Whatcom Watch Online
July 1999
Volume 8, Issue 7

Cover Story

Whatcom Creek Restoration

by Nicole C. Oliver

The Olympic Pipe Line explosion happened on June 10, 1999, on the afternoon of my daughter´s 7th birthday. We were outside picking flowers to decorate the table when we gazed up, awestruck, and saw the scariest billowing mass of smoke I had seen since Mt. St. Helens.

That evening before bed, I smelled gasoline fumes in the bathroom and fretted over whether they were flammable. The Bellingham Herald later reported that the fumes were dangerously high around 11 pm, then dissipated, making evacuation unnecessary.

Undoubtedly each and every person who witnessed this event will remember exactly what they were doing and how they felt in the hours and days that followed.

Before reading the newspaper over the next few days, I learned to prepare myself for the inevitable tears by grabbing some kleenex before sitting down. My daughter´s questions were endless, “How can gasoline burn when it´s in water? How can a creek catch on fire? How did the boys die? When will we be able to go to the park again?”

After the initial shock wears off, we are faced with the intellectual and scientific challenge of understanding how best to repair and restore the crown jewel of Bellingham´s parks and salmon creeks.

On June 22, only 12 days after the explosion, a two-inch thick draft Emergency Restoration Plan (hereafter draft plan) was presented by Olympic Pipe Line, which has assumed the leading role in the restoration efforts and information management surrounding the explosion. The Bellingham Public Library has three copies of the draft plan. Two can be checked out and one is at the reference desk. Copies can also be obtained at Kinko´s if you are willing to spend $27.36.

Being that this pipeline saves oil companies millions of dollars in barging expenses, and reaps millions for Olympic, money is not an obstacle in the restoration efforts. The draft plan attempts to cover the many diverse and sometimes conflicting goals that are encompassed by this restoration. It includes voluminous data, a multitude of processes and theories, and requires considerable refinement (no pun intended).

Review and Impressions of the Draft Plan

Throughout the various interviews I conducted for this article, two diverse impressions of the process began to shine through. Participants involved with the draft plan´s implementation are encouraged by the level of expertise recruited, the support and interest stemming from the community at large, and Olympic Pipe Line´s willingness to spare no expense. Those outside the process consider it to be rather closed, lacking in public participation and access to information, and potentially dangerous due to some of the aggressive and intrusive restoration and remediation methods suggested in the initial draft of the plan.

Participants repeatedly state that this is a draft plan, subject to continuous revisions and scrutiny. As such, it includes a wide array of potential restoration options that could be utilized. As the teams in charge of the seven sub-plans review and revise their areas, these options are analyzed to determine the best possible choices out of the many options listed.

As the draft plan is revised and implemented, it is benefiting from constant scrutiny, updated data and on-site developments. This makes the draft plan implementation a “dynamic process that is performance and result-based,” according to James Luce, who represents the Bellingham Parks Department on the Joint Restoration Committee.

A cursory review of the revisions put forth so far demonstrates that some of the intrusive, heavy-handed methods are being replaced by more light-handed methods that utilize natural regeneration capabilities. However, the stream channel itself will be modified extensively with man-made structures to increase its viability as a salmon habitat.

Through email, phone comments and in writing, interested citizens and professionals have submitted hundreds of suggestions and ideas since the draft draft plan was released. This is happening despite the fact that no public participation has been authorized or required within the emergency phase of the restoration. The design of the long-term restoration draft plan will involve public participation, and volunteers can participate in planting projects outlined in the emergency plan.

Plan Design and Composition

The draft plan introduced the Joint Restoration Committee (JRC), the principle decision making body to oversee the restoration of Whatcom and Hanna Creeks. The JRC is composed of representatives from the local, state and federal governments, the Lummi and Nooksack tribes and Olympic Pipe Line.

The draft plan was put together by teams of biologists and restoration ecologists, hired by Olympic Pipe Line, along with the many government bureaucrats who have swarmed to Bellingham to participate in this remarkable restoration event.

According to the Executive Summary, the draft plan was “developed to address immediate restoration needs and to reduce the potential for secondary impacts, such as erosion, sedimentation, and reduction of fish spawning success” (draft draft plan, page 1). The plan provides an outline of the first phase of what is anticipated to be a multi-phased, long-term restoration project. The priority objectives are to:

1. Stabilize streambanks and hillsides potentially rendered more erosive by loss of vegetative and organic cover,

2. Remediate and reduce instream water and sediment contamination,

3. Initiate recovery and restoration of riparian habitat through protection of viable standing stock and rootstock,

4. Remove and remediate contamination at the source location, and

5. Restore recreational access to portions of Whatcom Falls Park and Whatcom Creek that can be safely accessed and utilized by the public.

By breaking down the draft plan into seven sub-plans that operate individually but concurrently, the plan is able to address each of the objectives individually.

A Long Range Restoration Plan is being developed to further the existing goals and will benefit from a broader and more comprehensive understanding of the restoration that will be gained during the implementation of the emergency phase.

The Seven Sub-Plans:

Source Area Site Assessment —Where Is the Gas?

This draft plan assesses various options that will best determine the source of soil and water contamination, and how to best clean it up. In the last week of June, Department of Ecology representatives reported that three sources, or “plumes” of gasoline hydrocarbon contamination had been identified. The first plume is over land runoff from the rupture into Hanna Creek. The second plume follows the 16” water pipeline, which is presently closed and leads from the water treatment plant.

The first two plumes are being remediated by excavating the contaminated soil and replacing it, as well as using vapor extraction. Vapor extraction involves digging wells and attaching the outlets to a vacuum blower that opens a path for the gas fumes to travel to the surface and be collected. The third identified plume originates in the rock strata inside the water table above Whatcom Creek. Recent heavy rainfall has resulted in 196 gallons of pollutant being recovered from this source. Vertical extraction wells are already dug into the rock layer to retrieve further pollutant from this source. Since the explosion, crews have recovered over 1,100 gallons of gasoline from the two creeks. An estimated 10,000 gallons still remain in the soils. Excavation work is underway. Environmental Protection Agency Coordinator Thor Cutter stated that 200 feet of Hanna Creek will be rerouted in order to excavate the gas-soaked soils.

Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Mitigation

The total acreage of the burn is 30 acres, all of which drain into Whatcom Creek. Since burned watersheds are more prone to erosion, there is an immediate need to stabilize the streambanks and hillsides that have lost plant cover and protect them from further erosion, which causes increased sediment into the stream. This draft plan incorporates a 9-Step Erosion Control Planning Process that was developed following the firestorm in Oakland in 1991.

According to James Luce, Grounds Supervisor for the Parks Department, the soils in the burned area were not as severely damaged as originally thought. The burn was not extremely deep, the ash layer is minimal, the root systems are still intact, and no appreciable sedimentation or discoloration in the stream has been detected following the recent rains. Further, greenery is sprouting already in the area, including tree seedlings, thimbleberry, sword fern, algae and moss.

A few years ago, Karen Haard, a restoration planter for Haard Services, restored areas within the park that were damaged when new water tanks were installed at the treatment facility. She cautioned extensively against the introduction of straw for any erosion control inside the park limits, because straw is not sterile and contains seeds of invasive species that are not currently inside the park. According to Haard, Whatcom Falls Park is remarkably free of the invasive weeds so commonly seen in other areas. However, the loss of canopy shade creates open light that contributes to the likelihood of weeds taking hold. Haard was encouraged to learn that natural re-seeding is intended, as she believes the best possible method is to leave the area alone, and kill any invasive species that do show up.

The draft plan sets forth numerous erosion and sediment control practices including erosion control blankets, straw mulch, and filtration devices. Using on-site evaluation and current data, the draft plan team has refined the number of erosion and sediment control practices from twelve down to just a few.

In-Stream Remediation—
Stirring the Sediments

Following the explosion, the highest levels of gasoline hydrocarbons were found at York and James Streets west of I-5, where the fire did not reach. The levels decreased steadily during the next few days. A Bellingham Herald article of June 25th stated that the creek damage is extreme and that regardless of reparation efforts between now and the August salmon run, the Creek “will continue to weep gasoline.”

Encouragingly, June 30th marked the first zero detection recorded for gasoline hydrocarbons in the stream water, or ‘water column,´ itself. However, stirring the sediments in many areas still produces a detectable sheen on the water surface as pockets of gasoline are disturbed.

According to an article by Curtis Wambuch on the National Information Center for Ecology webpage; “There is growing concern that the August run will be decimated by lack of food, heated water from contact with direct sunlight, high suspended-sediment load caused by erosion, silted spawning gravel, and poisoned waters.”

