In early August, a coalition of five citizens' groups joined two state resource agencies in reaching a settlement with Gateway Pacific Terminals related to efforts to develop a deep water, bulk cargo shipping and storage facility at Cherry Point in Whatcom County. The agreement establishes important conditions aimed at natural resource protection that will be implemented if, and when, the Gateway proposal moves forward with development.
The Gateway proposal would add approximately 140 ocean-going ship and barge trips per year to an eight mile reach of shoreline which currently receives 850 annual trips to the ARCO and Tosco refinery piers and the Intalco Aluminum pier. These ships enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca and travel through the waters of the San Juan Islands to reach Cherry Point.
In 1997, Gateway received shoreline development permits from Whatcom County to construct and operate their proposed facility. The Washington State Department of Ecology, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, and a coalition of five environmental groups including the North Cascades Audubon Society, Washington Environmental Council, People For Puget Sound, and the Whatcom County Chapter of the League of Women Voters appealed the permits to the State Shoreline Hearings Board. The basis of the appeals was the failure to adequately address and mitigate for likely environmental impacts from the project.
After nearly 18 months of negotiations, the parties signed an agreement dealing with the limited issues that can be raised within the scope of a shoreline permit. The settlement gained important concessions and mitigation related to this single permit and how they will be enforced under shoreline laws — if and when the project receives all other permit approvals and actually goes forward to development.
Environmental appellants and state resource agencies maintain that there are many other crucial environmental concerns about the Cherry Point development that are not addressed in the limited scope of the shoreline permit. These critical concerns will be addressed in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit review, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources aquatic lands lease agreement, and compliance with salmon Endangered Species Act conditions.Critical Habitat
The marine waters of Cherry Point provide critical habitat for all five species of Pacific Salmon, including the Chinook, which was recently listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The area is also the most important site in the inland waters for the commercial production of Dungeness Crab. Cherry Point also provides critical habitat for seabirds, waterfowl and marine fish and mammals.
The biological centerpiece of the Cherry Point marine ecology are the herring stocks. Herring are the cornerstone of the marine food chain and are important to the lives of salmon, seabirds, waterfowl, marine fish and marine mammals during their entire life history. Historically, Cherry Point area herring stocks have comprised the largest populations in the state and have produced up to 50 percent of adult herring for the entire state on an annual basis.
Herring stocks at Cherry Point have recently undergone a precipitous decline for reasons that are not fully understood. According to Washington Fish and Wildlife data, the total spawning biomass of the Cherry Point stock declined from over 12,000 tons in the late 1970s to less than 2,000 tons last year. At the same time, the geographical area of herring spawning has contracted dramatically.
During negotiations, several key areas of concern were identified by environmental groups and state agencies. Among these were impacts to habitat in the footprint of the pier from shading and ship operations; impacts to herring, particularly during spawning season; ballast water exchange; water quality deterioration from construction and operation of the facility; vessel traffic impacts; public access issues, and questions surrounding how many additional piers will be allowed at Cherry Point. Representatives from all parties worked hard to address these issues and Gateway is to be commended for taking a much more proactive and aggressive approach to protection of marine resources than past development proposals.Key Conditions of the Settlement
Following is a brief summary of key conditions, environmental safeguards and mitigation that was secured in the shoreline permit settlement:
1. The agreement preserves the right of environmental appellants to participate in the review processes before other agencies. Included in this will be analysis and comment on ongoing review of herring status and possible listing under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, the settlement does not limit the authority of state or federal agencies to require further conditions, and/or require studies in addition to those provided for in the agreement.
2. Macroalgae Mitigation Plan: Addresses shading from the pier and lost habitat. Replaces lost habitat at a there to one coverage area. Includes monitoring and mitigation contingencies for such effects as prop wash impacts. Plan and monitoring is funded by Gateway.
3. Herring Monitoring Program: Requires a comprehensive study and analysis to evaluate the effects of Gateway operations on herring behavior. Looks at behavior of herring in much more detail than ever before including schooling areas, migration corridors and spawning behavior. Establishes thresholds of impacts and protocol for contingencies in the event of impacts from facility operations including berthing, hours of berthing, vessel presence, vessel noise and lighting. Establishes levels of mitigation to be implemented if necessary. Includes use of hydroacoustics during herring spawning season to monitor herring and restrict facility operations and activities during key sensitive periods. Program is state agency monitored and Gateway funded.
