I have three broad concerns about the proposal to build Sumas-2, a 660 MW electrical generating station at Sumas: process, potential environmental damage, and a proposed state sales tax cut for a polluter. I am concerned that the proponents of Sumas-2 are attempting to gain de facto support for Sumas-2 long before the Environmental Impact Statement is due to be completed and released.
We will briefly review the approval process for the Sumas-2 power plant before moving on to some Whatcom County politics, how the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process is being threatened, and what the applicant is not telling the public.
Washington State created "one-stop-shopping" for major power plant promoters through the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC). If an application is approved by the EFSEC and signed by the governor, the project can proceed. On EFSEC are one member each of 10 state and U.S. governmental agencies, and one member from the local government where the plant would be built. For Sumas-2, a member of the Whatcom County Council is a voting member of EFSEC.
EFSEC is quasi. judicial. The public is not allowed to make its concerns known directly to EFSEC; concerns must be relayed through an "intervener." Whatcom County Council member Connie Hoag was a member of EFSEC. She was besieged by her constituents to act in their behalf, but her position on EFSEC made it illegal for her to do so. Therefore, she resigned from EFSEC to better serve them.
The County Council elected Dan McShane to take Connie Hoag's place on EFSEC. However, a City of Sumas official lobbied the County Council to elect Sam Crawford for the EFSEC position instead. For a month, County Council president Marlene Dawson delayed sending a notice to EFSEC that Dan McShane had replaced Connie Hoag. On January 10, 2000, County Council member Sam Crawford nominated himself for the EFSEC position. Again, Dan McShane was elected to EFSEC, that time by a 5 to 2 vote of the Council.
The Sumas-2 applicant requested EFSEC to appoint more interveners and commence quasi-judicial proceedings. The applicant claims to have adequately informed the public about the proposed power plant, and therefore it is unnecessary to wait for the Environmental Impact Statement to be issued before beginning the quasi-judicial decision process. On January 18 EFSEC considered the applicant's request. A hard-fought three-hour EFSEC meeting in Olympia ended in a victory for continued public protection by preserving a viable Draft Environmental Impact Statement process. Connie Hoag and Mary Barrett not only saved the day; they saved a future for the Environmental Impact Statement.
Judicial proceedings by EFSEC will commence only after termination of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement comment period. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement now is expected to be issued sometime in March and the date of the end of the comment period has not been set.
There was a small compromise. Individuals can apply for an intervener position now. However, the first judicial act of EFSEC will occur only after the Draft Environmental Impact Statement comment period when EFSEC will select official interveners. Applicants not considered to be specifically impacted by the proposed power plant will be excluded.
Not in the "fact sheets" nor made available to the public at the January 4th meeting was the 2.5 million cubic feet of gas per day the two turbines powering the electrical generators would burn at peak load. Hence, the humongous size of the plant was not made clear.
Not revealed to the public at the meeting were the approximately two tons per day of toxic pollutants that would be released into the air. Those toxic substances include nitrous and nitric oxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particles less than 10 microns in size, miscellaneous volatile organic compounds, and a long list of others.
In addition, Sumas-2 in one year would increase greenhouse gases emitted to the air an amount equivalent to that emitted in one year from an additional 490,000 automobiles in the U.S. car population. Not revealed was the fact that the U.S. Clean Air Act limits the total emissions that are allowed in an individual area, and that the Sumas-2 plant alone would leave little room for growth of other industries in Sumas.
Not revealed at the January 4 meeting was the fact that the operator has requested permission to burn oil up to 15 days in winter when there may be a shortage of natural gas from Canada. Not revealed at the January 4, 2000 meeting held by the operator was the up to 13,000 gallons of oil that would be burned by each of the two turbines per hour for up to 15 days during the winter. That would require a 2.5 million gallon oil storage tank on site.
The tank would be on top of the very large Sumas-Abbotsford Aquifer, the source of water for a great many people. To put the oil spill hazard in perspective, note that the oil spill in Bellingham that resulted in the deaths of three young people was estimated to be about 277,000 gallons. Hence, the capacity of the Sumas -2 oil tank on the aquifer would be on the order of nine times as large as the Bellingham oil spill.
Not mentioned was that a hearing examiner denied the request of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad for permission to use a 500,000 gallon diesel oil tank on the Rathdrum Prairie- Spokane Valley Aquifer in Idaho. The aquifer extends into Washington State and Governor Gary Locke urged rejection of the fuel depot.
Not mentioned was the applicant's plan to request exemption of sales taxes on the plant construction. Representative Kelli Linville is expected to submit the sales tax exemption bill to the State Legislature. I object to rewarding those who will surely damage the environment and possibly endanger human beings. Last year there was a request for a sales tax cut for a similar Sumas power plant. Representative Brian Thomas, Co-Chair of the House Finance Committee, kept the bill for the sales tax exemption in committee and the bill expired at the end of the legislative session.
The sales tax cut became moot when the construction of the proposed Sumas plant was not consummated because of the prohibition Canada had placed on the export of water. The staff of Brian Thomas is confident that the request this year for a sales tax exemption for the power plant will be in excess of $20 million. Moreover, the staff does not expect that the position of Brian Thomas on a sales tax exemption is likely to change.
Washington State is very short of tax revenues as a result of the passage of I-695. Besides, Senate Democrats are said to be proposing a $588 million state property tax cut for homeowners to head off another tax rollback initiative. What is Washington State going to run on? Fumes from the Sumas-2 power plant?
The Sumas-2 electrical generating facility now proposed is smaller than the one proposed last year. Last year the plant would have had to rely on water imported from Canada. This year the "fact sheets" say that the water for the plant will be purchased from the City of Sumas. The public was not informed that if the plan for Sumas-2 goes ahead, all the water rights for the City of Sumas will be used up. There will be no water for future growth for 20 years.
I am concerned about depletion of the Sumas-Abbotsford reservoir. A number of farmers have testified that the water level in the aquifer is dropping and some farmers have waited for years to get water rights. Would not Sumas-2 get a lion's share of the City of Sumas water and limit growth of both industry and population?