The stream remediation draft plan is one of the more controversial, because the methods outlined in the draft involve intrusive options such as physical agitation of the sediments, sediment lifting, absorption applications, and flushing. Air sparging, which involves blowing high-pressure air through the water column to cause the hydrocarbons to surface and evaporate, has been cut as a remedial technique due to pressure from plan participants.

Remediation practices will continue until sampling confirms that hydrocarbons capable of creating sheen have been removed and that stream sediments meet designated sediment quality standards.

This begs the question of how long such remediation will be required to achieve this goal. The draft plan timetable, listed in the back of the document, contains an optimistic end-date of August for in-stream remediation, in contrast to the opinions set forth in the Herald article noted above.

Streambed Restoration —
Engineering the Salmon Channel

This section of the draft plan relates directly to improving the damaged portion of Whatcom Creek channel so that it will better support salmon and other aquatic habitat. Since the salmon are returning this August, this portion of the draft plan is still full of “what if´s” because it is unknown whether or not the creek will be able to support spawning salmon in such a short amount of time.

According to Luce, questions abound at committee meetings regarding what other options will be available to the fish if the restoration efforts do not succeed in time. Ideas include catching and transporting migrating fish over the damaged area of the stream. At present, however, the focus remains on attempting to not only clean out the contaminants, but bring life back to the deadened area so that it can support the spawning salmon.

This sub-plan is more long-term in nature than other sections, as it includes efforts to re-grow and re-establish native riparian species to the burned area. Suggested stream improvement methods aim to improve and maximize the salmonid habitat for future runs, and enhance existing habitat to compensate for loss of canopy cover.

These methods include revegation of streambanks and upland areas, which will likely be accomplished in large part by natural re-seeding from viable seeds still present in the soils.

Haard, a restoration planter with park experience, recalls test sites that were planted three years ago. The sites that were left to seed naturally were immediately covered with alder and birch seedlings. Those planted with introduced native species also grew, but had to compete with the natural seedlings, as well as the deer, who were very interested in the tasty new additions to their habitat.

As previously mentioned, re-growth is already evident at the site. Next fall or spring, native plants will be planted offering a good opportunity to utilize the many volunteers who have offered to help in the restoration efforts. Haard found this to be very good planning, because by next spring it will be evident where additional shade plants or other plantings will be needed, without disturbing the area unnecessarily now.

Channel enhancement methods include creating pools and bars, step pools, adding woody debris and bioengineered banks. The graphic (map at left) provides preliminary plans for where channel enhancements will likely occur. Parks representative Luce stated that the access points necessary to accommodate the machinery to perform this type of work will coincide with already planned access points for future trails. Though this costs more, it will prevent excess visual impact on the area.

Gerry Wilbour, a contractor for Northwest Trails, worries that the introduction of many man-made structures will severely damage the visual amenities of the Park. Luce admitted that the Joint Restoration Committee meetings are full of in-depth discussions regarding how to best manage the restoration to accommodate differing values. A balance must be obtained between the ecological restoration and making the site more presentable to the public who value it for its scenic beauty. As Wilbour sadly noted, Whatcom Falls Park will not look the same to anyone in our lifetimes.

Nutrient supplements will be added to the creek above the burn site to accelerate the growth and establishment of in-stream invertebrates that are crucial in the food chain. An ongoing monitoring system is also included in this section, to include fisheries, habitat, geomorphic and invertebrate monitoring and sampling.

A recent Bellingham Herald editorial (“Olympic should fund fish studies biologists need” 6/30/99) urged Olympic to commit to the funding of the extensive monitoring outlined in the draft plan. However, if Olympic is at the helm of both the restoration plan and information management, that may bias the public disseminated of information.

Protection of Riparian Habitat —
Which Trees Must Go

A healthy riparian ecosystem contains well-established plants and trees that buffer and protect water quality, provides a consistent source of organic material and nutrients to the aquatic environment, supports a diversity of terrestrial species and protects the public from flooding after hard rainfall. This sub-plan focuses on evaluating the damage to the trees and vegetation, and removing those trees that are hazardous or likely not to survive. Some trees deemed most hazardous have already been removed from the area.

The fire within Whatcom Falls Park burned along Hanna and Whatcom Creeks from the creekside out an average of 100 feet, damaging a relatively mature stand of trees. Wilbour recalls conducting tours of the lower gorge area to encourage support for Greenways. Wilbour stated that the combination of mature trees and scenic beauty of the gorge made it not only unusual within an urban landscape, but a priceless symbolic treasure that has been preserved for generations at the heart of the city. The riparian plan assesses which trees will be removed, and which will stay.

The draft plan initially suggested a tree by tree cruise to identify those trees most likely to survive based on canopy burn and other factors, but revisions to this draft plan have done away with this intrusive survey technique, according to parks representative Luce. Four to six weeks following initial decisions regarding tree removal, the area will be surveyed again to determine if any other trees must be removed. Many trees that do die will be kept for bird and insect habitat, as well as nurse logs.

Recreational Use —
People Planning

Though recreational use is the most predominant use by visitors to the park, this part of the emergency phase of the draft plan is a low priority. Once areas have been identified as safe, those areas will be re-opened to the public. Security provisions including barriers, fencing, security patrols and selective trail closures will prevent curious onlookers from damaging the very sensitive damaged areas.

Information Management—
Who Keeps Track of the Data

The amount of data in need of management and organization is readily evident by simply thumbing through the draft plan, a large part of which is test results. Evidence from the burn zone, including fish carcasses, plant and water samples, has and still is being collected. During the first few weeks, the city provided technical support using a Geographic Information System, and city employees distributed information by hard copy as well as email. Hired personnel from Environmental Systems Research Institute are in the process of coordinating information management efforts. They will collect all data samples, develop presentations, support restoration activities, and work with another agency to create a resource library.

Last Thoughts

If you´ve made it through this whole analysis, it´s likely that you care enough to keep yourself apprised and informed about the restoration process. I feel fairly optimistic, and have been assured by many environmentalists and others that the best people are working on this project.

However, it doesn´t make up for the loss and heartache we all feel. What would really make a difference, if you were interested, is volunteering to work on other creeks in town, such as Lincoln Creek and Fever Creek, which are in large part underground. Attend permitting hearings that relate to pipeline zoning, and use this experience to fuel (again, no pun intended) other efforts to become informed about what environmental risks are present in your own neighborhood. Above all, go outside and enjoy the many natural places of wonder that our city is blessed with. In a flash, they too could be gone.

Cover Story

Bellingham Drinking Water Initiative Delivers 5,350 Signatures

by Tim Paxton
Tim Paxton has lived in Bellingham for 20 years. He is a former president of the North Cascades Audubon Society.

The Bellingham City Drinking Water Initiative organizers turned in approximately 5,000 signatures on June 22, 1999. An additional 150 signatures needed to be gathered in the next 20 days to meet the mininum goal of 20 percent of the voters from the last mayoral election. Approximately 350 more signatures were quickly gathered by volunteers to meet this total.

The Drinking Water Iinitiative allows Bellingham voters to decide if the City of Bellingham should begin a long term plan to purchase and hold land in the Lake Whatcom watershed. Lake Whatcom is the sole drinking water source for most of Whatcom County.

Key points of the Drinking Water Initiative are:

  1. Bellingham voters decide whether to protect our drinking water source.
  2. Undeveloped land is targeted for acquisition by the City.
  3. Four million dollars per year is to be raised for land purchases.
  4. Water users (commercial, industrial and residential) will fund the program. The water bill surcharge will be no more than $12 per month for a single-family household, and a comparable rate for commercial and industrial users.
  5. Land purchased by the city will be held as a forested watershed preserve in perpetuity to protect the water supply.
  6. Willing seller, willing buyer.

The next official step is up to the Bellingham City Council. According to the Bellingham City Charter, the City Council can:

  1. Pass the Drinking Water Initiative with a simple majority of 4 votes, or
  2. Do nothing, which by default places the initiative on the November 1999 ballot, or
  3. The council can hold public hearings and come up with an alternative ordinance to place on the fall 1999 ballot to put up alongside the Drinking Water Initiative. The proposal which receives the most votes (and over 50%) would be enacted.

The City Council may also begin consideration of complementary ordinances to implement the details of the program.

The city may hire a full time grants person. One City Council person stated “With a full time grants person, we could possibly double or triple the amount raised by this initiative!”

The City Council could immediately pass councilmatic bonds to accelerate early land acquisition in the watershed.

Other ideas mentioned to our group include: targeting lots in Sudden Valley to preclude the need for an expanded sewer line. Making polluters pay. Making the water both swimmable and fishable was an idea brought up also. Many good ideas are ready for some action by City Council.