4. Ballast Water Protocol and Monitoring System: Requires open ocean ballast exchange which greatly reduces the incidence of introduction of non-native organisms to local waters. Mandatory testing for all ships and barges utilizing facility. Gateway funded.
5. Sediment, Tissue and Water Quality Monitoring: Requires annual sampling of sediments, marine water and shellfish or other indicator tissue for assessment of water quality. Mitigation contingencies implemented if necessary. State agency monitored, Gateway funded.
6. Vessel Traffic Analysis: Requires a comprehensive analysis of impact Gateway will have in addition to other existing marine traffic. Issues include safety impacts of increased traffic, vessel traffic management, oil spill risk, hazards at the facility and bunkering (fueling) operations. Establishes a Vessel Traffic Safety Committee to recommend revised vessel operations protocols which will be regionally coordinated and integrated.
7. Public Access: Gateway gifted to Whatcom County areas of both beachfront and uplands, including a sensitive saltwater marsh, for the purposes of a public park. Gateway also conveyed fee title to one area of tidelands, and an easement to an additional area of tidelands. Agreement also acknowledges the state's rights to public access under the public trust doctrine.
8. Single Additional Pier: Agreement contains language addressing coordinated effort among jurisdictions to amend the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan and Master Shoreline Program to restrict pier development at Cherry Point to, at most, one additional deep water structure.
9. Wetlands and Habitat Mitigation Plan: Satisfactorily mitigates impacts to upland wetlands and habitat areas insofar as possible considering changes to the environment from site alteration.
In summary, Gateway has agreed to additional studies, to continually monitor the effects of the project, to provide additional mitigation if necessary, and if something is wrong, to change the operation to address problems that may arise. The ballast water exchange program and vessel traffic safety analysis, in particular, are huge gains toward overall protection of marine resources in Washington state waters. Regionally coordinated vessel traffic safety measures have been a long time goal for advocates of safer shipping practices throughout Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and northern inland waters.
Gateway faces additional analysis and review before construction and operation can begin. Most notably, the Department of Natural Resources is currently conducting regional herring and salmonid studies. The studies include a regional risk assessment and an analysis of the cumulative impacts on the marine environment from the Gateway facility and existing industries and piers at Cherry Point. Additionally, the National Marine Fisheries Service is commencing an analysis of the status of seven species of fish in the inland waters, including herring, for the purposes of potential listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Herring have already been petitioned for listing under Endangered Species Act in Puget Sound.Department of Natural Resources' Position
If Gateway is to move ahead with development, they must secure an aquatic lands lease permit from Natural Resources. Agency head, Jennifer Belcher, remains concerned about the herring population and possible listing. "The herring are a mess already" she has said. "We can't have the luxury of having a resource where we might take a risk that this is the one thing that pushes it over. Legally we can only sign a lease if we are convinced that the development is not going to affect the herring. The aquatic lands law tells me my primary responsibility is to protect long-term stewardship of the land for perpetuating healthy resources. The herring are not going to go extinct on my watch."
Belcher is to be lauded for her courageous stand on this issue. Her department has established a goal for this area that calls for net improvement of the stock. Natural Resources' goals identify the need to improve information about the herring stock, and the need to evaluate uncertainty and risk associated with potential impacts to the resource. These efforts are necessary in order to make a fully informed decision regarding long term protection of the marine habitat at the site.
The department has taken the position that it is not in the state's best interest to proceed with any aquatic lands lease authorization that could adversely impact the Cherry Point herring stock and its spawning and larval rearing habitats. Lease authorization must, instead, be proceeded by the implementation of a conservation initiative that sets measurable and enforceable objectives and actions to achieve a net gain in the production level of herring stock.How Many More Piers
Gateway is one of two facilities that has secured development permits from Whatcom County to construct and operate a bulk cargo shipping and storage facility at Cherry Point. The Department of Natural Resources has stated that it will only issue one more lease for the Cherry Point area. However, the current stated policy of Natural Resources, in no way guarantees that this restriction will hold over time.
Similarly the Whatcom County Council has agreed to consider amendments to the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan and the Shoreline Master Program to restrict pier development at Cherry Point to allow only one additional pier structure. However, any changes to these documents could be overruled by future councils. At a recent public hearing on this issue before the Whatcom County Planning Commission, the Trillium Corporation revealed their desire and plans to develop a pier of their own on land they own in the Cherry Point reach. Insuring that if an additional pier is located at Cherry Point, it will be the last such pier, remains a significant, unresolved issue.