The "fact sheets" said that electrical power might be transported in Whatcom County over existing 115 KV lines. I am concerned about safety. In fact, the electrical power lines are likely to be on much taller, wooden poles. Six poles of that type blew over on Badger Road last year. Besides, I would like to see the dangers from high amperage 115 KV lines addressed. Would not high voltage lines in high voltage corridors be safer?
I am concerned that making a place for the power plant in the floodplain will impact other properties. I want to be assured that the U.S. Corp of Engineers has addressed this matter.
Moreover, the "intervener" to whom the public may express concerns has not been made public either by EFSEC itself nor the applicant. That intervener is Mary Barrett of the Office of the Attorney General in Olympia.
When I managed to reach her last year concerning the earlier proposal for a Sumas power plant, she immediately asked me how I found her. The answer was, "with great difficulty." I add that it was with great persistence and a very large long distance phone bill.
Because the Sumas-2 approval process will be quasi-judicial, only information officially received by EFSEC will be considered in the decision. The only way you can get your concerns to EFSEC is through an "intervener." Therefore, it is very important that you ask Mary Barrett to express your concerns to EFSEC.
The proposed second Sudden Valley sewer line surfaced in the news once again with the December 7, 1999 Superior Court decision. Skagit County Superior Court Judge Susan Cook overruled the 1998 Whatcom County hearing examiner decision to allow a second sewer line along Lake Louise Road.
To review the history of this second Sudden Valley sewer line is to strap into a wild and bumpy ride during which the peaks and valleys of legal decisions are intersected by the scintillating sloping curves of repeated appeals and overturned decisions. Faster and faster the roller coaster slides along its duct-tape repaired rusted rails, again and again crosses under the splashing and splayed waterfall of sewer spills and health warnings, and comes no closer to its end.
Will the ride end with a compromised final decision which allows a second sewer line and more home building in the Lake Whatcom watershed, with the illness or deaths of humans attributed to polluted drinking and bathing water, or with a permanent moratorium on development and water degradation?
There is only one certainty . that the ride has been a long one, trying the patience of all sides involved. The continuing saga began in 1968 when the Sanwick Corporation of Seattle purchased 1,200 acres of the former Glenn Corning Ranch along the shores of Lake Whatcom for $1.8 million and called the fated development Sudden Valley. By May of 1969, the Whatcom County Commissioners approved the first plat for 158 lots west of Lake Whatcom Boulevard and that same year the Sanwick Corporation put up a $600,000 bond to guarantee the construction of a trunk sewer line from Sudden Valley to the Bellingham city limits along Lake Whatcom Boulevard.1
In 1970, two years after it had been organized from an aggregation of smaller private utility districts, Water District No. 10 constructed the interceptor sewer line, which is the trunk line running along Lake Whatcom Boulevard from Sudden Valley to Geneva.2 Between 1970 and 1974, the Sudden Valley housing divisions and the Sanwick Corporation funded construction of the collector sewer system, which connects the individual sewer lines with the interceptor or main line.
The purpose of the collectors is to funnel the sewage into the pumping station in Sudden Valley and from there the sewage is piped through the trunk line along Lake Whatcom Boulevard to Bellingham for treatment. The collection system primarily consists of 50 miles of vitrified clay pipe, lined with concrete, and approximately 1100 manholes. The sanitary system is composed of gravity lines, pump stations, and force mains.
In 1973, Sun Mark Inc. bought out Sanwick Corporation and in 1976 Continental Mortgage Investors took over from Sun Mark Inc. as the developer.3 On January 1, 1974 . the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County District No. 10 entered into an agreement to send the domestic sewage from Sudden Valley to Bellingham.
The agreement limited the flow to 3,200 gallons per minute and required the district to prohibit all storm, surface, or ground water, including but not limited to, roof drains, downspouts and footing drains, from entering its sanitary sewer system.4 Research and testimony show that Whatcom County did not inspect the installation of the sewer lines throughout Sudden Valley, nor did they inspect the collector system.5
So, it is not surprising that in December, 1976, the Water District #10 Commissioners prohibited any new sewer hookups in Sudden Valley because . they said . the sewer line was overloaded and leaky. Since the beginning of the sewer saga, Water District #10 operated and maintained the Sudden Valley sewer line, but did not own it.
There were questions as to who was to pay for what and questions whether the capacity of the line was being exceeded. After a series of resolutions, on January 25, 1977, Water District #10 agreed to purchase the Sudden Valley sewer system, sorted out the technical difficulties, and lifted the moratorium on sewer hookups.6
From 1977 to 1990, Sudden Valley experienced financial ups and downs. By 1984, the Canadian second-home market was drying up. Half the county's mortgage foreclosures were in Sudden Valley due to the decline of the Canadian dollar, and lots were selling for as little as $800 in tax lien sale auctions.
Yet by 1990, a lot selling for less than $10,000 was almost unheard of in Sudden Valley. Developers were scooping up lots like bears scoop up blueberries, and the real estate market was booming. Buyers often bid against each other and paid more than the asking price.
It was in this fruitful time (December 1990) that Water District #10 requested permission to increase the contracted sewer capacity for Sudden Valley from 3,200 to 4,334 gallons per minute. This request was denied by the Bellingham City Council on January 29, 1991.7
With the real estate market still bringing in high dollar amounts, on February 11, 1992, Water District #10 applied for a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit to construct a second sewer line from Sudden Valley to Bellingham. The district's request for the new sewer line was painted strictly as a sewer overflow mechanism in all of their paperwork.
Water District #10 General Manager Bonnie Strode even applied to and received funding from the Public Works Trust Fund, which specifically states it does not fund for any growth-related projects.8 This seeming hypocrisy was the smoldering curtain that ignited the flaring flames of the environmental groups, neighborhood associations, and public interest advocates who began to let their opinions of opposition be known.