City & county elected officials are prohibited by Washington State law from either promoting or opposing ballot issues. The City Council does have important roles under the proposed initiative to : approve citizen oversight commission members, set water rates fairly, approve land purchases, seek grant money, etc.

Signature Gathering

We would like to thank the many volunteers who generously put in hours of their valuable free time to gather signatures and educate the public. Signature gathering was an easy proposition. Bellingham voters are very concerned about their drinking water and in general thanked us for being out spending our spare time getting signatures.

Passage of the Initiative

The next phase of the initiative campaign will include an expanded steering committee and more education efforts about the initiative. A press announcement about our expanded steering committee will be forthcoming. Several community leaders with experience passing ballot measures have already volunteered for the passage campaign of the initiative.

We look forward to doing presentations to more groups around town. Our web site has been updated with new information about the initiative. Please visit : www.nas.com/tig. There is also a Lake Whatcom discussion group: www.onelist.com (search for WhatcomCreek-one word).

Urgency of Drinking Water Protection.

Most of the scientists who have studied Lake Whatcom recently have all concluded that the lake is in real trouble. We can´t really afford to wait for a crisis to jump into action to protect the lake. By then it is too late.

Recently, the State of Washington agreed to begin to study one of the known toxic waste dumps in the watershed. This was the result of Initiative co-founder Marian Beddill requesting that our State Health department take a look at the leachate running into Lake Whatcom. Once again, our government officials were found napping on the job.

More disturbing news also comes from the latest studies on Lake Whatcom. The fish in the lake are now showing mercury contamination. Mercury is toxic to humans. A department of fisheries manager pointed out that levels of mercury which are of concern in humans are set high enough that fish never reach that level. The fish simply die first. Ninety percent of the historic fish population in Lake Whatcom is dead. If fish can´t survive in the water, how can our children be expected to drink it?

A new Department of Ecology report is out which has more bad news for Lake Whatcom. The lake is already listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Failed Waterway.

Drinking Water Initiative and the Whatcom Creek Disaster

On June 10, 1999 Bellingham experienced a disaster in the form of another pipeline explosion. The loss of lives of three children and the entire ecosystem of Whatcom Creek was tragic.

Can we afford to have our drinking water supply be destroyed like Whatcom Creek?

The tragic event of June 10 shows that we perhaps need to consider protecting what precious resources we have. We look forward to your support for this initiative and to any questions you may have.

“Our Water. Vote Yes.”

Lackluster Legislature

Legislature´s Symbolic Actions Do Little for Salmon and Environment

Compiled by Washington Environmental Council Staff

A legislative session that began with high expectations for the environment ended in major disappointment as Governor Locke signed into law a controversial 50-year timber deal touted as an essential component of salmon recovery. The timber bill, and a couple other symbolic gestures, were the only outcomes of an extremely disappointing session that provided little hope of advancing environmental protection generally, and salmon recovery and water quality protection specifically.

The legislature´s lackluster performance is quite stunning when considering the unprecedented environmental challenge facing Washington: recovery of threatened and endangered wild salmon, steelhead and other fish populations throughout the state. “While we did not expect great strides forward, we were surprised at the amount of damage control that was needed,” said Washington Environmental Council Executive Director Joan Crooks. “At the very least, we expected that the Endangered Species Act listings mid-way through session would have served as a wake-up call. Unfortunately, most legislators did not respond to – or did not want to hear – that alarm.”

Political Complexities Douse Expectations

The first session of the 56th Legislature began on January 15th and ended on May 19th following a three-day special session. Expectations were higher than in recent years given the new political dynamic in Olympia. As a result of remarkable gains made in last year´s elections, Democrats held a 27-22 majority in the Senate and achieved a 49-49 split in the House of Representatives. The sharing of power in the House has occurred only one other time in state history.

With the governor´s office also held by a Democrat, there was some anticipation that a coherent strategy on environmental issues would emerge. Any such hope was quickly doused, once again a harsh reminder of the complex political challenge involved in advancing environmental reforms.

Following 108 days of work, the legislature´s environmental effort can be generally characterized as passing a controversial timber bill, writing the largest road building budget in state history, and creating a salmon recovery funding board whose effectiveness remains to be seen. Just as significant was what the legislature did not do: both positive and negative. The legislature did not pass much needed water policy reforms or fund rudimentary programs necessary for salmon recovery, such as adequate funding for water quality clean up plans.

Fighting the Harmful Bills

More disconcerting is a whole host of other harmful bills which died at various points in the process. “The general tenor of the environmental debate was hostile,” explains Joan. “We knew it would be tough in the House but it was much worse than anticipated in the Senate. Fortunately, there were a few of key Senators that helped bottle up the most damaging proposals.”

Of all the bills the Washington Environmental Council (WEC) worked during session, none was as hard fought as ESHB 2091, which will affect the state´s eight million acres of private timberland. The bill was the product of negotiations between the state and federal and some tribal governments and the timber industry following the environmental community´s departure from the Timber, Fish & Wildlife forum last fall. Fundamentally, the legislation is about providing 50 years of regulatory certainty for the timber industry, as well as a generous tax cut worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The bill endorsed a complex set of rules, known as the Forests and Fish Report, and also included a long-held wish-list for industry, such as additional exemptions from the State Environmental Policy Act, greater legal immunity from damages caused by forest practices and the possible weakening of the Department of Fish & Wildlife´s habitat authority.

While there were plenty of reasons to oppose ESHB 2091, WEC´s opposition was based principally upon its lack of scientific credibility. “This deal simply doesn´t measure up to the other major forest management plans in the region, such as the President´s Forest Plan and the Department of Natural Resource´s Habitat Conservation Plan,” explains Becky Kelley, who coordinated much of WEC´s massive outreach effort to oppose the bill. She noted that opposition to the bill included the League of Women Voters, several tribes, commercial fisherman and 28 top scientists, who wrote a strongly worded letter to the governor stating that the Forests and Fish Report was not scientifically credible.

Despite the amazing grassroots effort that generated more than 2,000 calls in opposition, the power of the timber lobby backing this governor-request legislation simply proved too great. “With the governor personally lobbying this bill, we knew that the political odds of beating it were formidable,” said Becky. “But we had a chance due to the large tax cuts that big timber was demanding. In hindsight, we have no regrets about either leaving Timber, Fish & Wildlife or fighting this bill to the bitter end,” she concludes. “It´s simply a bad deal for taxpayers and a bad deal for salmon.”

Ambitious Water Policy Reforms

The water resource debate played out with significant drama, particularly in the Senate. The governor proposed a relatively ambitious package of water policy reforms that was quickly savaged by interest groups. “Governor Locke proposed a well thought out and balanced package that represented a reasonable step forward in terms of salmon recovery,” said Judy Turpin, WEC´s contract lobbyist. She explained that SB 5289 included both environmental goals, such as water conservation and reuse standards, instream flow safeguards, and limitations on exempt wells, as well as water management objectives, such as the ability to move water around more freely within urban growth areas. “The goal was to have what we call a ‘people and fish´ bill, which we felt the governor´s package achieved in its original form,” explains Judy.

Unfortunately, despite much hard work by Senator Fraser and her committee, the bill died amidst fierce political opposition primarily from agriculture, builders and realtors. The bill also ran into trouble with a multi-million dollar fiscal note that had local governments repeating their mantra of ‘no unfunded mandates.´

“We believe the local government funding issues could have been resolved, but some measures, such as limiting exempt wells, simply evoked too much political heat,” said Judy. “It soon became clear that there was little interest from the majority of the legislators to pass a bill that addressed the fish piece of the water debate. At that point, the governor and key senators wisely backed away from trying to force the issue.”

Small Steps Forward in Budget

Despite the disappointment on much-needed water policy reforms, Judy explains that there were some small but significant steps forward in the budget. The Department of Health received more than $1 million to provide technical assistance for water conservation and reuse to local governments, while Ecology´s budget included $1.594 million for water conservation and reuse, $1 million to purchase water rights, and $1.12 million for compliance with water quality and water quantity laws. Judy explains that the latter is of particular importance. “

For several years now, Ecology´s enforcement resources have been drastically cut to one employee statewide. This budget provides a good first step toward establishing a credible program necessary to deter illegal water activities, including several new enforcement and compliance employees,” Judy says.

In an effort to enhance the scientific and fiscal integrity of salmon recovery funding, the legislature passed 2ESSSB 5595, which establishes a Salmon Recovery Funding Board and appropriates $119 million for recovery activities ($80 million being anticipated from the federal government). WEC supported the bill in concept with some reservations. “Much of the effort behind this bill was well-intentioned,” said Josh Baldi, WEC´s state policy representative. “Unfortunately, in the final moments of special session, last minute changes were made that caused significant concern.” Foremost among these was the provision that specifically excluded the updating of Shoreline Master Programs and Critical Areas Ordinances from being considered as a salmon recovery activity. “To not acknowledge the need to improve local land use decisions completely misses the mark in terms of protecting salmon habitat,” Josh explained.