Environmental organizations, including the locally based North Cascades Audubon Society and Whatcom County League of Women Voters, will be closely monitoring the results of Department of Natural Resources studies and participating in the review, analysis and comment opportunities related to additional permits Gateway must secure in order to move forward. If at any time in this process it becomes apparent that impacts to the marine ecology are unavoidable, and not able to be adequately mitigated, the environmental coalition has maintained the right to actively oppose this project on those grounds. The critical and sensitive marine resources of statewide significance at Cherry Point deserve no less.
As the next several months unfold, highly consequential decisions will be made about the future of Bellingham Bay. Industry, and polluting runoff from farms, cities and deforested areas have all taken a toll on the bay. Water and sediment quality in some parts of the bay has reached unsafe levels of toxicity, and state and federal officials have designed a variety of cleanup options to address the problem. Before implementing any cleanup action, officials have opened a public comment period to incorporate ideas generated by the local community.
On July 19, a partnership of local and federal agencies released the Bellingham Bay Comprehensive Strategy Draft Environmental Impact Statement to the public. The environmental impact statement is the child of the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot, a coalition of 11 local and federal agencies and organizations, Georgia-Pacific, the Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe. The environmental impact statement analyzes multiple options for bay cleanup presented by pilot members. The Washington State Department of Ecology, which is spearheading the pilot, is soliciting public comment on these suggestions through September 20.Contaminated Sediment
How contaminated is Bellingham Bay? We have all heard varying estimates, but it is certain that contaminated sediments and water exceed accepted state and federal standards in some parts of the bay. An estimated 2,500,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment lines the floor of the bay, enough to fill two and a half Safeco fields, according to Mike Stoner, environmental manager at the Port of Bellingham.
Bellingham Bay's pollutants are diverse and stem from a number of sources. Nearly fourteen tons of mercury, which doesn't degrade, remain as the poisonous legacy of Georgia-Pacific's chlorine plant operations between 1965 and 1972. In Whatcom Waterway alone an array of chemicals such as phenol and 4-methylphenol compound the substantial mercury problem. Other major contaminants include PCB's (polychlorinated biphenols), dioxin, arsenic and metals like copper, lead, and zinc. Many of these toxins enter the bay through industrial, agricultural, and community runoff.How Much Is Enough?
While the environmental impact statement seeks to present pragmatic solutions to complex pollution problems, it is, in many senses, born out of compromise. The project arose as a means of avoiding a costly court case over responsibility for the cleanup. There is not yet a consensus among the 14 groups about the extent of cleanup necessary.
The environmental impact statement offers cleanup choices, dealing chiefly with removal of toxic sediment. The plan identifies more than 200 acres of sediment containing illegally high levels of pollution, presenting six possible plans for its removal. Any of the six, or some combination of them, may be chosen.Cleanup Alternatives: The Comprehensive Strategy…
The pilot's comprehensive strategy suggests a remedy that encompasses the issues of contaminated sediments, pollution sources, habitat restoration and aquatic and shoreline land use from a baywide perspective.
The Comprehensive Strategy has seven main goals.
From these starting points, the pilot project groups developed short-term and long-term options relating to bay management.Integrated Near-Term Remedial Alternatives
The following five alternatives analyzed in the environmental impact statement concentrate on the cleanup of the bay's three main problem areas: the Whatcom Waterway, the Cornwall Avenue landfill, and the Harris Avenue shipyard. The Whatcom Waterway is the narrow channel that enters the bay from Whatcom Creek. It borders the bay's most mercury-saturated location, Georgia-Pacific's log pond, which is a dumping site for the mill.
Whatcom Waterway is the focal point of the short-term cleanup alternatives. After all, it's a money-maker. In 1997, the Port of Bellingham brought in over $2 million dollars in revenue from ships visiting the Whatcom International Shipping Terminal adjacent to the waterway. Commercial interests are partially behind a drive to deepen the waterway. "There's an acceptance of the need to dredge where navigation occurs," acknowledges Mike Stoner, from the Port of Bellingham.