These groups (including Friends of Lake Whatcom and Whatcom Falls Neighborhood Association) said the district didn't accurately portray the second sewer line project when filling out applications and environmental reviews. As a result, they said, the question of new growth wasn't revealed until testimony before the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner.9
Water District #10 officials countered by saying the second sewer line project was part of a two-pronged attack on overflows that threaten Lake Whatcom water quality. The line would provide for new growth, but that's not the main goal, they said.10
On February 21, 1992, the State of Washington Department of Health ("Health") declared that the contamination of the ground resulting from the "ongoing and periodic discharge of untreated sewage from Water District 10's sewer system manholes" created a severe public health hazard. Health's declaration was in response to a request from the Whatcom County Health Officer. The declaration cited the fact that major overflows, lasting from hours to weeks had occurred four to five times each year, for the past twenty years.11
Three months later, on May 8, 1992, Whatcom County Hearing Examiner Ed Good denied the application to build a second sewer line saying Water District #10 needed to reduce stormwater entering the existing system before building a second line. This decision was to become the bastion and bulwark of clean water advocates.
With no time to lose, Water District #10 appealed the Hearing Examiner's decision to the Whatcom County Council and on July 14, 1992, the Whatcom County Council upheld Ed Good's decision.
Presiding Council Chairperson Dan Warner said that although county officials talked of curtailing residential development in the Lake Whatcom basin because they considered development the main threat to the lake . source of half the county's drinking water . that did not enter their decision in the sewer line case. Warner said that in the sewer line case, the County Council strictly performed its role as a quasi-judicial panel hearing an appeal. It found no legal grounds to say the Hearing Examiner erred.12
Speaking for Water District #10, Bonnie Strode said the County Council's decision was based solely on engineering reviews of its sewer pumps.13
Like a raging bull, not about to be stopped by mere mortals, Water District #10 in less than three months appealed the Hearing Examiner Decision to the Washington State Shoreline Hearings Board on September 3, 1992. Also in September of 1992, Water District #10 declared a second moratorium on new water and sewer hookups in Sudden Valley and much of Geneva.14
An October 1, 1992, article in The Bellingham Herald stated that the uncertainty over the outcome of the sewer dispute fueled a run on the 84 remaining sewer line hookup permits (allocated to the existing line's carrying capacity) in September.
The permits were snatched up within six hours. "Panic struck terror in the hearts of developers," Strode said. Some single-lot owners got permits, but most wound up in the hands of developers, including SVH Enterprises Inc. which got half the permits, Strode added. The water and sewer permits cost $990 for one set. Strode felt the moratorium would be temporary since virtually all county plans sanctioned development of Sudden Valley.
Ironically, a sewage spill into Lake Whatcom occurred on September 30, 1992, the day before the aforementioned Bellingham Herald article.
That September, 1992, moratorium on new sewer hookups stopped 2,800 lot owners in Sudden Valley from building. Lot sales in Sudden Valley suddenly fell through the floor. From January 1992 to September 1992, 87 lots sold through the multiple-listings service for a total of $1.6 million. From September 1992 through the first week in July 1993, 14 lots in Sudden Valley sold for a total of $190,000 . a drop of $1.41 million.15
In October of 1992, the Attorney General granted the district's request for review (second sewer line permit) before the Shoreline Hearings Board. In November 1992, the Sudden Valley Community Association entered the appeal as an Intervenor, in support of the district's position. And in December 1992, Sherilyn Wells, Jay Taber and Whatcom Falls Neighborhood Association entered the appeal as Intervenors, in support of Whatcom County.16
To add a bit of glitter and mystery to these battles, on December 11, 1992 a joint resolution was signed by the Whatcom County Council, Bellingham City Council, and Water District #10. Some of the general goal statements of this resolution #560 are as follows:
"To recognize Lake Whatcom and its watershed as the major drinking-water reservoir for the county and develop public and private management principles for the lake and watershed consistent with a drinking water reservoir environment. Affirm this goal by establishing the name: Lake Whatcom Reservoir;
"To protect, preserve and enhance water quality and manage water quantity to ensure long-term sustainable supplies...;
"To prioritize protection over treatment in managing Lake Whatcom and its watersheds....17
According to Deborah Lambert Water District #10 commissioner this resolution is still on file with the three agencies and is still upheld.18
The roller coaster ride started getting bumpier a year later on October 28, 1993, when the Washington State Shoreline Hearings Board upheld the original Hearing Examiner Decision of May, 1992. No new sewer line.
Jay Taber, President of Whatcom Falls Neighborhood Association, an activist involved with the Washington State Shorelines Hearings Board case, said the engineering testimony showed that the second sewer line might not fix the overflow problem.
He said the problem was a poorly built collector system in Sudden Valley. As the collectors funnel sewage into a central pumping station in Sudden Valley, their overflow tendencies would not necessarily be stopped by a second sewer line.
The additional trunk line would keep water from backing up in the main system, which could prevent those overflows but not collector spills. Taber added that if the district simply adds a second line, declares the problem fixed, and starts allowing new sewer hookups, it could lead to more overflows in the future.19
Two alternatives were discussed in 1993. One alternative for dealing with the sewage spills was to regulate sewage flow to reduce the amount of water in the system at peak times. The other alternative was to build the line along Lake Louise Road instead of Lake Whatcom Boulevard. That would move the line away from the lake, where there were already over fifteen manholes between the Cable Street pumping station (near the water drinking intake pipe) and Strawberry Point, many not more than thirty feet away from the lapping edge of Lake Whatcom.
When interviewed by The Bellingham Herald in July, 1993, Bonnie Strode said a line along Lake Louise Road would double the project's $2 million estimated cost. The line would still be in the lake's watershed and could spur more development in Sudden Valley, so an alternative route wouldn't necessarily solve the problem. Also, two pumping stations would be needed instead of one.