Growth Management Battle Calm This Year

Fortunately, most other attempts to weaken the Growth Management Act were not as threatening as in recent years. “There was a temporary reprieve from the Growth Management Act battle,” said Josh. He attributes the legislature´s restraint to several reasons: Governor Locke´s relatively firm stand against radical changes to the Growth Management Act over the past two sessions; the continuation of a major infrastructure study; and, primarily, a political focus on rural economic development and transportation issues. “Cobbling together $4 billion worth of transportation funding, much of it on roads, is a major land use issue that consumed a lot of legislative energy. The long-term environmental consequences of this unprecedented package are likely to be significant.”

While attacks on the Growth Management Act were relatively quiet, some of that hostility was leveled at the Shoreline Management Act. “There was a palpable tension surrounding the Shoreline Management Act given that Ecology began the rule making process of updating the state shoreline guidelines,” explains Josh.

Shoreline Management

Josh pointed to a bill introduced during special session that would largely overhaul the Shoreline Management Act. The bill was a blunt political message to Ecology: back off improving the Shoreline Management Act guidelines. “There is a lot of fear and anger about the state updating its guidelines,” said Josh. “But these updates are not only an essential piece of the salmon recovery puzzle, they were part of the regulatory reform agreement struck in 1995 – it´s past time for these reforms to happen.”

The other prominent issue related to shoreline management was a $1 million appropriation to coastal communities in southwest Washington for responding to erosion concerns. WEC is actively opposing engineered hard structuring of beaches, concerned about the long-term environmental and fiscal impacts. WEC testified that funding for erosion control activities should be approved only if procedural safeguards advocated by the governor were in place, such as adequate technical review of any proposed actions. Ultimately, the governor´s provisos were stripped from the budget. “

This appropriation amounts to a blank check for the local governments to respond to erosion in any way they see fit.” said Legal Program Director Mike Rossotto. “Given that millions of taxpayer dollars have already been spent on questionable engineering schemes throughout Southwest Washington, and given that most of that money has gone to one engineering firm, WEC will be watching the expenditure this money closely to determine if and/or how it fits into our legal strategy.”

WEC did support two land use bills: one that would have allowed King County to apply a higher sewer capacity charge on new growth (SB 5336/HB 1582); and the other which would have eliminated the attorney´s fee barrier that deprives appellants of their due process (SB 5444/HB 1093). “There were opportunities to promote the concept of growth paying for growth, and to try and bring fairness to land use appeals,” said Josh. Unfortunately, both of these bills died.

Pollution and Public Health

There was significant activity on the pollution and public health issues, most of which WEC opposed. “There was a serious push in the House to provide a state new policy framework to guide water clean up,” says Josh. The catalyst for the push came from a legal settlement that gives the state 15 years to bring more than 600 polluted waterways into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act by developing Total Maximum Daily Loads for each water body. SHB 2171 raised numerous concerns particularly the expectation that unproven alternatives (a.k.a., “other pollution controls,” such as habitat conservation plans) would meet clean water standards and limiting Ecology´s enforcement authority.

“While the bill could have been viewed as an improvement over the status quo, the real question was whether the legislation put us on a fail-safe path to achieve water quality within 15 years,” explains Josh. “WEC felt that the Total Maximum Daily Loads program simply needed to be funded, not completely redesigned.” While SHB 2171 never had a hearing in the Senate, it was in play until the final moments of session when it was killed through a technical maneuver. Unfortunately, the $3.333 million budgeted for the Total Maximum Daily Loads program in the operating budget was put in doubt by a last minute amendment.

Governor Vetoed Bay Cleanup Bill

Perhaps Governor Locke´s most decisive environmental action came with the veto of SHB 1448. Promoted as a means to streamline the decision-making process for aquatic lands cleanup for places such as Bellingham Bay, the bill actually attempted to shift proprietary management responsibilities for the state´s aquatic lands from the Department of Natural Resources to Ecology.

SHB 1448 was flawed because it failed to recognize the important differences in the two agency´s missions. Ecology´s role is as a regulator and this leads to decisions that unfortunately are sometimes based on short-term interests and pressures, rather than long-term protection and interest of the next generation. DNR´s role is as a fiduciary, with the state´s current and future citizens the beneficiaries of Department of Natural Resources protective and “long term” view. “There was a concern that placing Ecology in the role of unilaterally making clean up decisions would lead to a greater number of underwater landfills on public lands, simply because it´s easier and cheaper,” explains Josh.

Consumer Rights Weakened

The governor did sign into law ESSB 5208, which weakens the consumer right-to-know labeling on specialty fertilizers by reducing the amount of information on fertilizer labels. Consumers will now be referred to a web site if they want to know what particular metals are in fertilizers. WEC was part of the broad environmental coalition that opposed SSB 6474 in the 1998 Legislative Session, a bill that surface in response to concerns about the practice of recycling hazardous waste materials into fertilizers.

WEC also opposed SSB 5285, which would have violated neighbors´ property rights by making it permissible to harm people and businesses, providing the polluter had a permit to do so. “This bill was attempting to overturn a recent state Supreme Court ruling that protects neighbors´ property rights,” said Josh. “WEC believes a government permit shouldn´t act as legal shield for people who harm their neighbors through pollution or other forms of environmental degradation.” After passing the Senate, the bill fortunately was denied a hearing in the House.

In sum, Joan believes that the session was a wake up call for the environmental community. “Clearly, we have our work cut out for us next session. We have to determine if there is any way that we can work with the new political climate in Olympia to advance environmental reforms. If we can´t get lawmakers to respond, we´ll need to look at other options,” she concludes. “We know the public cares about environmental issues. We just need to find a way for lawmakers in Olympia to pay attention.”

For more information, contact the Seattle office at (206) 622-8103 or greenwec@aol.com.


Maintaining a So-called Natural, Native Home Garden

by Tim Wahl

When the garden magazine photographers and TV cameras come through every year or so, taking still life´s of my waving grasses and drifting lilies, I usually mutter a little about the forces and the images they´ve missed, the ones that made the flowered alleys in the bunch grass and the color bursts they try to capture. But muttering is not the stuff of images and little about means is ever fit with the “ends” that make a coffee table book or TV experience.

My gardening inspirations are the short grass meadows and the rocky bluffs of the Salish Sea, that blended flora of the wrinkled-up, ice-scraped land masses in and around of lower Straits of Georgia and the entrance to Puget Sound. The electric pink shooting stars, the blue-purple camas spikes and the floating fawn lily crowns are gone for the season. Right now it´s mounds of yellow Oregon sunshine, mock orange geysers, chandeliers of nodding onion, Yerba Buena galaxies and bursts of Brodiaea. But this article is about the violence and hacking that makes these things.

I eliminate Eurasian species from my manor grounds and, with equal vigor, any oppressive representatives of the Western Hemlock Zone. (There are a few carefully rationalized exceptions, personalized Navaho blanket-glitches in the fine tapestry.) But, even if I were the purist that some people think I am, would this be natural, native gardening? No way.

Not only are our old meadow landscapes an anomaly never to be found again in the shifting world-mix of fauna and flora we are shaping, they never were free of humans and lummoxing beasts messing with them. They never were natural if that term has anything to do with some separate reality without humans.

Define “Native”

And what is “native”? We of Northern European extraction never knew a land that was not changing. New weeds were us. We followed the retreating ice and seas while our connections on the other side of the mountains, in the Mixing Mediterranean and beyond, supplied us with tools, seeds and ideas, during the entire 10,000 year episode.

When the glaciers began leaving here there simply was no northern Africa, no Middle East, no stable fertile crescent agriculture to spawn bursts of new technology and power our passage. Hence “native” here is different, but also ever changing. The composition of the pre-Euro, post-glacial landscape here was far different from that of northern Europe, where anything might have been considered native, depending on your time scale.

Native is about time, with people and other species moving, wallowing, stomping and carrying seeds. So pick your natives well, using reference sites that inspire you, and make up your story as you go. What´s a garden without a story?

Do I mow? My garden-meadow story calls for elk and the deer, browsing and grazing. They are gone, as are the people who lit the regular fires that cleared the underbrush and toasted the lower limbs to let the grass and the bulbs grow, the same people who brought a number of our meadow species in canoes and sweaty weaveware.