The Cornwall Avenue Landfill lies at the base of Cornwall Avenue. A 1996 study revealed that municipal waste disposed at the site between 1953 and 1965 is eroding into the bay. Copper, lead, and zinc are among the contaminants that exceed Sediment Quality Standards established by the state. This seepage is worrisome, considering that large portions of the bay's northern and eastern shorelines have been filled, covering potential stores of bay pollutants.
The Harris Avenue Shipyard, utilized primarily during the 1940s for shipbuilding, juts northward from Fairhaven. A wide array of pollutants occupy the area, including unsafe levels of metals, phenol and PCBs. All these intrusive toxins choke out habitat, lower water quality, and poison wildlife.Dealing With Contaminants
At contaminated sites, the bottom of the bay will be dredged, or dug up, and the tainted sediment removed. Dredging ultimately accomplishes three tasks with a single operation: contamination is removed, aquatic habitat is created, and navigation channels are deepened.Option One: Covering
The environmental impact statement offers two alternatives for the disposal of dredged sediments. They may be buried beneath the bay floor, surrounded by a containment wall, and covered with a clean layer of sand in a confined aquatic disposal (CAD) site. Mike Stoner describes it as "a facility or technique that keeps the contamination locked up so it doesn't create pathways of exposure." However, opinions vary on how well the toxins stay "locked up." The process is relatively new and it's difficult to assess the long-term sustainability of CAD sites.Option Two: Removal
In the second disposal option, the sediment will be entirely removed from the bay and transported to a landfill outside of the bay's watershed. This route is considerably more expensive. "Its very costly. The net improvement for the environment is disproportionate," comments Lucy Pebles from the Department of Ecology. Carl Weimer, of RE Sources differs, "I think it's a cleaner choice, but a more expensive one. [I know] how well upland disposal can work and how easily it can be managed compared with aquatic disposal. I guess it's a known evil versus an unknown evil [to me]."
The remedial action alternatives also propose to mitigate contamination at lower-priority sites. Of the 207 acres of contaminated material that will be dealt with, many areas will be capped in place, meaning a clean layer of sand will simply bury the toxic sediment. While dredging can stir up toxins from the sediment and pollute water, capping in place avoids this reintroduction of sediment toxins into water. "In general the preference is not to disturb contamination," Stoner says, "Capping in place limits exposure."
Alternative 2A - Total Dredging
Alternative 2A is the most conservative of the environmental impact statement clean-up options; it involves the least amount of dredging, and is the least costly, carrying a price tag of around $25 million. The plan proposes a total dredging of 420,000 cubic yards. Current navigation depths will be maintained, and in the case of Whatcom Waterway, lowered a couple of feet.
Alternative 2A will have two CAD sites. The first site, Starr Rock, a natural navigation hazard that was used as a disposal site for dredged contaminants in 1969, is marked by a red buoy visible from Boulevard Park. The other site to be used is Georgia-Pacific's log pond.
According to the environmental impact statement, one hundred and twenty acres of polluted bay sediment would be covered with clean material and 38 acres of intertidal habitat would be created. Each alternative, by raising or lowering the elevation of the bay's bottom during dredging and capping, effectively changes habitat elements. The creation of intertidal habitat means potential eelgrass restoration, which would provide a feeding place for young salmon.
At a cost of $38 million, Alternative 2B removes the same quantity of polluted materials from the same locations as Alternative 2A. However, the dredged sediments are disposed of on land. Currently, the Roosevelt landfill in Eastern Washington is the most likely site for upland disposal. Another landfill in Skagit County and a rock quarry in Alger are other possibilities. In upland disposal, the dried sediment is deposited in a lined hole to prevent seepage and buried under clean material. A water collection system prevents water draining through the sediment to re-introduce the contaminants to local ground water systems.
The alternative dredges 820,000 cubic yards and deposits the sediment in the Starr Rock and Georgia-Pacific Log Pond CAD sites. Deeper dredging is designed for future navigational needs, with 690,000 cubic yards being dredged from Whatcom Waterway. The total cost of this alternative is $37 million.
Alternative 2D parallels Alternative 2C except that it calls for upland disposal. Its emphasis is on navigational needs, in addition to removal of sediments from areas with high mercury concentrations on state-owned aquatic lands. Thus, approximately 1,100,000 cubic yards would be dredged, including 320,000 cubic yards from the Georgia-Pacific log pond and state-owned Starr Rock. The expense is $92 million.