In an effort to stem the storm water flow, Water District #10 refitted some of its 1,100 manhole covers in Sudden Valley in 1993. General Manager Bonnie Strode said that the district would have to study the sewer lines for months to see whether the manhole fix was enough to prevent storm water overflows into the lake.20
|1968||The Sanwick Corporation of Seattle purchased 1,200 acres of the former Glenn Corning ranch for $1.8 million and called the development Sudden Valley.|
|5/69||Whatcom County commissioners approved first plat for 158 lots west of Lake Whatcom Boulevard.|
|1969||The Sanwick Corp. puts up a $600,000 bond to guarantee the construction of a trunk sewer line along Lake Whatcom Boulevard to the Bellingham city limits.|
|10/73||Sun Mark, Inc. bought out Sanwick.|
|1/74||The City of Bellingham and Whatcom County Water District #10 entered into a agreement to send its sewerage to Bellingham.|
|1976||Continental Mortgage Investors took over as developer of Sudden Valley.|
|12/76||Water District #10 commissioners prohibit any new sever hookups in Sudden Valley. They say the sewer line is overloaded and leaky.|
|1/77||The Water District #10 purchased the sewer system and lifted the moratorium.|
|12/90||The Bellingham City Council denies a request by Water District #10 to increase the contracted sewer treatment capacity.|
|2/92||Water District #10 applies for a shoreline substantial development permit to construct a second sewer line from Bellingham to Sudden Valley.|
|5/92||Whatcom County Hearing Examiner Ed Good denies the application to build a second sewer.|
|7/92||Water District #10 appeals decision to Whatcom County Council.|
|7/92||Whatcom County Council upholds hearing examiner decision.|
|9/92||Water District #10 appeals decision to Washington State Shoreline Hearings Board|
|9/92||Water District #10 declares another moratorium on new sewer hookups.|
|10/93||Shorelines Hearings Board upholds hearing examiner decision.|
|12/93||Water District #10 appeals decision to Whatcom County Superior Court.|
|9/94||Superior Court Judge David Nichols overturns hearing examiner decision|
|1995||Sherilyn Wells, Jay Taber, and the Whatcom Falls Neighborhood Association appeal the decision to the Washington State Court of Appeals.|
|1/96||Court of Appeals overturns Nichols. decision.|
|1996||Water District #10 appeals decision to Washington State Supreme Court.|
|6/96||Supreme Court refuses to hear matter. The hearing examiner decision not allowing the construction of the second sewer line is upheld.|
|5/98||Whatcom County Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink issues a conditional-use permit for a 700,00 sewage-detention tank in Sudden Valley.|
|3/98||Watershed Defense Fund files suit in federal court alleging sewage overflow into the lake is a violation of the Clean Water Act.|
|11/98||Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink approves the construction of a second sewer line along Lake Louise Road.|
|12/98||Watershed Defense Fund appeals hearing examiner decision to Whatcom County Council.|
|11/99||Water District #10 and Watershed Defense Fund reach a settlement in the federal lawsuit filed in March of last year.|
|12/99||Skagit County Superior Court Judge Susan Cook overturns the hearing examiner decision to allow a sewer line along Lake Louise Road.|
Editor's Note: In the January issue, Whatcom Watch asked the city to respond to the Tim Paxton article on the Lake Whatcom Drinking Water Initiative (Proposition One). These are Mr. Watts' own comments, not an official response by the city.
The growing concerns about Lake Whatcom which are now being addressed result from years of incremental misuse, ignorance of the cumulative effects of these misuses, and the inertia of short-term thinking in the surrounding watershed. To arrest our habit of careless practices and to institutionalize a long-term preservation program for this resource will require building and maintaining broad public awareness of the factual situation, and a commitment to change our collective habits and practices in a common sense, but comprehensive way.
The Initiative Group (TIG) has earned considerable respect for their yeoman efforts in educating the public on this important issue, and by identifying a long-term funding source for land acquisition in the watershed. Their resulting Public Initiative, Proposition 1, narrowly missed being approved by voters, an accomplishment deserving the lasting attention of elected officials of our city and county. The message delivered by this campaign and vote will likely help achieve many of its goals over time.
However, I am concerned that this hard-earned respect, which should be celebrated as a positive accomplishment, is instead being degraded by bitter attempts to externalize the "blame" for its failure. This is unfortunate, since this seems to demonstrate residual anger, impatience, and distrust of others equally concerned with protection of our drinking water source.
Any of these negative traits could qualify as fatal flaws in such efforts, squandering the valuable motivation and momentum gained. Besides, there is enough "blame" to go around, and we all share in it to the extent these problems and their solutions have not been adequately addressed. While a certain amount of introspection is helpful to understand the lessons learned, over-indulgence can turn attitudes negative, to the detriment of the very goals we are trying to achieve.
I believe the allegations of conspiracy by the city against the goals of this initiative are false and misleading, and they do great disservice to our public servants and citizens alike. If real evidence of illegality exists, then it should be presented through legal channels, not through innuendo in the press.
These allegations certainly do not square with the priorities expressed during and subsequent to the City Council's 1999 annual retreat, where the protection of the Lake Whatcom drinking water supply was the unanimous, number one priority.
Members of the City Council tried hard to refrain from any perceived abuse or misuse of the initiative process, to the point we felt hamstrung from even speaking about it except when answering direct questions. After certification, we did offer The Initiative Group a public invitation (which was accepted) to develop a ballot alternate (not a substitute) but this attempt failed, despite concentrated efforts by The Initiative Group supporters and Council members.
The City Council's decision to seek a declaratory judgment on the validity of Proposition 1 seemed necessary, with only the timing in question. We opted to request it before the vote because we felt citizens would prefer to know our intentions prior to voting. Either way, criticism was expected in what proved to be a bad year for local government, with I-695, the Olympic Pipe Line disaster, and several other contentious issues appearing in close succession.
The real irony here is that no public vote would have been required had The Initiative Group and the City Council been able to collaboratively develop workable goals, which could have been approved as an ordinance, with the understanding that public process would determine the details. That option remains a possibility, notwithstanding the impacts of I-695.
Despite the missed opportunities experienced in this process, I hope that The Initiative Group and other concerned groups and individuals will continue to help us push for progress toward a more comprehensive program for the Lake Whatcom Reservoir. A big advantage we have this year is an increased public awareness of the need to preserve our drinking water source, and this has been largely due to The Initiative Group's efforts. Let's not lose sight of our primary goal of sustaining our precious resource through positive changes resulting from this public awareness. I believe this cause is too important to allow petty differences to distract us. Let's get on with moving steadily forward to attain some lasting solutions . together!