I string-mow the Padden Lagoon site once or twice a year, subduing vile native trees and worse. At home I clip, singe and jerk what I think is just the right amount of that essential grass matrix and pull the Douglas Fir seedlings relentlessly. This place wants to grow trees, ever notice that? It quickly passes the smooth, homebase look we are all genetically addicted to from living so long on the grazed margins of Africa. Our meadows were brought to us by munching beasts and people who used fire to control land and to bring them security, medicine and food.

Although most people don´t see it, my garden shrubs are pruned extensively. That is what deer, elk, mammoths and triceratops have always done and that is what I do. Without it I´d have a tangle, and who want´s that? Without my munching Felco fire-equivalent my open-grown madrones and manzanitas would be giant globes of green, eating my small urban lot and any sense of the shady galleries we party-apes relish.

Unknown to the photographers, my native red fescue is so voracious it would have shaded out the shooting stars and smaller flower seedlings as one big horrible, agricultural mop without my careful nipping and toasting. The lovely Lechtlin´s camas? A borderline ruderal, whose billions of weedy seedlings invade every corner if its seed heads are left to ripen naturally. (One year I painted tiny dabs of Round Up on a mass of seedlings that were interfering with my prickly pear and some frail rocky slope miniscula.)

Unconventional Wisdom: Stress May Stimulate Plants

It is stress that makes a nice Salish Sea meadow garden, just the right kind of stress, perhaps known also as love, obsession or whatever. An Lummi friend once lamented the passing of “mailbox plant” (Lomatium nudicale) from its old familiar places, mourning its betrayal by his people. He was right of course, the people stopped burning and dragging things and kicking up the dirt around the old front doors—they stopped providing the right kind of bare dirt disturbance and simply picked the dwindling seeds.

I have secretly developed a deviant school of gardening based on putting plants hostile places and watching what survives and defies the experts. Even my good friend earth-sage Binda lectured me sharply about one ragged evergreen huckleberry placed in the full, relentless sun in crappy soil—you should see it now: stressed and thriving, and so interesting!

Am I advising you not to garden with and not to celebrate the wholesome 10,000 year old mix of our bioregion´s flora? Not at all. Celebrate it and do it, but get real. If you do it right you are rediscovering and keeping alive our understanding of the old plant communities and the energy and the cultural forces that made them, as much as you are keeping their individual species.

Don´t take nature too seriously—it includes you and your tools and your funny ideas about what is right and what is real and attractive. Other ideas of nature are hurting us badly; by keeping nature separate, mysterious and unknowable we avoid taking responsibility for using its riches wisely, for understanding our impacts and for recognizing that the cool tools we brandish are really under our control.

Understanding Your Landscape

Gardens based on old ecosystems can tell us about the animals and forces that once shaped them, and what we did to those animals. They need to be celebrated in all their contradictions. Without admitting to my obnoxious (and truly toxic) string mower how will I understand what makes my landscape? How will I ever think about doing away with it?

My neighbor and aspiring prairie steward, Crabo, asked if I spend more time weeding and intervening in my home prairie than in a conventional flower bed. I really doubt it, but honestly I´m not the person to ask. When art is involved it´s all one great moment, best quantified externally by guys in smocks with pads. There is also the problem of defining a conventional garden (perhaps there isn´t such a thing).

As for your time and effort, if you are hoping to create something like an older, more diverse plant community that has developed in a transitional area like the shores of the Salish Sea, out of a shifting stew of large, extirpated animals and ancient human activities, then plan on spending more time than you´d spend creating, say, the edges and effects of the more recent Coastal Douglas-fir zone, and even parts of the Western hemlock zone. Native plantings based on open meadows, Garry oak parklands, exposed bluffs and cliffs and peat bogs, all places where trees were suppressed, primarily by fire will require more of your time.

Yes, it´s such lighter, treeless openings and edges that you probably prefer for your yard. The truth is that these unforested places with the smaller plants are our Real Old Growth. Our big-tree forests are only some 4,000 years in the making while the open places burnt by people and grazed by beasts and clinging to rocks are older, mostly destroyed and less understood. If you want to spend less time getting that hip, natural look stick to the anchor trees and edge accents of the Douglas-fir forest, with low-growers like kinnikinnick, salal, low Oregon grape, bigger woody shrubs and survivor herbs like bleeding hearts; that´s probably what your yard wants to be by itself. But what kind of tool ape area you?

Final Advice

Pacing yourself? As you work remember that birds and animals do not only eat when they forage; they gather extensive information in the process, making strategic rounds and avoiding the extinction that inevitably comes with sticking to one fickle human´s bird feeder, a fixed niche or a single patch of shrubbery. This is the way to tend a restoration project or an interpretive planting: weed less intensively and more often if you can, and try different techniques. Carefully apply death and stress and avoid the instant kill mind set that leads to excessive, addictive reliance on powerful but ill understood things like herbicides. Make intervening learning, not blinding warfare. Above all don´t let ripe seeds of nasties fall where you don´t want them and don´t let bits of yucky roots and hidden weed seeds in imported soil undermine your work.

Looking for home-gardening scripts in the wilder parts of our region is a way to take your hobby around with you and to bring the magic home. (My neighbor, Brian Griffin, brought me great joy by reporting his daughter´s response to my mainland city garden one brown summer day. Her remark was, “This smells like the islands. I feel like I´m out there.)

It´s far easier to see how real plant communities work in the stabeler, wild places and going there is a great way seek guidance and get some relief from thinking you are on top of it. (Yes, I have no TV.) In farms and suburbs the plant and animal stories are often too transitional and too confused for most of our distracted minds. It´s easier to apply the lessons, tricks and guesses gained from the older landscapes to cosmopolitan flower gardens and monoculture crops than to go the other way.

My Natural Judeo-Christian prescription for the millennium?

Maintenance and control and dominion should be the primary goals of the c.1700 AD Salish Sea gardener in the second millennium: maintaining our species and the ecosystems on which we depend, controlling our arrogance, dominating our ill-advised tool making.


The Clean Water Alliance Needs Your Help to Save Lake Whatcom

by Sherilyn Wells

Three years ago, 1000 Friends of Washington listed Lake Whatcom as one of the 10 most endangered areas in Washington State. Since then nothing has changed.

Growth management decisions will largely control whether Lake Whatcom survives as a drinking water source. For many years, the Clean Water Alliance (formerly the Watershed Defense Fund) has fought the growth management battles in Whatcom County.

What Is Growth Management All About?

Controlling taxes, conserving our natural resources, and designing a livable community for the future, while still accommodating a huge surge in population.....

A comprehensive plan is the key to that future: just as a dress pattern sets out the design to follow in order to make a specific dress, a comprehensive plan is the pattern to follow in arriving at the future community you intended to create.

The state legislature decided that there would be several steps to the planning process. First, local governments were to conserve important resource lands (farmland, forests, etc.) so that those lands were protected for future generations. Sensitive lands, like geologically hazardous zones, stream buffers to protect fish, or areas which recharged the groundwater people used for drinking water, were to be protected with a “critical areas ordinance.”

Then came the real tax benefit strategy: because urban services and facilities (police, sewer, stormwater, etc.) are expensive to provide, “suburban sprawl” was wreaking havoc on local government budgets by requiring more in services than “sprawl” generated in taxes. To control the increasing tax burden, cities were to decide how much more land they needed (without creating expensive sprawl) to accommodate the next twenty years´ population growth, and they were to draw an invisible line around that land, calling it the “urban growth area.” Growth inside that zone would be more dense, like a city, and growth outside that line was only to be rural in nature. Urban growth areas would eventually become part of a city.

Finally, once those preliminary steps were done, the comprehensive plan would be created, adding elements like transportation and economic development. For the first time, the county would also be required to show that it could finance its planning, that new development would pay more of its own way instead of continuing to drain the public coffers. Without proof of a sound financial basis for its plan, the county would have to change its plan into a version it could afford.

Reducing the public´s subsidy of sprawling development made the Growth Management Act a target for the less enlightened members of the development, real estate, and building professions, who didn´t want the gravy train (public subsidies) to stop. These professions organized throughout Washington, and, in several places, including Whatcom County, helped elect a slate of local officials who were opposed to good growth management.

Is Local Government on the Right Track? The Appeals Process....

The legislature divided the state into three regions and created three state hearings boards to hear appeals of local governments´ planning. The board for Whatcom County is the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board .

After hearing an appeal, the state hearings boards could find:

  1. the local plan met the expectations of the state law (was compliant with the Growth Management Act), or
  2. the plan did not achieve the goals of the Growth Management Act (was noncompliant), or
  3. the plan was so badly done that it actually interfered with achieving the goals of the Growth Management Act (was invalid because it was in active conflict with state law).

