seeds that blow in and makes them easier to pull.
If Roundup is used to prepare the site, planting can take place within 3-4 weeks. Digging through the sod to plant potted material is more of a chore than waiting until the buried sod is composted, but it is doable if you are anxious to start planting. With the organic method, at least one season, and preferably two to three, should pass before planting. Any place holes perforate the impenetrable layer, the grass will creep out and re-establish itself.
Rototilling to Speed Replanting
With a little more effort, rototilling may be combined with sheet composting to prepare a site for immediate planting. Tillers are available from most rental shops, but if you haven’t operated one, be prepared to invest an entire day in the project. You will have to run the machine over your site six or seven times to get the sod incorporated into the soil. Remember to keep the shape of your garden site simple – tillers operate in straight rows.
Don’t rent the biggest machine available just because it will go faster. My sister and I rented an eight horsepower rototiller intending get the job done quickly some years ago, only to find that it bucked, reared and ran away when either of us tried to till with it. Only with each of us firmly attached to each side of the tiller were we able to exert some control, and even then it wasn’t far from a rodeo event. With some embarrassment, we exchanged the tiller for a smaller model at the rental shop and completed the job in comparably less time with one person operating the machine.
Limiting Your Goals
Keep your garden bed to a size you are willing to intensively manage in a year. Getting the grass and weeds under control before the garden is planted pays off in easier maintenance a couple years down the road. Newly installed plantings require consistent weeding and a large area can overwhelm the best intentions. Several beds on my property buried in quack grass attest to unrealistic expectations of what I could manage in a year.
Once the desired plants are established, they cover ground and compete with weeds more readily for nutrients which reduces the need for weeding. Space can be added from year to year if your goal is to renew a large area. The beds I have established since becoming a convert to this philosophy have not been overrun and each year I have a new space to install a newly discovered native treasure.
This is a 21-page photographic report of marine species observed at Point Whitehorn, a beautiful section of tidelands in between Cherry Point and Birch Bay State Park.
A haven for marine organisms, Point Whitehorn comes alive in this colorful booklet. Species seen here range from anemone to barnacles to crabs to sea stars, mollusks, algae, birds, fish, flowering plants, and lichens.
Lois Garlick, president of the Clean Water Alliance, calls the booklet an interesting offering by two avid beach walkers who want to call attention to the importance of maintaining public access to beaches like this one, which have been closed off in other areas. She says this publication points out the necessity of an official base-line study of the marine organisms before any more industrial development takes place.
Al Hanners thinks Point Whitehorn, with its abundance of marine organisms, should be established as a marine park contiguous to Birch Bay State Park. To get to the Point Whitehorn tidelands, find the southernmost parking area at Birch Bay State Park and head south on the beach for about one mile.
This booklet is available at the Bellingham Public Library, and all branches of the Whatcom Library system.
For more information, attend the slide-illustrated program Point Whitehorn Tidelands sponsored by the North Cascades Audubon Society on Tuesday, March 27 at 7:30 p.m. The program will be given by Al Hanners and Marie Hitchman and will be free and open to the public. The program will be held in the downstairs meeting room at the Bellingham Public Library. Call 671-6192 for details.
With the events of late in the year 2000, the United States left behind constitutional republicanism, and turned to a different form of government. It is not, however, a new form. It is rather, a transplant, highly familiar from a different arena of advanced capitalism.
This is corporate democracy. It is a system whereby a board of directors—read U.S. Supreme Court—selects the chief executive officer. The CEO in turn appoints new members of the board. The shareholders, owners in title only, are invited to cast their votes in periodic referenda. But their franchise is only symbolic, for management holds a majority of the proxies. On no important issue do the CEO and the board ever permit themselves to lose.
The Supreme Court clarified this in a way that the Florida courts could not have. The media have accepted it, for it is the form of government to which they are already professionally accustomed. And the shameless attitude of the Bush high command merely illustrates, in unusually visible fashion, the prevalent ethical system of corporate life.
Vice President Al Gore’s concession speech was justly praised for grace and humor. It paid due deference to the triumph of corporate political ethics, but did not embrace them. It thus preserved Gore for another political day—the obvious intention. But Gore also sent an unmistakable message to American democrats: Do not forget.
It was an important warning, for almost immediately forgetting became the media order of the day. Overnight, it became almost un-American not to accept the diktat of the court. Or to be precise, Gore’s own distinction became holy writ: one might disagree with the court, but not with the legitimacy of its decision. Press references from that moment forward were to President-elect Bush, an unofficial title and something that the Governor from Texas (President-select? President-designate?) manifestly is not.
The key to dealing with the Bush people, however, is precisely not to accept them. Like most Americans, I have nothing personal against President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, nor against Secretary of State Colin Powell and the others now surfacing as members of the new administration. But I will not reconcile myself to them. They lost the election. Then they arranged to obstruct the count of the vote. They don’t deserve to be there, and that changes everything. They have earned our civic disrespect, and that is what we, the people, should accord them.
In social terms, civic disrespect means that the illegitimacy of this administration must not be allowed to fade from view. The conventions of politics remain: Bush will be President; Congress must work with him. But those of us outside that process are not bound by those conventions, and to the extent that we have a voice we should use it.
In political practice, civic disrespect means drawing lines around the freedom of maneuver of the incoming administration. In many areas, including foreign policy, there will be few major changes; in others, such as annual budgets and appropriations, compromises will have to be reached. But Bush should be opposed on actions whose reach will extend beyond his actual term.
With those steps taken, Democrats must also recognize and adapt to the new political landscape that emerged from this election. Outside of Florida, Democrats are finished in the South. But they have excellent prospects of consolidating a narrow majority of the electoral college—so long as, in the next election, there is no Ralph Nader defection.
What can prevent such a thing? Only a move away from the main Clinton compromises that so infuriated the progressive left. Nader’s voters were motivated passionately by issues like the drug war, the death penalty, consumer protection and national missile defense—issues where New Democrats took Republican positions in their effort to woo the South. Clinton the Southerner succeeded at this—but against Republicans who were only weakly Southern at best.
Gore, on the other hand, was principally a Northern candidate, strongly backed by the core Democrats, who ran against, and defeated so far as ballots were concerned, a wholly Southern Republican. Future Republicans will almost surely also be Southern, for that is where the base of the party now lies. And future Democrats, if they are Northern candidates too, can beat them.
Many Democrats are at the moment bitter toward the Greens; they cost Gore support among environmentalists that he should not have had trouble holding. But Nader cost Al Gore the election only in a very narrow sense. Al Gore won the election. Gore beat Bush in almost every state that Nader might have tipped: Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin. The narrow sense was small New Hampshire, where Gore lost by 5,000 votes and Nader got 22,000. The tragedy, of course, was that Nader’s New Hampshire votes, and the four electors they could have delivered, would have made Florida irrelevant. But Gore actually won Florida too.
In short, Al Gore’s campaign proved that there is a electoral majority in the United States for a government that is truly a progressive coalition, and not merely an assemblage of sympathetic lawyers, professors and investment bankers. Rather, Americans will elect a government that firmly includes and effectively represents labor, minorities—and greens. This is the government we must seek to elect—if we get another chance.
And for that, the first task is to assure that the information ministries of our new corporate republic do not successfully cast a fog of forgetting over the crime that we have all just witnessed, with our own eyes.
This article is reprinted with the permission from:
The Texas Observer,
307 West Seventh Street
Austin, Texas 78701
On December 7, 2000, the Whatcom County Solid Waste Advisory Committee recommended to the County Council adoption of Ordinance 2000-03 Imposing Limits on Acceptance of Infectious Waste. The county State Environmental Policy Act official for the made a determination that passage of this ordinance would have no negative environmental impacts. These two actions corrected the procedural oversights cited by U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly in federal District Court.
At stake are local controls balancing public safety with constitutional issues. The ramifications of this case may affect pipeline siting, power generation plants, utility corridors and Whatcom County’s ability to determine the quality characteristics of living here in the face of economic deregulation. It is the World Trade Organization versus you.
Barbara Brenner, the ordinance’s author, started her efforts to reduce infectious waste risks thirteen years ago after the Recomp facility (Thermal Reduction Company, now called Recomp) began importing large amounts of infectious medical waste. Brenner educated herself on the health risks surrounding large-scale infectious waste processing. In 1988 Governor Gardner appointed her to the Washington State Infectious Waste Technical Advisory Committee. In the fall of 1988, a week after interviewing two Recomp (Thermal Reduction Company) employees in her home, her son developed viral meningeal symptoms. I will never forget his screaming with headache pain and uncontrollable vomiting, she states. Both employees later told Brenner they became actively sick with meningitis shortly after visiting her home.
During this time there occurred an unusual outbreak of viral meningitis in Whatcom County with 64 confirmed and probable cases. There were no outbreaks in surrounding counties. Seattle Children’s Hospital was treating the same strain of meningitis and sending its infectious waste to the Recomp ((Thermal Reduction Company, now called Recomp) facility in Whatcom County.
Brenner has always believed in a possible connection between the Recomp facility via the workers and the unusual meningitis outbreak in Whatcom County in 1988.
Brenner went on to form a 10,000-member activist group, Safe Waste Management Now, and staged a three-month camp-in at the governor’s office in 1988. She proposed ordinance 89-61 that prohibited the importation of all medical waste. The council adopted it but it was later ruled unconstitutional because it violated interstate commerce provisions. Brenner was elected to the county council in 1990.
Infectious Waste Risks
The current ordinance puts a limit on the amount of infectious waste accepted at treatment facilities in Whatcom County. It doesn’t put Recomp out of business, Brenner says. The result is that Whatcom County takes care of its proportional share of waste without becoming a large-scale dumping site, she adds.
The ordinance passed with a two thirds voters’ majority in the 1999 general election as a citizen initiative. However, the county council adopted it early in 2000 to facilitate legal proceedings. The ordinance would not take effect until it was determined to be constitutional and enforceable in federal court.
There is legal history supporting limitations in our county. Citizen initiative 4-90 restricted utility corridors for high-voltage electrical transmission lines and citizen initiative 1-84 created a nuclear-free zone for the county.