The recommendations from the Lake Whatcom pilot project have just been released to the public. This forward thinking document explores the possibilities of generating revenue in the Lake Whatcom watershed, while preserving our drinking water and public safety.
Last year, Senators Harriet Spanel and Georgia Gardner introduced Senate Bill 5536 during the 1999 legislative session. SB-5536 was revised into a Second Substitute Bill which brought forth The Lake Whatcom pilot project. The objective of this pilot was to examine issues affecting water quality, in relation to timber practices, on state trust lands in our watershed. The second amended version of SB-5536 was voted upon unanimously by both the House and Senate.
This legislation asked the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to establish a Lake Whatcom Watershed Advisory Committee. The committee was asked to formulate and forward written recommendations to the DNR. The DNR would then give a written response to the committee. Both documents were to be forwarded to our legislature for the January 2000 session.
Along with this pilot project study came a moratorium on clear-cutting the public lands in our watershed until June 2000.
Senators Harriet Spanel and Georgia Gardner created SB-5536 after a year of public rebuttal against the Austin Creek timber sale. The citizens of this community and our state and local representatives came together to support Jamie Berg and me in our attempt to bring public awareness to this timber sale. Here's a brief history to bring you up to date on this issue.
In March of 1998, my neighbor Jamie and I heard a loud explosion on Lookout Mountain. Our homes are at the base of this mountain in Sudden Valley. We immediately called Sudden Valley security and we learned that the Department of Natural Resources was using explosives in preparation for a timber sale near Austin Creek.
Jamie and I panicked and made phone calls to our local offices and watershed committees. No one knew anything about this particular timber sale. We couldn't believe that with the current controversy over the health of Lake Whatcom, no one was aware of proposed clear-cutting near one of our main tributaries. We set up a meeting with representatives from the Department of Natural Resources to find out exactly what their plans were.
The DNR shared information with us about the proposed sites for heavy road construction and timber harvesting near Austin Creek. Certain areas of the access road on Lookout Mountain, predominantly close to our main tributary, aren't wide enough for logging trucks. The DNR planned to dynamite away seven to ten feet of extremely steep slopes that cross over and run adjacent to Austin Creek. Then, because the geography of this land has been identified as a high hazard landslide area, they were going to remove all vegetation from these forested slopes. Their reason? To minimize the already inherent potential for landslides. No, I'm not kidding.
Jamie and I are just ordinary working moms who, at that time, knew absolutely nothing about forestry, geology, hydrology, or any other science. But, when we listened to the DNR's proposed harvest plans, we were absolutely shocked beyond belief. Common sense alone, told us this was not a good idea. We came to the conclusion this was a very questionable thing to do in a drinking water system. It was then we both decided that this was not going to go unnoticed.
For the next few months we researched forest practice rules and asked a million questions to anyone with expertise who would listen. We studied the geological aspects of the area and convinced many technical experts to come and see what we were alarmed about. Everybody informed us there would be a definite increase in the potential risk of landslides. We were told over and over again that this could possibly trigger another disaster like the 1983 flood in Lake Whatcom.
Jamie and I left our names and phone numbers, along with an informational flyer in the form of a petition, on a counter at our local market. It requested that the public be involved in DNR decision-making with timber harvest plans in our watershed. Much to our surprise, we were inundated with phone calls from citizens who were curious and wanted to help. Many people witnessed the floods of 1983 and they wanted to get involved. Within a few months, we had gathered more than 3000 signatures.
In spring of 1998, the Department of Natural Resources held a forestry walk with many citizens, Sudden Valley representatives, and people from the Lake Whatcom Forestry Forum. By that time our petition was gaining momentum and we were sending copies to our State Senators and Representatives.
A second forestry walk took place in July of 1998. At the request of their constituents, Senator Harriet Spanel, Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen, State Representatives Jeff Morris and Dave Quall, and Bellingham City Council members Leslie Richardson, and Louise Bjornson walked the proposed Austin Creek timber sale. Afterwards, our elected officials agreed with their constituents that this particular sale raised many red flags with regards to water quality and public safety.
Three months later, Whatcom County Executive Kremen called a town meeting with Public Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher to discuss the Austin Creek sale. When Jamie and I arrived at that meeting, people we didn't even know, began showering us with gratitude and handing us stacks of signed petition copies they had gathered. We were both overwhelmed by their genuine sincerity. That evening turned out to be the largest town meeting ever held in the County Council Chambers. It was the turning point for the Austin creek timber sale.
The number of people present at that town meeting was just one of the many reasons Senator Harriet Spanel introduced SB-5536 back in January of 1999. Our watershed has a long history of landslides and extreme flooding. One of the most severe happened in January of 1983. Austin, Smith, and Olsen creeks exploded into raging debris torrents during a winter "rain on snow" event. Heavy snowfall followed by a southerly warming trend sent sixty-five acres of timber debris and eight million gallons of water into Lake Whatcom. Homes, cars, and even people were swept into the lake. The Department of Natural Resources settled out of court for nearly a million dollars in lawsuits, as past forest practices were blamed for triggering this flooding.
It is common knowledge that past forest practices such as logging in sensitive areas, and poorly constructed roads have contributed to the degradation of water quality in many water bodies in Washington State. It is also common knowledge that the steep slopes in our watershed are highly unstable.
According to the document, "Our Changing Nature," written in 1998 by Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher and the Department of Natural Resources, "Washington is considered among the poorest of our nation's states in key water quality indicators, including having the third highest number of water systems violating the Safe Drinking Water Act. About half the state's area now has insufficient water to support all the needs of people, plants, and animals."
In September of 1999, the Department of Natural Resources established the Lake Whatcom Advisory Committee, as requested by the SSB-5536 legislation. The Lake Whatcom pilot project was under way. This committee consisted of representatives from the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, Whatcom County Water District #10, the Department of Ecology, the Department of Health, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and three general citizen members. Dr. Robin Matthews, Alan Soicher, and myself were the appointed citizen members.