No related permits can “vest” (be assured of the right to develop) when “invalidity” is in effect, because there are no legal local laws to set the standards or the criteria for the permit. “Invalidity” was not created by the Legislature until mid-1995, to address local governments´ failure to respond to orders of noncompliance.

The Clean Water Alliance Works to Protect the Community....

Since 1994, the Clean Water Alliance (formerly known as the Watershed Defense Fund) has repeatedly challenged the county´s bad planning. Clean Water Alliance has substantially prevailed in almost every battle, with several orders of invalidity issued against the county. Unfortunately, the County Council has chosen to fight adverse decisions, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (approaching one million) of our taxes in the process, instead of simply improving the plan. There´s a lot at stake, not the least of which is the survival of Lake Whatcom as a safe drinking water supply.

Clean Water Alliance´s work primarily covered three areas:

A. Urban Growth Areas and Rural Growth outside Urban Growth Areas,
B. the Critical Areas Ordinance, and
C. the Comprehensive Plan.

The remainder of this article will only look at (a) and (c), although work on (b) also continues.

Meanwhile, Whatcom County Water District No. 10, under the mistaken impression that old platting is vested forever (may never be undone), pursues permits to provide sewer for nearly 15,000 additional watershed residents on the west side of Lake Whatcom. Clean Water Alliance asks only that the Water District wait until the Growth Management Act issues are resolved in order to determine what future population the District must serve. The district refuses to wait and advocates on behalf of the new development in several different forums.

Whatcom County issues permits for all the new facilities, despite Bellingham´s memos to Whatcom County, stating that (a) Bellingham expects 53,000 vehicles per day from that level of watershed development (37,000 vpd are the gridlock in front of Bellis Fair) and (b) Bellingham will never have the funds for city transportation improvements to handle that much traffic from the county.

Clean Water Alliance is alone on the front lines of this fight, too, challenging the permit in court. Despite the impact on Bellingham´s taxpayers and the potential threats to public health and safety, Bellingham has never challenged the county on any of these issues, but, for years, has left the legal protection of its drinking water source to one citizens´ group, the Clean Water Alliance.

The Lake Whatcom Management Committee, creating the future of Lake Whatcom, consists of representatives of Whatcom County, Water District #10, and the City of Bellingham, none of whom can point to any record to be proud of in regards to protecting the reservoir. The committee´s 1999 plan includes support for up to 20,000 new people to build around Lake Whatcom (roughly tripling the present watershed population).

To this day, a comprehensive environmental/public health and safety study of the impact of this plan on the lake has never been done.

Are you outraged that citizens have had to “carry the ball” alone all these years? Would you like to make sure that the Clean Water Alliance has the resources to keep challenging bad decisions, to keep the worst case scenario from unfolding around our reservoir?

Please send your donations to:
Clean Water Alliance
P.O. Box 5325
Bellingham, WA 98227

Side Story

Clean Water Alliance´s Actions

on Urban Growth Areas, Rural Ordinances and the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan

(Not included in this chronology is the fact that very nearly every adverse decision from the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board was appealed into court by the county; also not included is Clean Water Alliance´s work to make sure an adequate Critical Areas Ordinance is adopted)

March 9, 1994: Clean Water Alliance appeals to the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, alleging that Whatcom County has missed the October, 1993, deadline and failed to adopt (interim) Urban Growth Areas.

May 24, 1994: The county adopts Urban Growth Areas. Subsequently, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board dismisses Clean Water Alliance´s appeal.

July 25, 1994: Clean Water Alliance challenges the adequacy (noncompliance with the Growth Management Act) of the Urban Growth Areas ordinance.

November 9, 1994: The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board finds that the Urban Growth Areas ordinance does not comply with the Growth Management Act because no land use analysis was done. The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board sends it back to the county for additional work.

February 23, 1995: At the compliance hearing, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board finds that the county has chosen to do nothing in response to the earlier order of noncompliance. The state agency issues a second order of noncompliance and recommends that the governor sanction Whatcom County for its lack of response to state law.

December 14, 1995: At the second compliance hearing, it is acknowledged that Whatcom County has still done nothing and that the board may now consider “invalidating” the county´s planning. A third hearing is scheduled for January 30, 1996.

January 23, 1996: The county adopts its new interim Urban Growth Areas ordinance after a land use analysis which finds that the status quo already meets the requirements of state law. This is the first attempt to respond to the board´s 11/9/94 decision.

January 30, 1996: The Growth Management Hearings Board decides it will divide the appeal, and the hearing is continued to February 28, 1996. Any challenge to rural planning may proceed; any challenge to Urban Growth Areas require a new appeal to be filed, because the county had now produced an analysis (lack of which was the reason for the previous order of noncompliance).

March 29, 1996: The hearings board invalidates the county´s rural planning, finding that the county´s planning is “sprawl” and that there is no proof that this development can pay its own way.

March 27, 1996: Clean Water Alliance files an appeal the newly adopted Urban Growth Areas ordinance.

September 12, 1996: The board invalidates the county´s Urban Growth Areas ordinance, finding that the planning is sometimes illogical and is not supported by sufficient analysis of the economic and environmental impacts of those planning decisions.

May 27, 1997: The county adopts a comprehensive plan and “associated development regulations” (the local laws that implement the policies in the plan).

June 16, 1997: the county asks the board to lift the orders of invalidity on its Rural and Urban Growth Areas planning because a comprehensive plan has been adopted.

July 27, 1997: the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board looks at relevant parts of the Comprehensive Plan and reaffirms most of its orders of invalidity, finding that the plan (as it relates to the previous areas of invalidity) is still not good enough. The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board requires that a new appeal be filed for challenges to the rest of the comprehensive plan.

July, 1997: Several appeals of the county´s comprehensive plan are filed, including one by Clean Water Alliance.

September 9, 1997: The county approves an urban Planned Unit Development in Geneva (the Lake Whatcom watershed) on behalf of an out-of-state developer and nearly doubles the urban density onsite (number of lots), both actions being direct violations of the Orders of Invalidity. Clean Water Alliance alerts the new governor (Locke), who chooses to do nothing; Clean Water Alliance appeals the violation into court.

January 16, 1998: The board reaffirms its previous orders of invalidity as they pertain to Lake Whatcom and to “rural” planning.

February 13, 1998: Clean Water Alliance appeals into court to ask for an even stronger decision (a moratorium on Lake Whatcom development because the county is ignoring the orders of invalidity and permitting virtually everything).

February, 1998: Lake Whatcom Monitoring Reports continue, as in recent years, to indicate that certain Lake Whatcom tributaries (streams) should now be listed as public health hazards. For the first time, the report states that the degradation in Lake Whatcom is now most likely due to pollution from development.

March 12, 1998: The county appeals the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board order of invalidity into court.

May, 1998: Whatcom County Health Officer Dr. Frank James resigns in protest over Whatcom County´s failure to (a) protect drinking water sources (public health and safety) and (b) comply with the Growth Management Act. Dr. James accuses the County Council of being in cahoots with developers to the detriment of the public good.

June, 1998: The State Department of Ecology puts Lake Whatcom on a federal Clean Water Act list of degrading water bodies whose condition is not expected to improve even when current “Best Management Practices” are used, i.e., more careful ways to develop. The Department of Ecology says a “new watershed plan” is needed.

August, 1998: Judge Moynihan (Whatcom County Superior Court) stops the county´s appeal during the first morning of a two-day hearing and tells the county to write up whatever order the county wants and the judge will sign it. Observers are shocked. His order overturning the entire Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board decision is finalized on September 28, 1998.

October, 1998: Judge Moynihan´s order is appealed to the Court of Appeals, and the citizens are joined in their challenge (for a different set of reasons) by the Washington State Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development, the state agency which oversees growth management.

December 8, 1998: The county adopts its final development regulations to implement its Comprehensive Plan. Strangely, although it designates Lake Whatcom as a “high priority” area, the county completely failed to create any standards for the “Water Resource Protection” overlay district it placed on the watershed.

February, 1999: Clean Water Alliance appeals the development regulations´ failure to include protection for Lake Whatcom and other important resources. The appeal is suspended pending the outcome of the Court of Appeals decision on the Comprehensive Plan (expected in Fall,1999).

March, 1999: Citizens first hear that Ecology has found mercury, PCBs, and pesticides in Lake Whatcom fish. Apparently, toxic chemicals have also been found in streams flowing into the lake. A report is expected for release in the near future.

Book Review

Survivor of Everest Tragedy Teaches Lesson in Perseverance

Climbing High:
A Woman´s Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy
by Lene Gamelgaard
Seal Press, 1999
224 pp., $25
ISBN 1-58005-023-9

Reviewed by Sea Ganschow

Sea Ganschow is host of the “Weekly Planet Radio Show” 7-8 p.m., Monday nights on KUGS 89.3 FM and edits the annual Fog Horn literary journal.

When Lene Gamelgaard wrote Climbing High, her priority was to present the facts in an even-handed way while sharing the deeply personal lessons she gleaned. The first Scandinavian woman to climb Mt. Everest hopes to “encourage you to expand your life in new ways, large or small. For if you never test your limits how will you know what they are?” She has succeeded on both counts.

Many have heard of the best selling book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer. Gamelgaard´s revealing memoir of the same May 1996 catastrophe was released in Denmark months before Krakauer´s. The English translation has just come out this year.

For readers who have mountaineering experience or none whatsoever, Climbing High is a definite page-turner. (Don´t try to go to bed before finishing it, you probably won´t be able to sleep.) After reading it I feel that I have a good understanding of what it is like to climb at high altitudes. Gamelgaard describes how she felt at each stage of the climb and presents her observations and insights about the motivations and characters of the lead climbers and guides.

I had heard about the controversy of whether the most experienced and skilled of the mountaineers, during that storm, may have perished helping the less experienced. After reading the book I have definite opinions about why the most experienced of Lene´s group, Mountain Madness expedition leader Scott Fischer of Seattle, Washington, ended up dying on the descent. Like Gamelgaard, I´ll let you read and decide for yourself.

Gamelgaard´s determination and disciplined way of thinking are impressive and, no doubt contributed to her success. She continually thought “to the summit and safe return” as a way of computer-programming her human mind. She taped the words to her wall next to images of Everest where she would see them daily before the trip. She speculates that her years studying psychology were instrumental in her survival. Nevertheless, while her narrow focus was upon visualizing the summit and safe return, she also realized the need to be aware of dangers—such as inclement weather or high altitude sickness—when turning back would be called for.

Her self-suggestions came through for her. At one critical point, when she and several others were descending Everest´s summit and were lost in a fierce storm, Lene said to herself, “It´s not my time.” She then went forward to find the camp with a like-minded colleague while others were whispering in various stages of hypothermic reaction “I just want to die.”

When she could´ve been very critical of others, Gamelgaard merely presented what the person said or did and then her thoughts about it. The reader is left to develop their own opinions. For example, she was surprised early on at fellow expedition members´ naiveté about certain demands of the trip and her thought was she would´ve expected them to be aware and prepared for it.

Lene´s surprise seemed to stem from a reverse naiveté—the fact that she herself spent so much time mentally preparing to reach “the summit and safe return” and physically preparing herself, combined with the fact that she operated from the code that ultimately it was she who was responsible for herself and her success led her to assume others would also.

Not that she was a prima donna or a cold fish. Lene was very concerned and supportive of others when they needed help. For example, early on she had slowed her pace to that of another woman who was having a difficult time. That in turn surprised the woman who said it was usually very competitive up there between women, not supportive. Just before the final summit, however, a friend cautioned her to spend her energy on taking care of herself.

It was frustrating to read about one expedition member who continually got high altitude cerebral edema and yet continually tried climbing the highest mountains! high altitude cerebral edema reduces a human being to the state of a vegetable and the brain damage can be permanent or result in death within hours if the person is not transported to a lower altitude. Evidence shows that once you get it you will invariably be susceptible to it any time you reach the higher altitudes. The members own determination apparently helped him convince the guides he could go a little further, then a little further.

Those with the highest level of physical fitness and conditioning still never know how their bodies will finally respond in very high altitudes or in “the death zone” over 24,000 feet.

If someone knows they are prone to high altitude cerebral edema , yet pushes to continue with the group they are a known risk and could cost lives by needing to be carried down by the others in what is known as a Gamow Bag—a bag which can be pumped full of oxygen and has some air pressure adjustments. (Helicopters cannot reach these altitudes) The stricken person still needs to reach lower altitudes immediately. Scott Fischer had to carry people in such conditions in the dark of night down sheer ice at least once on this expedition.

Understandably, Gamelgaard found it difficult to comprehend or respect why men with wives and children would take such extreme risks. She had decided to avoid serious relationship—had in fact distanced herself emotionally from friends before this climb—but says that a family would be her next goal. She phoned her parents once a week though and had initially put off telling them of her plans as long as possible knowing of their worry.

As for myself, as a mother and partner I see good reason not to undertake activities which are conscious high risks. But lene´s successful climb to the highest mountain in the world called “Mother Goddess of the World” (in translation of the Nepalese name for Everest) affirms and reminds me I can climb my own personal mountains. The spiritual goals that I seek and which often seem too far away, feel more reachable after reading this book. I´ve adapted her “to the summit and safe return” as a preparation for meditation.

Further, I coincidentally finished reading this book the night of the boiler room explosion at Georgia Pacific and in the aftermath of the petroleum pipeline explosion and destruction of Whatcom Falls Creek which took three lives. Juxtaposed with the incredible way Gamelgaard persevered and reached the highest mountain peak in the world, these events caused me to reflect that our community can empower itself to insist upon important changes in local industry regarding personal safety, clean air and clean water. Like Gamelgaard we too must visualize reaching our goals, then speak out and act on our own behalf.

I think people should read this book who have climbed a mountain, have never climbed a mountain before or who would like to. People who need a reminder of the power of the human spirit and the power of the human mind will find just that within these pages. Yet ever present is the fact that “nature determines” and at times we truly are powerless.

One of the things I liked about Gamelgaard was she carried no illusions that “happiness” would be found at the top of Everest. She is the kind of person who finds happiness in the process and in the present wherever she may be. The climbing life—both the isolation and the people—itself is what she enjoys. Yes, the Everest expedition was a challenge she strove with all her being to meet with success. She knew from the start that she could do it at a price. She just didn´t know how high that price would be.

When people say to her it´s too bad that her greatest victory had to be in the midst of such tragedy she says she really doesn´t see it that way. She knew exactly what the risks were. She just didn´t know “how high a price Mother Goddess of the World would exact to show us humans the consequences of hubris.”

State Legislature

People for Puget Sound Legislative Wrapup

by Pam Johnson

Tugs and Oil Spill Prevention

Original legislation to establish tug escorts for oil tankers in the Strait of Juan de Fuca died early in the session. The Senate and the House refused to take the bill up on the floor, making it difficult to hold legislators accountable. Legislative leaders were not compelled to move on this bill, even after thousands of our phone calls, solid testimony, the New Carissa oil spill disaster in February, and the ten year anniversary of the Exxon Valdez in March.

An agreement was reached in the final days of session between oil companies, Dept. of Ecology, and People for Puget Sound on a compromise tug bill. The compromise involved establishment of a six month interim rescue tug and a short term fix for Ecology oil spill funding problems. In return, the oil companies were granted a tax break. Unfortunately, opposition from cargo vessels, labor interests, and the ports made it impossible to get this bill out of the House. Another compromise was then developed which addressed only the Ecology oil spill funding problem. It was passed during the special session.

Throughout this process, Tom Fitzsimmons, Ecology´s Director, bolstered by a new Attorney General´s opinion on the matter, has maintained that should the legislature fail to act, he would use his existing regulatory authority to call for either an escort or a rescue tug on an interim basis. We are urging both the Governor and Fitzsimmons to now make good on this promise.

Salmon Recovery

Total Maximum Daily Load Water Quality Cleanups: HB 2171 was introduced to let Clean Water Act violators experiment on cleanup strategies instead of requiring them to use a process that we already know works, the Clean Water Acts´s Total Maximum Daily Load water cleanup process.

After months of closed door negotiations, Ecology and the Association of Washington Businesses reached agreement on a bill, which, from our standpoint, was not consistent with the current 15 year timeline to accomplish Total Maximum Daily Load´s nor the Clean Water Act. After 30 years of cleanup delays, this bill sought to continue delaying cleanups while allowing polluters to experiment with other approaches. Despite our opposition, the bill passed the House in the final hours of session. Due to the fact that the language was amended on to another bill which dealt with Spartina control, Senator Karen Fraser was able to have the amendment ruled “out of scope and object” in the Senate just before the legislature adjourned, and the bill was defeated.

Meanwhile, the House amended the state operating budget to restrict Ecology´s funding of Total Maximum Daily Load´s on the passage of the bill, raising questions about Ecology´s ability to carry out the program. While the budget consequences remain unclear, it is a victory that we were able, through consistent public pressure, to stop this “dirty water” bill from coming back during the special session.

Cleanup of Aquatic Lands

Despite a tremendous amount of lobbying from local citizens working to ensure protective sediment cleanups in their bays, HB 1448, removing the Department of Natural Resources from final decisions on sediment cleanups, did pass the House and Senate. Thankfully, the bill was vetoed by the Governor.

Shorelines Management Act and Nearshore Habitat

We were successful in defeating a number of bills which would have undermined the Shorelines Management Act, including a proposal to delay the adoption of new shoreline rules by the Department of Ecology (see attached alert on shorelines rules). Though having failed to directly amend the Shorelines Management Act, business, property rights and agriculture lobbyists then turned their attention toward blocking the funding necessary for local governments to update their local shoreline programs. These funds were eliminated under a compromise developed during the special session that creates a “salmon funding board” to make decisions on how salmon funding will be spent. Local governments have strongly suggested that, absent the funding, they would fail to move forward on shoreline program updates, a critical element in the overall salmon recovery effort.


The budget was a mixed bag. The most significant problems were: 1) the complete elimination of funding for the Marine Protected Areas program at Department of Fish and Wildlife and 2) An $8 million shortfall in Ecology´s toxic cleanup account and reductions in stormwater programs. Other important budget items were funded however, including money for a videographic inventory of the Puget Sound nearshore area.

The Capital Budget included $117 million for habitat restoration projects and local planning for salmon, however there are assumptions that Congress will appropriate a significant amount of that $117 million. We do not know how much of that federal money will appear.

Side Story

Sierra Club on the Legislative Session

By Rebecca Sayer

With the passage of Referendum 49, we ended up with the largest transportation budget in the state´s history. This Four billion-dollar budget was focused primarily on road expansion, with only a small percentage going to environmentally friendly transportation options. The goods news is that we were able to keep most of the good provisions in the budget despite efforts to remove them. The final budget did include:

The glaring omission in this budget is that there is no increase in transit funding.

Trip Reduction Bill

Our primary offensive effort this session was to promote a “smart spending package,” parts of which were turned into legislation. (HB 2089 and SB 5936).

This trip reduction bill proposed new grants for 1) businesses, cities, counties, or agencies to create innovative trip reduction programs 2) Each of the six Department of Transportation regions to compete for funds to use demand management in corridors and 3) cities, counties, and agencies to compete for funds to build sidewalks and bicycle facilities. This was the first go-around for this package and it did not make it out of either the House or the Senate committees, but it did provide a forum to discuss these concepts. This was really a first step towards opening a dialogue about balanced transportation funding.

The NOVA program

Washington has a little-known program called NOVA (Non-Highway and Off-road Vehicle Activity) that uses a portion of state gasoline tax to compensate agencies for roads and highways that are publicly used but are not supported by gas monies in this state or by the State Department of Transportation. These roads include roads owned by the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Natural Resources, or National and State Park roads. The program was legislated into place in 1971 and has not been studied since its inception. Currently, 80 percent of these funds go towards funding motorized off-road vehicle projects and the remaining 20 percent funds non-motorized trails and facilities. Yet hikers outnumber off-road vehicle users in this state 32-1.

This was a small, but interesting issue that proved to be a great study in how to move and how to reinvent legislation. Our first goal was to educate legislators about the program, with hopes to set ourselves up for victory next session. We drafted companion bills (#1986, #5858) that would call for a moratorium of off-road vehicle trail-building in inventoried roadless areas. We got a hearing in the Senate, but not the House. Once that route dead-ended, we brought the bill back to life by drafting a study bill (#5941) with Senator Adam Kline (D-37) to look at other user groups contributing to the fund. We joined forces with the NW Marine Trade Association and the Washington State Horse Council. They were working to lift a spending cap that had been placed on the program was part of the state´s 601 spending cap. The argument was that the passage of Referendum 49 made the cap no longer necessary.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Washington Environmental Council, People for Puget Sound and the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Boulevard Park

Bay Day - A Community Celebration of Bellingham Bay

by Nicole Oliver and Robyn du Pré

On Saturday afternoon, July 31st, Bay Day will be celebrated at Boulevard Park. Bay Day is an opportunity for the community to learn about Bellingham Bay, celebrate its riches, and enjoy local food and music. This family-oriented event will start at noon with a kayak race, and will feature a seaweed eating contest, a kayak raffle, a clam bake, music and kids activities. Musical acts include Dana Lyons, Basement Swing and Twang Factor 4. The Seven Loaves restaurant (just opened by members of the community dinner group, Backyard Abundance), will be serving locally made bakery items and other yummy treats.

A Bellingham Bay mural project will allow any interested individuals to create a small mosaic symbolizing what the Bay means to them, to be incorporated into one huge mural. Children´s activities include the Dana Lyons concert, as well as a Peregrine Puppet show and Bonzo the Clown. RE Sources is organizing the event, not only as a community celebration, but also to announce the new North Sound Baykeeper program. The event is sponsored by only local businesses, including Sanitary Service Company, Every Other Weekly and The Great Adventure (who donated the kayak for the raffle). If anyone is interested in volunteering to help on the day of the event, please contact Robyn du Pre at 733-8307.

The North Sound Baykeeper Program

Puget Sound is an estuary of national significance, home to native oysters, wild salmon, Orca whales, and hundreds of other plant and animal species. The Sound supports over 5 million people and $80 million a year in water-related economies. Puget Sound shapes our lives and culture; we fish, harvest shellfish, ship goods, swim, sail, paddle, live and work in and on these waters. Puget Sound is also polluted. The Sound hosts two dozen of the nation´s “Superfund” sites. More than 500 rivers, bays and lakes in the Puget Sound basin currently fail standards for safe fishing and swimming. Salmon runs are dwindling, crab and sole from urban bays are diseased, and PCBs are found in alarming amounts in the flesh of Orca whales.

Although regulator bodies are armed with legislation designed to protect our waterways, they are often overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task before them. The solution is citizen stewardship — individuals taking responsibility for the care of the aquatic ecosystems upon which we depend. To promote citizen stewardship and advocate for protection of marine waters, RE Sources and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance have teamed up to launch the North Sound Baykeeper in 1999.

What Is a Keeper?

A Keeper is a full-time ombudsman whose responsibility is to be a public advocate for a given body of water. The Keeper system in the United States was started on the Hudson River in New York state. Today, there is a National Alliance of River, Sound and Bay Keepers that acts as an umbrella and support to Keepers around the country. Following in this fine tradition, the North Sound Beekeeper will be an advocate — the eyes and ears of the ecosystem and a voice for its protection.

Why Doesn´t Soundkeeper Patrol North Sound Waters?

Puget Sound encompasses 2,100 miles of shoreline and 2,200 square miles. It´s just too big for one Keeper. To better protect the waters of northern Puget Sound, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance has entered a partnership with RE Sources to create the North Sound Baykeeper.

What Will the North Sound Baykeeper Do?

The North Sound Baykeeper will be on the an on-the-water presence in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. The Keeper will identify problems affecting waters of the northern Sound, advocate for compliance with environmental laws, monitor local waters for non-permitted pollution discharges and other threats, comment on NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permits, conduct public education programs, train volunteer stewards, and bear witness to the condition of the ecosystem.

Side Story

Canadian Government Declares Pacific Northwest Orcas ‘Threatened’

by Tracy Hornung

The most popular whales in the world, the orcas of the Pacific Northwest, have recently been declared threatened by the Canadian government. Orcas are the species of whale made famous in the “Free Willy” movies.

On April 22, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada applied the designation to the orcas that frequent the boundary waters of Washington State and British Columbia, known as the southern resident community. The Committee also listed all other orcas in Canada as “vulnerable.”

The orcas of the southern resident community were listed as threatened for the following reasons:

Pollution is the primary culprit,” says Richard Osborne, science curator for The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, who has studied the southern resident orcas for more than 20 years. Noting that the boundary waters are surrounded by the urban centers of Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria, B.C., he says, “The high levels of toxic chemicals these whales are carrying in their blubber could easily be endangering their reproduction, immune-response, and endocrine systems.”

The threatened listing was based on a solicited report to the Committee of the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada by whale researcher Robin Baird, Ph.D., research director of the Pacific Whale Foundation in Hawaii, who has done extensive research on Pacific Northwest orcas.

For more than two decades researchers at The Whale Museum and at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, have studied the threatened orcas and have identified each individual in the southern resident community. The Whale Museum also established the Soundwatch Boater Education Program to protect the orcas from whale watching vessel traffic.

Anyone wishing to help these institutions continue their research and education efforts my symbolically “adopt” a whale for a nominal fee through the Orca Adoption Program. Call 1 (800) 946-7227 or see The Whale Museum´s website at www. whale-museum.org.

Whatcom Watch Online
NorthWest Citizen