However, Whatcom County’s petroleum refineries, and their inherent pollution and health risks, are the result of neighboring counties eliminating tanker traffic within Puget Sound. The county is also facing pipeline and power plant applications that usurp local jurisdiction.
What Is in Infectious Waste?
Infectious waste includes products contaminated with infectious body fluids, laboratory wastes and sharps waste. These wastes may contain tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV and other human health hazards. Recomp recently closed its incinerator and started an autoclave process.
Recomp’s infectious waste operations include international company BFI, a notorious violator with numerous multi-million dollar judgments against it, and Stericycle, which operates the Morton, Washington infectious waste facility.
Over half the 26 workers at Morton tested positive for tuberculosis and three workers became sick with tuberculosis including a multiple-drug resistant strain. All these workers contracted tuberculosis from Morton’s infectious waste operation.
Noise, smell, pollution and sloppy performance allegations continue to plague the Recomp operation in Ferndale. Bob Imhof is the only county council member not sponsoring this ordinance.
Collecting Waste from Elsewhere
Of all the solid waste produced by Whatcom County annually, less than 0.3 percent is infectious waste or 400 tons per year. Recomp is currently processing 4,000 tons annually with a ceiling of 12,000 tons per year. It collects waste from British Columbia to California and all stops in-between.
Recomp claims infectious waste poses no additional health risks and that this ordinance would eliminate 90 percent of its profits. Infectious waste is only 15 percent of the regulated medical waste Recomp currently processes.
Profits from Risk?
If 15 percent of Recomp processing volume creates 90 percent of its profits, that waste must be risky! A simple financial rule: the higher the risk, the higher the returns to attract investment. High risk means bad things can happen. A former Recomp employee recently claimed he contracted hepatitis-C while working at the facility.
His attorney, Mr. Beggs, wrote in a letter to Ms. Brenner …former workers report that when the company tries to process too much infectious medical waste the safety procedures break down. We have signed statements from workers that report that workers routinely were required to handle leaking containers which dripped and splashed on their clothing. These containers contained raw biological waste. Workers reported that they were given inadequate safety materials, including regularly being denied masks, respirators, rubber boots, or adequate hand protection. Many workers report being stuck by needles; in addition they report being discouraged from filing labor and industry claims.
Ms. Brenner, after reviewing infectious waste expert Dr. Turnberg and local health department opinions, stated the bigger the dose, the bigger the risk in defense of the ordinance. Aggregation of hazardous infectious medical waste such as occurs at Recomp puts the public health at greater risk, she said showing boxes full of documents she has collected on Recomp’s operation. If I am so wrong, Recomp would not have engaged in a smear campaign.
Years ago, because of its contract with TRC , the city of Bellingham paid for advertising related to solid waste issues including two consecutive weeks of full page ads in The Bellingham Herald placed to discredit Brenner’s claims. This has gone on a long time and I just want to finish this, she added.
There is documentation that large-scale autoclaves like the one at Recomp don’t sterilize waste effectively. We performed 16 surprise inspections without finding a sterilization violation this year, testified Chris Chesson, Whatcom County Health and Human Services. However, Recomp employees have been seen not wearing their protective garments when processing medical waste. Brenner said Recomp workers have signed affidavits that there has never been a surprise inspection.
The autoclave at Recomp was moved here from a Canadian arm of BFI. The autoclave was sold after it violated Canadian emission standards.
Ms. Brenner wants to see more on-site processing at hospitals, clinics, and laboratories because she believes it puts fewer people in contact with infectious wastes and lowers the risk the lower the risk to the community at large. Health-care providers, laboratory technicians and waste management employees and their families are at greatest risk.
The Solid Waste Advisory Committee committee, especially County Council member Dan McShane and City Council member John Watts, posed difficult questions during the public meeting. Ordinance proponent Ms. Brenner and Recomp’s attorney Mr. Austin each distributed packets supporting their arguments. I found Brenner’s more substantive. After two hours of testimony and debate, the Solid Waste Advisory Committee members voted approval.
Recomp appealed the SEPA ruling after the Solid Waste Advisory Committee meeting. Austin testified before Solid Waste Advisory Committee that this ordinance was illegal and unconstitutional.
I’m curious why Recomp keeps picking at peripheral issues instead of taking their case directly to Judge Zilly. I can only conclude that Recomp is looking for a legal loophole related to a procedural error because it fears losing the substantial argument in court. If it loses the substantial argument, the ordinance would be legal, constitutional and enforceable.
Brenner won another battle but the war is far from over. Stay tuned for Judge Zilly’s ruling and its implications on Whatcom County and its citizenry.
Addendum: The Whatcom County Hearing Examiner’s decision scheduled for January 10th on Recomp’s appeal of the State Environmental Policy Act recommendation for the infectious waste ordinance was postponed because of negotiations between the county and Recomp. The hearing examiner’s decision is being rescheduled for February in case the negotiations are unproductive. Then the ordinance would go back into U.S. District Judge Zilly’s court for a decision on its constitutionality. All this could happen in late February and early March.