I'll have to say I was very impressed with all the people on the committee. Everyone respected each other's viewpoint and worked collectively to produce consensus-based recommendations. We listened to over 50 hours of presentations from various technical experts. The committee covered many topics, including forest practice rules, current fish stock declines in our lake, and we learned about other forested watersheds in our state that are being protected and restored. We were presented with a variety of current science and I learned a great deal in a very short time.
The committee paid particular attention to the trust mandate responsibilities and to the implementation of a formal harvest plan, as was promised by the Department of Natural Resources nearly eight years ago. We also focused on the use of alternative schemes for generating revenue. We came to the conclusion that the DNR should be aggressive in finding ways to diversify the way revenue is generated from the trust lands in our watershed.
We looked at the legacy of past forest practices, and at Lake Whatcom's history of landslides. We also studied recent publications from the Department of Ecology that recommend buffers on all streams. One of our most important recommendations is to protect these streams to insure a completely healthy stream network in our watershed. There is no doubt that the streams in our watershed are in trouble. Many are currently being looked at for listing on a federal list of polluted waters known as the 303(d) list. Our native cutthroat trout population is down to a measly two percent and as of November 1, 1999, you can no longer fish for cutthroat trout in Lake Whatcom.
I felt our second most important recommendation was to forbid new road construction across extremely unstable slopes without consensus of an inter-jurisdictional committee. I feel very strongly that people other than those dependent on monetary gain should be involved in high-risk decisions like the Austin Creek sale.
We all agreed that a lower acceptable level of risk should be applied to logging practices in municipal drinking water supplies. The vast majority of our recommendations merely strengthened the current forest practice rules and the current habitat conservation plan. I feel our recommendations were extremely reasonable and, basically, just common sense.
The advisory committee was asked to "identify ways for compensating the trust if DNR was to alter its management actions to produce water quality standards that exceed those required in RCW Chapter 90."48. The committee did not recommend the DNR exceed those standards.
As we move into a new century, it only seems appropriate that we look for better ways to preserve Lake Whatcom and our state forest industry for the benefit of future generations. We need to encourage the evolution of new forestry standards in our municipal water supply.
With steadfast support from the local community, we can convince our legislatures that we are interested, open minded, and more than willing to work together with the Department of Natural Resources in its attempts to protect commercial forestry, our public water supply, and the safety of the public. I believe we can have it all.
Currently, Senator Harriet Spanel is preparing legislation from our recommendations. For a copy of these recommendations, and for more information or questions, you can call me at (360) 734-9940.
State Representative Doug Erickson, and Kelli Linville are standing in support of our recommendations and they have to hear from their constituents to be effective!
All that's necessary to show your support is a phone call, written letter, or an e-mail.
City Officials have once again shown their disrespect for democratic process by suggesting they will challenge the Water Use Referendum 2000. This echoes their treatment of the recent Watershed Initiative. The court wisely refused to interrupt an electoral process to rule on their assault on the initiative.
However, the city's unwillingness to face up to the difficulties of democracy requires that they mount exactly the same challenge against the referendum . on exactly the same grounds. They may get points for persistence, if not creativity or realism.
Their attack on both citizen efforts hinges around a belief that citizens cannot set utility rates. For both citizen efforts, the specific rates play a minor role. The Watershed Initiative sought to establish a different set of management priorities for the watershed. The Water Use Referendum 2000 challenges not a specific rate, per se, but a model of utility provision that encourages waste and consumption and supports the largest single industrial polluter in Whatcom County. Efforts to challenge basic assumptions face a catch-22. Failing to discuss revenues earns dismissal as unrealistic, while discussing revenue attracts legal challenge.
The city cannot hide bad legislation behind a rate. Voters in Bellingham are ready to step up to the idea that water resource management policies should encourage conservation and clean industry. Cheap abundant water provides polluters no incentive to look toward more efficient equipment. Yet better equipment would produce less pollution and use less water. Bellingham would get cleaner air and a cleaner bay. Salmon in the Nooksack would get more water, and less silt would be clogging up south Lake Whatcom. We are literally being left behind as our region's economy flowers. A cleaner environment is a growing priority for individuals and business.
Imagine if the city decided our household garbage must be set out on collection night within our private automobiles to protect it from vermin and the elements. Would the collection rate protect the ordinance from public review? Imagine the city re-enacted utility rates but included a provision to add fluoride . or Prozac, or Exlax . to the water. Would the water rate protect the ordinance from rejection by referendum? The argument is absurd.
It is an insulting and humiliating indignity upon judicial independence that the city should continually attempt to shift the blame for bad legislation upon good judges who also must rely on voters for their re-election. It is a shameless attempt to dodge the bullet of the city's own incompetence.
It is time for city officials to figure out how to re-examine their primary assumptions. It is time for them to figure out just what is meant by democracy. Otherwise, it remains time for citizens to continue to exercise it.
In February 1996 a "pineapple express" storm shot out of the tropical Pacific directly at the Pacific Northwest, hosing down Cascades snowpack with warm water. Rapid melt rumbled downwards, overwhelming streams and rivers. Within days, rivers over much of Oregon and Southwest Washington were beyond flood stage. The Columbia rode near the top of its immense levees. Just beyond the embankment and now below river level was Portland International Airport. Concern about a levee break was so great that incoming jetliners turned back and Oregon National Guard F-16s thundered off to higher ground. Meanwhile, landslides in the Oregon Cascades muddied water supplies to Portland and Salem. Slides also severed major routes including Interstate 5 and 84.