This final alternative calls for the eradication of all contaminated sediment on state-owned lands, dredging 2,400,000 cubic yards from the bay and disposing of it on land. It is the most expensive option presented to the Bellingham community at $170 million.The No Comprehensive Strategy…
The environmental impact statement also analyzes what would happen if the Bellingham community didn't support the Comprehensive Alternative Strategy and issues like sediment source control and disposal, habitat maintenance and improvement, and land use in Bellingham Bay continued to be made on a case-by-case basis.
Sediment cleanup would continue to occur, though relying more on natural recovery. This process allows natural processes to restore the environment. Currently, the Nooksack River, at the bay's northwestern reach, pours 1.5 billion gallons of fresh water daily into the bay. It discharges clean sediments and eliminates pollutants that over time could restore the bay to a healthier state
The environmental impact statement predicts that the No Comprehensive Strategy Alternative would not lessen the habitat degradation of the bay as a whole, leading to "a patchwork of restored and degraded habitat with little or no connection between the restored sites."Fish, Fun and Industry
The pilot members are dealing with few absolutes. There are tradeoffs between and within each alternative. Also, as an urban waterway, the bay must satisfy such disparate interests as public access, habitat, and business. It must all be done within existing regulations, an enormous task. "We don't want to affect navigation and commerce, or any area that's of critical importance as an existing habitat," says Stoner.
Once a route is negotiated, a two-year design phase will incorporate engineering decisions. At that stage, the pilot group will flesh out the details of the plan. If the chosen alternative proves during the design mode to be unworkable, it will be scrapped and the process will begin again.Serious Questions
Is the environmental impact statement thorough enough?
According to Pam Johnson of the People for Puget Sound, the methods used to measure sediment quality may be inadequate. It identifies "hot spots," or regions where sediments are high in several toxins. Regions that are high in only one may be overlooked.
The environmental impact statement gives less attention to water quality and source control than it does to sediment. It declares water quality to be fairly good due to the closure of Georgia-Pacific's chlorine plant and other cutbacks in industrial pollution. Stoner stated that "water quality in Bellingham Bay is relatively good and could be expected to stay that way." It has indeed improved, but pollution still pumps into the bay from various point and non-point sources, such as storm drains, urban and community runoff. Is this assessment shortsighted? Is the group's optimism monetarily driven? Georgia-Pacific, together with the Department of Natural Resources and several government grants is chiefly responsible for picking up the tab. However, Georgia-Pacific has repeatedly said that it may not be willing to fund more expensive cleanup options.
The environmental impact statement makes mention of source control, but it does not deal with it as comprehensively as it deals with contaminated sediment. Due to sediment contamination, the Whatcom Waterway has been labeled an impaired waterway. It must legally be cleaned up, and Georgia-Pacific must take part. Source control, though, does not legally need to be addressed at this time. Is the pilot group retreating from source control because it's a stickier, more involved issue?Habitat Restoration
Habitat restoration is a main goal of the plan, but its implementation seems less developed than the engineering solutions for sediment removal. The environmental impact statement measures the habitat restoration achieved by each alternative in terms of "net gain." It does not mention a way of measuring the quality of the restored habitat. "We're still grappling with how to apply habitat criteria to the different alternatives," explained Lisa Randletter of the Department of Natural Resources. "The environmental impact statement doesn't provide a mitigation framework for that."
The environmental impact statement proposes to view aquatic habitat as a continuum rather than as discrete geographical locations. Are individual locations still being well used?Public Influence
None of the alternatives is perfect. The public needs to help design a plan that best fits our desires for the cleanup. Public comment will influence which plan is ultimately chosen. According to Lucy Pebles of the Ecology, "We will use public input to help us make that decision. That's why it's so important that people read the environmental impact statement and come to public meetings. We can't be responsive to the public's wishes unless they tell us what their wishes are." Says Carl Weimer of RE sources, "I'm really hoping that people in the community who know something about this or who care about it will take the time to wade through the environmental impact statement."
|Cornwall Avenue Landfill||Cap in place||Cap in place||Cap in place||Cap in place||400,000 CY*|
|CAD site**||Cap in place||CAD site**||Cap in place||Cap in place|
|Cap in place||Cap,
|Type of Disposal||CAD**||Landfill||CAD**||Landfill||Landfill|
|Cost||$25 million||$38 million||$37 million||$92 million||$170 million|
|*Cubic Yards||**Confined Aquatic Disposal|
Another chapter of Washington's wilderness legacy has been written thanks to the Loomis Forest Fund, a campaign administered by Bellingham's own Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, and funded by more than 5,000 individual donors from around the state.
The same agency and legal requirements that arouse local frustration over logging near Whatcom Reservoir and Blanchard Mountain were about to ravage the last, best habitat for the endangered lynx in the Lower 48. Until April, 1998, the state's last roadless wilderness was scheduled to be converted to stumps as part of Washington's archaic "stumps-to-make-schools" mandate.Roads Proposed for Wilderness
The Loomis State Forest, located just east of Pasayten Wilderness in north-central Washington, was due to receive hundreds of miles of new roads and thousands of acres of clearcuts. When all legal options to save the Loomis Wildlands had disintegrated, Northwest Ecosystem Alliance fell into the unusual position of settling pending lawsuits with the state in exchange for the opportunity to buy protection of the remaining roadless wilderness. Those key acres account for 25,000 of the entire 134,000 acre forest and are habitat for the state's symbols of ecological health: grizzly bears, lynx, wolverine, fisher, marten, goshawk, . . . the whole entourage of forest predators that have been wiped out nearly everywhere else in Washington.Record-breaking Fundraising
Northwest Ecosystem Alliance formed the Loomis Forest Fund, a coalition of conservation groups and businesses, to go about the monumental task of raising the $13.1 million needed to compensate the state for the value of the land and the trees by the July 1st deadline agreed to with the Department of Natural Resources. The alliance met its goal literally minutes before the deadline and broke all the records in conservation fundraising in the process. These 25,000 acres will never again see another clearcut or logging road. The schools get more money than they would through clearcutting (because the Dept. of Natural Resources will forego their 25 percent administrative kick-back), and that charismatic cast of forest predators will still grace Washington soil. The people of Washington have said, loud and clear, "we want wilderness!"Stumps-For-Schools Policy
The antiquated policies of the Department of Natural Resources have implications far and wide, both in our own backyard and hundreds of miles away. The letter of the law, according to the state's enabling act and subsequent legal interpretation, is that we must sacrifice our forests for our school kids, our quality of life for quality schools. Hopefully the challenges that we face, be they in our own backyard or beyond, will serve as a springboard for large-scale state trust land reform. The stumps-for-schools practice worked 100 years ago, but unless we acknowledge and repair our forest management policies, we'll continue onward along this tragic trajectory. Kudos to all the locals working with the Department of Natural Resources to keep our forests intact and our water clean!
Sometimes, teamwork is a goal easier set than met. Take the current 49-49 tie in the House of Representatives. This ultimate balance of power means that our "team" has two players at each position: two speakers of the House, for example, and two chairs on every committee, not to mention two agendas on every legislative issue. We encountered some rough winds this year trying to keep our team focused on what's right for all citizens; trying to find the best mix of core values and reasonable compromises to reflect what's important for all Washingtonians.
In no other legislative arena were these winds knottier than in the area of environmental concerns. Some successes came from this year's session, though, and in addition to environmental challenges we have yet to overcome, I want to review the victories.
First off, let me say that I firmly believe we must reject any notion that we face an "either-or" choice.
No environmental debate — not one environmental discussion — should be framed in this kind of language: "Either we let pollution run rampant in the name of growth and development, or we shut everything down in the name of preservation." To my way of thinking, we can achieve a healthy environment, and maintain quality jobs and responsible businesses. We should accept nothing less than a healthy environment, and we should demand good-paying jobs so that citizens can take care of themselves and their families.
Probably the best example of balancing our responsibility for a healthy environment (and continuing consumer protection) is found in the Safe Foods Initiative that I sponsored this year. The initiative was backed by environmental, industry, and academic groups.
With this new policy, we assure the continued safety of Washington's farm products while boosting our economy at the same time. The Safe Foods Initiative bolsters research and field work investigating chemical and non-chemical pest-control farming, as well as improved land-management techniques. We funded the Pesticide Registration Commission, the first in the nation, to do this important work.Salmon Recovery
Also on a positive note, our state has adopted what I'm convinced is a balanced, forward-thinking approach to salmon recovery. The forest-products industry and smaller, private timberland owners joined representatives from local, state and federal governments and the tribes in building the recovery plan.
Several essential elements are keyed in this new strategy:
Of specific local note is another bill approved this past session to set up a pilot, watershed-management project on Lake Whatcom. The Department of Natural Resources will put together an advisory committee including local citizens to find ways for keeping and improving water-quality standards in our local watershed. Timber sales will be deferred until the project is finished (no later than June 30 next year), and differences of policy opinion will be resolved through fair and objective mediation.
We also built on last year's fertilizer legislation. Important new policies were approved this year to require complete product information explaining exactly what's in the fertilizer. A new policy also sets up an immediate stop-sale of nonregistered products or products that don't meet our state standards. Consumers certainly have a right to know the metal content, for example, in the fertilizer they're using. The content information will now be based on the testing of each individual product so that consumers will know exactly what they're getting.
During the special session, I co-sponsored a measure to bolster our state's oil-spill-response account to ensure that we aren't caught off guard whenever such an outrageous environmental tragedy strikes. As with several other state-policy areas, we do have more work to do on this subject. Coordinated by the Department of Ecology, a work group is looking at other serious issues involved in the risk of an oil spill, and management of it if a spill does happen. We've got to create a comprehensive plan to cover all risks and all vessels.
Further, we enacted legislation that will go a long way toward encouraging more car pools and more use of public transportation. This new law extends and strengthens our state's tax credit for commute-trip-reduction programs. We need to do everything we can to combat air pollution, and this program is a great item in our tool kit.Bellingham Bay Cleanup
Another bill I sponsored sought to tighten up the Bellingham BayCleanup project. The bill would set up a strict standard for disposal of contaminated sediments, such as the sediments that will be removed from our bay, based on our commitment to environmental protection. We must establish a hard-and-fast policy dictating the criteria for disposing of such materials on state-owned land. The legislation also sought a very specific dispute-resolution mechanism so this vital process isn't stymied when conflicts need to be resolved.
Although the governor vetoed the cleanup legislation, his veto message emphasizes the valid intent in the proposal and the valid concern with cleanup management. He said that the Department of Natural Resources must work with other local and state agencies to resolve differences of opinion. If cooperation doesn't happen, the governor said he will sign a similar bill next session.
We've been working on another key water-quality proposal for most of the last year. Many citizens have been asked what they think we should do to halt existing pollution and prevent future problems. I sponsored legislation that reflects recommendations reached in the public-hearing process.
If Washington doesn't come up with a plan to correct water-pollution problems, to be sure, the federal government will step in and make the decisions for us. But I want to stress that this proposal doesn't negate the federal Environmental Protection Agency settlement involving projects in the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process. In fact, the measure fits nicely with implementation of the TMDL settlement. We definitely believe in complying with the settlement.Water Quality Laws
Every two years, according to the Total Maximum Daily Load terms of the federal Clean Water Act, a list is compiled to cite waters that don't meet quality standards. The process requires a study that spells out exactly how much pollution is allowed: pollution from both the point sources (direct causes of water pollution) and the non-point sources (indirect causes).
One of the big themes of my plan is that we need to provide more certainty in our state's water-quality laws. Individuals, businesses, and local governments should feel confident in the continuity of our water policies, and also that we achieve cleanup results, not just planning. I will certainly keep working in this direction in future legislative sessions.
The tragic Olympic Pipe Line explosion in June emphasizes the requirement for constant vigilance in making sure these and similar facilities meet nonnegotiable safety standards. We should ensure that employees are well-trained, and that the state has information on when pipelines are tested, what results are found, and what remedial actions occur. We should also review the penalties for spills, as well as the work of the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to check our state process for siting these types of facilities. We need to work with local, state and federal agencies and citizens to make sure these pipelines are safe.
I'm proud to serve on two national committees, one dealing with environmental issues, and the other addressing science and energy matters as well as environmental concerns. The Environment Committee, and the Science, Energy, & Environmental Resources Committee were established by the National Conference of State Legislatures, an organization that represents the legislatures of the 50 states.
The Environment Committee is charged with looking at federal environmental policies that impact Washington and other states. We will review issues such as air quality, water quality, hazardous and radioactive wastes, and solid wastes. This panel will also study the federal environmental-cleanup superfund, confined-animal-feeding operations, and the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
The Science, Energy, and Environmental Resources Committee will look at state issues ranging from growth-management, to nuclear power-plant decommissioning, to watershed-protection, to toxic-use reduction.
I want to emphasize my appreciation for the keen interest possessed by so many Whatcom County citizens for these and other environmental concerns. I look forward to working with citizens in Whatcom County and the rest of our state to achieve a healthy environment for all of us. It's true that we won't always agree on the path for achieving environmental protection, but we will always agree on the goal. I do respect opinions that fall outside my own thinking, and I am always willing to listen.
I departed Thanksgiving Day last year from SeaTac Airport with a bicycle and backpack on a direct flight to Auckland, New Zealand. I knew no one and had no set itinerary, preferring to chart a spontaneous journey open to whomever and whatever circumstances would present themselves.
I cycled through the rigorous, endless hills and narrow, windy roads of the North Island. I never expected it to be so physically and emotionally challenging and it's a good thing, because I never would have left Bellingham!Woofing Around the Island
Woofing — Working on Organic Farms — is an international organization that promotes cultural exchange where foreigners receive room and board for daily labor. After living and working on several organic farms near the towns of Rotorua and Napier, an herbal farm and a miniature stallion breeding farm, I arrived in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand around Christmas time. Because I stayed in youth hostels and on WOOFA farms, I was able to interact with the locals as well as meet fellow travelers. A network of kind and spirited people was available; I just had to risk and open myself to new people and new environments.
After six weeks, I arrived on Christmas in the town of Nelson on the South Island. I found a room to rent for an extended period of time and decided to remain indefinitely. The first month of rigorous cycling and constant change had exhausted me physically and emotionally so I decided to base myself in Nelson and take side trips from here. Not wanting to be alone on Christmas Day, I volunteered with a church to serve at a homeless dinner.
Being a stranger in a foreign country, I did have intense moments of loneliness but my philosophy has always been to give when I feel self pity. I created a wonderful community of generous and receptive people who accepted me as family. Since my graduate degree is in theology I even interviewed with the Catholic Church for a youth management job. New Zealand is such a beautiful, pristine country; my fantasy was to work and settle here.
After another week of WOOFing on an herbal estate in Golden Bay on the South Island, my friend Randy Minkler from Bellingham arrived in February. A new leg of the journey began. We rented a car and drove the entire perimeter of the South Island from the west coast of Westport, through Franz Josef Glacier, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Stewart Island ( the most southern island off the coast where the sun will first rise on January 1, 2000 ), to Dunedin, Christchurch, Kaikoura ( whale watching and dolphin riding ), through the Marlborough Sounds and back to Nelson.Adventure-Survival Traveling
We camped, slept in a small compact rental car, youth hostelled and endured intense attacks of the infamous sandflies. But through it all we remained flexible and open-minded. After confining and limited sleeping, and eating dry peanut butter sandwiches day after day, one has to maintain a sense of humor. This was not traveling the Hilton Hotel mode; this was adventure-survival traveling, constantly challenging the edges of human comfort and adaptability. Traveling with a companion, one learns either how to compromise and adjust or how to forge alone independently. Fortunately our friendship endured and, in fact, strengthened through adversity, but Randy's sense of humor definitely lightened the daily squabbles!
"The journey in New Zealand was a pleasant, enlightening adventure," said Randy. "The lifestyle was much more easy-going. It felt great to slow down and truly enjoy both the wildlife and the countryside. With terrain ranging from hills covered with Hawaiian-like fauna to fjords climbing 12,000 foot mountains, we were constantly amazed. The wildlife was equally impressive. We saw dolphins, skates, seals, hedgehogs, parrots and tons of sheep! Driving on the left-side of the road, kids playing cricket in the park, and fish & chip stands everywhere — this was all part of what made up the uniqueness of New Zealand," Randy reported.Freedom of Spirit
This kind of "adventure" travel can get tiring. Even awe-inspiring scenery can become monotonous month after month, so with nearly four months of wandering, I decided it was time to return to Bellingham. I wanted to complete the journey with a sense of peace and purpose so I spent the final fourteen days on a silent retreat at a Catholic Franciscan Friary near Auckland. It was the most incredibly powerful presence of peace that I had ever experienced. I knew then that I'd found what I had been searching for — that freedom of spirit from truly letting go and opening the heart to an unknown people in a foreign country. I left feeling confused and uncertain of my life's direction. I've returned still uncertain about my life; however I'm clearly more at peace with trusting a new life to unfold before me.