That was only a warm-up for the deadly '96-97 winter storm season. From October on, heavy rains drenched the Northwest. Some areas were hit by record floods. Overall, the Northwest sustained around $3 billion in damages.40 The severe storms, flooding and slides seen over the past few years, still the exception, stand to become more the rule under global warming. Commenting on the '96-97 storms, National Climatic Data Center Chief Scientist Thomas Karl said they were "an example of the type of weather patterns that would be expected to become more frequent and yield an increase in precipitation extremes as the climate continues to warm."41 Rivers west of the Cascades that are driven primarily by rainfall are likely to flood more often. Rivers east of the Cascades now not known for flooding could become a threat. Notes University of Washington hydrology expert Dennis Lettenmaier, "The possibility of substantial increases in flood flows may, given present reservoir storage, represent serious risk to life and property, particularly in the densely populated lower Columbia River flood plain."42
By increasing evaporation from the oceans, global warming is creating a steamier atmosphere more prone to intense rainstorms. Dr. Gerhard Berz, head of the Geoscience Research Group at Munich Reinsurance, the world's largest reinsurance company, says, "There is no longer any doubt to us that a warming of the atmosphere and the oceans is causing an increased likelihood of storms, tidal waves, hailstorms, floods and other extreme events."43
The National Climatic Data Center has already documented a 10-percent increase in precipitation and a 20-percent increase in extreme precipitation events over the U.S. This century.44 The study shows rainfall increasing over 20 percent since 1900 at a number of Oregon Cascades and Western Washington weather stations.45 "I would say the climate is responding to greenhouse gases," Karl told The New York Times. Because of our unstable landscape, an increase in extreme rainfalls represents a special concern for Northwesterners. The Northwest, particularly Western Oregon and Western Washington, is one the most slide-prone reaches of the U.S. And it is precisely during or shortly after drenching storms when landslides are most likely to occur.46 "The big driver for slides is intense rainfall," notes University of Washington slide expert David Montgomery. "If we get a storm where we have more than 2 to 3 inches of rain in a day, we'll start to see some sliding."47
The incredible rains of winter '96-97 caused mudslides which buried families near Roseburg, Ore. and on Bainbridge Island, Wash. Slides demolished dozens of homes from Stafford, Calif. to Myrtle Creek, Ore. to the Magnolia Bluffs of Seattle overlooking Puget Sound. In some cases, clearcuts turned hillsides into loaded guns. In others, people built in the geological line of fire. But it was heavy storms that pulled the trigger.
Slides returned in winter '98-99, when many Northwest precipitation records were broken. From the Oregon Coast to Hood Canal, mudflows blocked major highways. Slide danger forced evacuation of around 20 homes on the Puget Sound north of Olympia.
This all underscores that much of the Northwest landscape is a geological newborn, a product of events that took place around 14,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. The Columbia Gorge we know today was carved then by massive flooding that also shaped Eastern Washington and the Willamette Valley. Mile-high glaciers which dug the Puget Sound left behind mounds of deposits in the form of hills and bluffs. One-third of Puget sound coastline, 660 miles, is lined by bluffs subject to retreat.48 It's the nature of nature to eventually wear things down, and natural forces have only begun working on the Northwest's fresh landscape.
The Magnolia Bluffs are a case study in instability. Walking among the broken homes still hanging to the slopes requires care. Slide-opened gashes in the ground expose a sandy mush that instantly sucks boots down to the lip. It seems as if the whole hillside is a thinly concealed pudding. It isn't hard to imagine why the mile of bluff-hugging Perkins Lane leading up to the barricaded Magnolia disaster site was festooned with seven "For Sale" signs one January day two years after the slides.
Meanwhile, a Kelso, Wash. subdivision built on a slide reawakened by recent deluges is slowly going down, creating the largest single destruction of homes by landslide in U.S. history, 98 already gone and 37 more threatened. A half-mile away another reborn slide threatens similar devastation. Portland's West Hills have also experiencing regular landsliding during recent heavy rainstorms. Slides are endemic to the Northwest's mushy landscape. Humans who have dared to thickly populate it are vulnerable to the consequences.
In many ways, what we see as placid everyday landforms are really a record of past catastrophes in temporary freeze-frame. The landscape does the greater part of its changing during extreme events such as storms. If heavy rainfalls become more commonplace, our particularly vulnerable region will face regular recurrences of destructive slides that muddy waters, cut off highways, shatter homes and kill people.
In one sense, the Pacific Northwest goes through climate changes all the time, years and decades when the climate oscillates between wet and dry periods. Two climate variations have a major influence on the region: El Niño, which is supposed to come every few years, and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which tends to shift every 20-30 years or so.
Climate scientists look on these variations as dress rehearsals for human-caused climate change in the Northwest. For example, when El Niño rises in the central Pacific, the region experiences warmer than normal winters and springs. University of Washington climate scientist Dennis Lettenmaier says 21st century Northwest climate scenarios "essentially look like perpetual El Niños."14
The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, PDO, centers in the north Pacific. During its cool phase, PDO is associated with wetter, cooler Northwest weather. In the warm phase the Northwest becomes warmer and drier. Streamflows are reduced on the order of 15-20 percent.15 A PDO warm phase, while distinct from El Niño, very much resembles its shorter -lived companion.
"Looking at the past, we find that persistent but small changes in temperature and precipitation associated with PDO have had dramatic changes on the incidence of droughts, floods, forest fires, and so on," notes Philip Mote of the JISAO Climate Impacts Group.16
If El Niño and PDO were influenced by global warming, it would have profound implications for the Northwest. El Niño and PDO warmings could possibly launch from a higher platform, making for even greater extremes. Both El Niño and PDO warm spells set up the Northwest for droughts. Several times this century they have overlapped. The double whammy has generated the most serious droughts seen in the region over the past three centuries.17
El Niños tend to correlate with dry winters to the Northwest. During only four of 22 El Niños have winters produced more than normal rainfall in the region.18 While regional climate scenarios generally project wetter winters, their least certain element is precipitation. If global warming brings more frequent El Niños and tips the winter balance to warm-dry, it would greatly add to the severity of summer water shortages already projected by scenarios.
El Niño is a release valve through which the Pacific periodically discharges heat buildups, and the past several decades of record atmospheric warming have also seen an unusual spate of El Niños. Those include the two strongest, in 1997-98 and 1982-83, and the longest, from 1990-95. Though El Niños are typically followed by La Niñas, the cool phase of the cycle, in recent decades El Niño has come far more often.
Global warming may well be pumping up El Niño by heating the sea surface. While this conclusion remains controversial among scientists, some leading researchers are making strong statements. El Niño research pioneer Kevin Trenberth, a climate analyst at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, has spent over two decades building statistical models of El Niño. His models indicate that odds are only one in 2,000 that purely natural causes are behind the recent surge of El Niños.19
"The main thing we can point to is global warming," Trenberth says. "I think El Niños are being changed by global warming."20
A computer climate modeling study done by the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton adds weight to that conclusion. Scientists determined that recent warming in the tropical Pacific is unlikely to be purely a product of natural variations. "Instead, it is likely that a sustained thermal forcing, such as the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has been at least partly responsible for the observed warming," they said.21
Another new computer modeling study by researcher Mojib Latif of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology projects that El Niño-like conditions will become essentially permanent by 2050 if the buildup of greenhouse gases is not arrested.22
As for any connection between global warming and the PDO, Nathan Mantua, a leading PDO researcher, says it remains unclear. "I think that if the tropical temperatures warm up in an El Niño-like way, it would tend to favor the warm phase of the PDO." Heat would be transmitted through "the atmospheric bridge between the tropics and higher latitudes."23
The PDO has been in its warm state since the late 1970s. Scientists speculate that it may be entering a cool, wet phase. That might mask drying more frequent El Niños might bring to the Northwest. However, a future PDO dry phase perhaps beginning around 2020-30 would come to a far warmer world, potentially magnifying its impact on the Northwest.
For the Northwest, says JISAO's Climate Impacts Group, "How climate change might affect the frequency or intensity of these climatic oscillations remains an open, albeit critical, question."24
Joe Kurmaskie's "Metal Cowboy" is a creatively humorous yet honest epithet of his travels across the world on two wheels. It is brilliantly entertaining yet laced with a genuine assessment of human generosity and kindness. He fuses his wayward, eclectic journeys with a personal philosophy of freedom and trust.
Joe's love of adventure cycling started at the ripe old age of five, when he stole his sister's powder blue, pink polka-dot banana seat, pompom streamer, ape hanger-handle bar bicycle. Barely able to balance, he mastered this physical contraption in a matter of hours.
It was during this wise, saged age of childhood that he discovered his life-long quest for FREEDOM. And now as a thirty-something adult he affirms that it is the bicycle that has fueled his sense of innocence and joy in the possibilities of life. This adventurous cycling spirit has been the antidote for the cynicism and complacency that all too easily settle in as one ages.
Each of the 40 chapters invite the reader to vicariously follow his enthusiastic spirit around North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Joe manages to infuse his philosophical message with a creative humor and a somewhat chaotic spontaneity. Even the name of the book, "Metal Cowboy" is testament to the amazing synchronicity and affirmation of human wonderment.
"It was 5:30 a.m. in Pocatello, Idaho, a thin sheet of icy rain masked sunrise and I wasn't quite sure I was up for my latest bicycling adventure. Coasting through the nearly deserted streets of this small Western town, I found myself poised at a stoplight. As I waited, an old rancher with a fur collared long coat, tattered and crusted with tobacco stains crossed the street. As his cane tapped its way over my bike, I noticed that he was blind. One eye drooped shut like that of a tomcat that had seen too many late-night brawls, while the other, still open, was cloudy and distant. The old rancher continued to work his cane over me, tapping me as he went. And though the light changed several times, I remained frozen allowing this slow survey of my person. When he was done, the old rancher stood back, grinned through a ruin of teeth and said, . Ah, metal cowboy.' Joe was stunned by the appropriateness of this wrinkled, warped veteran's description . his bicycle was like a horse and the asphalt his trail. . Keep the wind at your back, and find where the innocent sleep,' he added. Then without fanfare my rancher crossed the street and dissolved into the early morning mist never to be seen again."
Herein lies his message. to believe and look for the best in people along the road, and that's what you will often find. "Metal Cowboy" is light-hearted, inspiring, and great motivation for venturing the road less pedaled!
The Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board reversed an earlier decision by the Washington State Department of Ecology to approve the Battle Mountain Gold Company's proposed large scale cyanide leach gold mine. The Department of Ecology had approved permits to allow the mine to use and pollute large amounts of water. The water rights and water quality permits were appealed by the Okanogan Highlands Alliance and the Washington Environmental Council.
"This is a great victory for the people and the environment of Washington State," said Dave Mann, President of the Washington Environmental Council. "Our position has been that the Department of Ecology was wrong in approving these permits to use and pollute water and today's unanimous decision proves that we were right."
Long-time leader of the opposition to the mine, Dave Kliegman of the Okanogan Highlands Alliance said, "It defied common sense to allow a multinational mining company to pollute our clean water while denying that same water to local farmers, ranchers and families." Kliegman continued, "It was pure wishful thinking that this plan could pass the legal tests for protection of the environment and senior water rights. It's amazing the Department of Ecology went for it."
Rachael Paschal, one of the attorneys working on the water rights appeal said, "This decision continues to advance Washington's laws that protect our rivers from encroachment by water rights. The public's right to clean, free-flowing streams is far more important than any fly-by-night gold mine."
The following is just one paragraph from the ruling to show how strongly the board felt in their decision:
"59. The only real assurance we have is the proposed bonding that the state may rely on to enforce environment laws in the future. This approach is tantamount to entering a busy interstate highway on an exit ramp against the traffic. The availability of insurance in that circumstance is no more comforting than the proposed bonding here. The focus of our environmental laws must be on preventing pollution and habitat degradation. It is not legally sufficient to proceed with the proposed mine without much more specific knowledge of the potential impacts from the development and meaningful means of preventing and protecting against the adverse consequences of the development. The long-term engineered solutions proposed in this case are legally insufficient."
The full ruling of the Pollution Control Hearing Board can be found on the web at www.eho.wa.gov.
The Battle Mountain Gold Company wanted to blast a 900 foot deep pit into Buckhorn Mountain that would fill with polluted water. This mine was predicted to violate state water quality standards. The water rights permits were also challenged by the Center for Environmental Policy and the Colville Tribes.For More Information: