Whatcom Watch Online
August 2000
Volume 9, Issue 8

Cover Story

Bellingham City Council Finally Moves to Protect Our Drinking Water Supply

by Marian Beddill

Marian Beddill is a retired civil engineer and consultant on land and water development and has lived in Bellingham since 1991. She has been active in water issues most of this time, and was one of the proponents of last year’s proposition one, the “Drinking Water Initiative.”

At the Bellingham City Council meeting on July 31, the council voted (the first and second reading) a preliminary “yes” on the Land Acquisition Ordinance to implement a preventive protection program for the Lake Whatcom Watershed.

Lake Whatcom is the drinking water for over 66,000 residents in the Bellingham area. The council also moved to ask staff to review and consider language details, and to hold a public hearing on the subject before taking final action.

Bellingham City Attorney Joan Hoisington explained that a public meeting is an ordinary option, but is not required. Therefore, the council is not subject to a requirement for statutory lead-time and formal official notice regarding the meeting.

Details of the July 31 decision and the upcoming meeting are available on the city’s web site: www.cob.org.

Citizens Should Offer Support or Suggest Changes

The public is encouraged to review the proposed ordinance and offer either support or suggested changes, in writing, via email, over the telephone, or at the meeting. The Land Acquisition Ordinance will not be final until the Bellingham City Council takes a second vote on the “third-and-final” reading at the public meeting mid-August.

In the history of our watershed, this should be the memorable meeting to attend. Perhaps it will be a turning point in the steady degradation of our drinking water source.

This recent step towards protecting Lake Whatcom Reservoir follows up on the joint resolution signed by Bellingham City Council, Whatcom County Council, and Water District #10 in 1992.

The land acquisition ordinance is a strong statement of concurrence with and action on the prevention-first policy adopted in that long-standing 1992 Lake Whatcom Reservoir protection program.

It is the program sought by The Initiative Group in the Initiative to the People which was on the 1999 general election ballot, and which gained 8,232 yes votes, yet failed to pass by 236 votes.

Evolution of the Land Acquisition Resolution

It is the resolution first brought forward at the July 17 city council committee meeting under the studied recommendation of the council’s watershed committee, which includes John Watts (chair), Barbara Ryan, and Terry Bornemann.

That resolution was to be sent to the ballot in November. This was titled agenda bill 14468 and defined a surcharge on the water and sewer bills to raise $2 million per year. It would revise Section 15.08.250D of the Bellingham Municipal Code, where water bill amounts are set. Single-family homes would be charged $5.00 per month—and other categories would increase in proportion.

The text for this original resolution was taken from the agenda for the City Council meeting on July 17th, 2000 (see left sidebar ). This July 17th proposal to send the issue to the ballot was not chosen. Technically, that ballot measure resolution was tabled—a procedure that can allow it to be brought back for consideration if the Land Acquisition Ordinance does not go forward on “third-and-final” reading.

However, it was recognized that the calendar is exceedingly tight to be able to reconsider the earlier proposal in time to send it to the auditor’s elections office for inclusion on the November ballot.

Instead, a majority of council members reached a tentative consensus to use their authority to propose the land acquisition ordinance without the ballot measure. The July 31 preliminary ordinance proposal passed by a margin of 5-2. Louise Bjornson, John Watts, Leslie Richardson, Terry Bornemann, and Barbara Ryan voted in favor, Bob Ryan and Gene Knutson opposed.

What is the Citizens’ Advisory Task Force?

The advisory group referred to in the ordinance text is called the Citizens’ Advisory Task Force. It was appointed by three local executive officials: the mayor of Bellingham , the Whatcom County Executive, and Water District #10 manager.

The Citizens’ Advisory Task Force meets on an irregular schedule, and has been setting the groundwork for writing recommendations that could be enacted into policy or law for a land acquisition program by the three jurisdictions (city, county, and Water District #10).

Diligently, the Citizens Advisory Task Force mulls over criteria recommendations which may soon have utilization. Let me be circumspect, since I sit on that Task Force. I am confident now that it (we) will bring forward a comfortable set of recommendations, addressing what is important for public health in rationally protecting our water source from serious threats to serious contamination — but probably on lands which are not now developed.

Already built-out urbanized areas are expensive, so the best bang for the buck will be vacant tracts. I cannot be more specific on decision-making characteristics, respecting the on-going process of determining what we’ll say. We expect the recommendations to be done by October.

But the Bulldozing and Building Still Continues Unabated

And in the meantime, the bulldozing and building in the watershed continues unabated, increasing even more the likelihood and extent of future harm, and the cost of future remediation. If passed, the Land Acquisition Ordinance will slow the damage, but will it be too little, too late? We hope not.

However, be prepared to explain this to your grandchildren when their time comes to pay the tax-bill on Band-Aid repairs of an abused water source. Don’t believe me? Watch the 2001 city and county budget season for the Stormwater Remediation program costs.

Join me in examining which parts of next years’ program are required because historical rules and preventive measures didn’t protect the water quality. Certainly, there is no time to waste regarding the preservation of our drinking water.

It Only Takes Four City Council Votes To Make Changes

The late Arne Hanna, a respected city council member, always reminded us that it only took four votes out of seven to make changes. If you are one of the 8,232 city voters who punched yes on Proposition One in November 1999, you might call your seven city council members and express your opinion on funding a land acquisition program for our drinking-water watershed. It’s the right thing to do even if you didn’t vote.

There are lots more details which I don’t want to delve into in this article, but will make available through other means, such as the Internet. The Initiative Group website “http://LakeWhatcom. org” concentrates on the Lake Whatcom Reservoir watershed, and an email discussion list-serve which anyone may join is explained there. Visit our site and join in.

Lake Whatcom Watershed Land Acquisition Ordinance

An ordinance amending Bellingham Municipal Code section 15.08.250d relating to water use rates and increasing the rate up to $5.00 per month for unmetered single-family users and a proportionate amount for metered users to fund land acquisition in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

WHEREAS, the protection of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, the drinking water source for the City of Bellingham and others, is of the utmost public health importance to the citizens of Bellingham and others who obtain water from the lake; and

WHEREAS, the City, County, and Water District 10 Joint Resolution No. 92-68, signed in 1992, recognized the importance of protecting Lake Whatcom and its watershed as a reservoir and the major drinking water source for the County; and

WHEREAS, the City’s Comprehensive Plan requires that before-the-fact prevention take precedence over after-the-fact mitigation or treatment; and

WHEREAS, a Citizens’ Task Force of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program is currently developing criteria to prioritize land for protection, determining options for preserving and enhancing high priority lands, and mechanisms for integrating these options with identified priority areas; and

WHEREAS, recognizing that a truly comprehensive program of education, land use regulation and enforcement, monitoring, and review as well as land acquisition is essential to preserving water quality in the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, and the City Council will continue its active support and encouragement of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program with Whatcom County and Water District #10; and

WHEREAS, an increase in the water use rate is an appropriate funding source for the acquisition of land within the Lake Whatcom Watershed.

Lake Whatcom Citizen Advisory Task Force

The task force has been setting the groundwork for writing recommendations that could be enacted into policy or law for a land acquisition program by the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and Water District #10.

David Hunter, attorney (Chair) Marian Beddill, citizen Jamie Berg, citizen Bob Diehl, auto business owner Tom Fields, fire district Paul Isaacson, timberland owner/logger Mark Lambert, Building Industry Assn. Elaine Lynch, citizen Linda Marrom, citizen Elaine McRory, citizen Bill Montgomery, St. Joseph Hospital Gordon Scott, Whatcom Land Trust Scott Walker (no information available) David Wallin, professor, forest biology Richard Walsh, WTA

Cover Story

Georgia-Pacific’s Wastewater Woes

by Everett James

Everett James is a one-year resident of Bellingham and a lifetime resident of North Puget Sound. He is presently enrolled at Western Washington University and is pursuing a career as an environmental interpreter or naturalist.

On April 12 a small public notice appeared in the back of The Bellingham Herald classifieds. The notice was from the Washington State Department of Ecology, and its purpose was to inform the public of a recently completed draft wastewater discharge permit for Georgia-Pacific West Inc.

The notice explained where to obtain copies of the permit (30 pages), its accompanying fact sheet (27 pages), and stated that the Washington State Department of Ecology would be accepting public comment on the issue for the following 30 days. If public interest was sufficient, the comment period would be extended and a public meeting scheduled.

Public interest was more than sufficient—the comment period was extended for a month and a meeting was scheduled. My interest was piqued. Could this new and revised discharge permit effectively reduce the flow of toxic filth from Bellingham’s premiere waterfront industry into the bay?

If steps were taken to clean up the effluent, could that mean cleaner air emissions as well? Now that our government environmental agencies had a chance to combat environmental degradation, just how far would they or could they go?

Department of Ecology Draft Wastewater Permit

The Department of Ecology fact sheet and draft wastewater permit are highly educational. The purpose of discharge permits is to ensure that industries adhere to the stipulations of the Federal Clean Water Act. The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) is a federal permitting program designed to achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act, and our State Department of Ecology is delegated to administer the program and divvy out the permits.

A key thing to remember here is that the Department of Ecology is a state agency. Ultimately, federal law takes precedence over state law. The Clean Water Act is federal law, and the Environmental Protection Agency is the federal environmental agency, so the Department of Ecology must defer to both of them when drafting permits.

Georgia-Pacific Permit Five Years Late

The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits are supposed to be renewed every five years. The Department of Ecology issued Georgia-Pacific’s last wastewater discharge permit on May 15, 1991, and it expired in May of 1996. Georgia-Pacific submitted a timely renewal application to the Department of Ecology in 1995 and it was accepted in 1996.

What’s wrong with this picture? Here we are in July 2000, and Department of Ecology is requesting comment on the 1995 permit. The simple math says that the permit is five years late—how could this be? The fault lies not with the Department of Ecology nor Georgia-Pacific, but with the cumbersome machinations of federal bureaucracy.

At some point in the 1990s, Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was working on modifying the Clean Water Act again. Yes, the Environmental Protection Agency planned to revise “existing effluent limitations guidelines and standards” for paper grade sulfite mills such as Georgia-Pacific’s.

The Department of Ecology was left hanging; if they drafted and granted a new permit and then the Environmental Protection Agency changed the laws the next day, their new permit would have been nothing but wasted time and recycle bin fodder. On April 15, 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency published its revised effluent limitations guidelines in the Federal Register [Code of Federal Regulations section 40] (see www.epa. gov/fedrgstr/epa-air/1998/april/day-15) and the Department of Ecology was free to begin drafting the new permit.

New Federal Rules on Chlorine

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new and revised effluent and air emission limitations had a profound effect on pulp mills around the country, including Georgia-Pacific.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency Summary [Code of Federal Regulations section 40], “The Environmental Protection Agency is revising the effluent limitations guidelines and standards for the…Paper Grade Sulfite sub-category primarily to reduce the discharge of toxic and non-conventional chemical compounds found in the effluents from these mills. Discharge of these pollutants into the freshwater, estuarine, and marine ecosystems may alter aquatic habits, affect aquatic life, and adversely impact human health.”

The summary goes on to state, “Discharges of chlorinated organic compounds from chlorine bleaching, particularly dioxins and furans, are human carcinogens and human system toxicants and are extremely toxic to aquatic life.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new limitations made the use of elemental chlorine as a bleaching agent out of the question. Georgia-Pacific had been using elemental chlorine for years—they ran their own chlorine plant until 1999.

Georgia-Pacific Stops Producing Chlorine

In 1999 Georgia-Pacific’s chlorine still was condemned to be dismantled and eliminated from operations. Oddly enough, the chlorine plant’s demise was not solely due to the new Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

According to Robyn duPrè, a member of RE Sources environmental organization, “there was a very good chance that Georgia-Pacific would sell its chlorine to outside buyers like sewage treatment plants, other mills, and swimming pools.” Apparently the market for chlorine was favorable, and Georgia-Pacific was willing to supply it.

A combination of circumstances combined to level the chlorine plant. Robyn du Prè and other dedicated citizens petitioned the Department of Ecology to issue a chlorine free permit. At the same time, approximately 1000 citizens mailed cards and letters to Georgia-Pacific Plant Manager Jim Cunningham and to Chief Executive Officer Austin P. Correl at Georgia-Pacific corporate headquarters in Atlanta.

Ironically, at about the same time, a shareholder consortium of seven or eight shareholders (collectively worth about $8 million in shares) wrote a resolution requesting an end to chlorine manufacture at Georgia-Pacific. Could this be an example of the value of communicating directly with industries in order to stimulate change in their policies?

DuPrè says yes—“I think we have a better chance of gaining totally chlorine free from the company itself.” But Robyn also emphasized the importance of government process in negotiating with industries.

Georgia-Pacific Lobbied for an Exemption

The new Environmental Protection Agency regulations were poised to cost Georgia-Pacific millions of dollars. Apparently, the restructuring required to convert the mill to totally chlorine free production is a considerable undertaking. The change would hardly have ruined Georgia-Pacific.

According to financial information on their web site, Georgia-Pacific group’s net profits were $716 million for 1999, up from $98 million in 1998. In the summary, Georgia-Pacific Chief Executive Officer Austin “Pete” Correll exclaims, “Georgia Pacific Group had a banner year in 1999-the best since our company’s all-time earnings record in 1995…”

A few beaming quotes later, Correll declares, “To ensure we are capitalizing on these encouraging fundamentals in 2000, we intend to diligently keep operating costs and capital expenditures under control.” Correll and his corporation did not embrace the change to totally chlorine free production, in fact they evaded it.

Georgia-Pacific lobbied the Environmental Protection Agency for an “exemption” from the new effluent and air emissions limitations and the Environmental Protection Agency conceded! Georgia-Pacific’s winning argument, presented via certain classified financial documents, was that 25 percent of their sales consist of “specialty grade, high brightness” products that cannot be produced without the use of chlorine dioxide.

The Trouble With Chlorine Dioxide

With its Environmental Protection Agency “specialty grade pulp” exemption safely secure, Georgia-Pacific will soon be installing a chlorine dioxide generator and all of the associated hardware necessary for the new process. The Department of Ecology, following federal regulations, has drafted their new wastewater discharge permit complete with concessions to the use of chlorine dioxide.

Chlorine dioxide is a different chemical than elemental chlorine. According to Conservatree, (see www.conservatree.com/chlfree.html) a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable paper sources, chlorine dioxide bleaching significantly reduces the production of toxic chlorinated organic compounds—roughly 50 percent—over the use of elemental chlorine. The Department of Ecology claims that the toxin reduction is approximately 80 percent.

Although apparently substantial, no one seems to know exactly how great the toxin reductions will be. The trouble with chlorine dioxide is that it produces most of the same toxins that elemental chlorine does.

The toxic emissions of most concern are Absorbable Organic Halides and chloroform. Absorbable Organic Halides are simply a collective measure of all the chlorinated organic compounds in the pulp mill effluent (see www.qc.edu/cbns).

The chlorine dioxide bleaching process produces Absorbable Organic Halides (including dioxins, furans, and other chlorinated compounds) that are classified as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic pollutants PBTs. See wwww.epa.gov/pbt/fact.htm.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “…PBTs are highly toxic, long-lasting substances that can build up in the food chain to levels that are harmful to human and ecosystem health. Chloroform is a toxic carcinogen that is released in effluent from elemental chlorine and chlorine dioxide plants.

In compliance with the new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, Georgia-Pacific must employ chlorine dioxide production no later than April 15, 2001.

How Dangerous Is Georgia-Pacific to Our Health?

So just how dangerous is the pollution from Georgia-Pacific? What magnitude of threat are we facing here? An onslaught of giant mutant sea creatures from Bellingham Bay is not likely in the near future and, although it would probably be premature to pack up your belongings and flee the “poison” zone, the continued introduction of PCBs from chlorine pulp production will have long-term negative effects.

To put the dioxins and furans into perspective, the new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit would allow for .27 milligrams per day maximum in the effluent.

Assuming Georgia-Pacific stays anywhere near this limit, this is really a tiny amount of these toxins. We’re talking an average of 27 percent of one thousandth of a gram daily in the effluent.

Unfortunately, dioxins and furans contaminate air emissions to a greater degree than they contaminate water. If production were totally chlorine free, these toxins would be virtually eliminated. Furthermore, dioxins and furans represent only a tiny pinch among the myriad other chlorinated toxins contaminating the millions of gallons of effluent discharged daily from Georgia-Pacific.

Ultimate Goal of Permit Program

The ultimate goal of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit program is to gradually “ratchet down” the quantity of acceptable industrial pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency’s new effluent and air emissions limitations have made substantial progress towards that goal, and the Department of Ecology has reflected these gains in their draft permit.

Are these proposed reductions enough for now, or should all chlorinated compounds be eliminated from pulp production? Although Georgia-Pacific is a more concentrated and visible source, PCB’s don’t just come from pulp mills—they have many other sources as well.

Should Georgia-Pacific set an example by changing to totally chlorine free production, thereby reducing their PCB emissions to an unprecedented minimum? What do you think? There is still time voice your opinion regarding the permit. The Department of Ecology has extended the public comment period until August 18. Why not make your voice heard? Email, write, or telegraph the Department of Ecology and let them know what you think.

Side Story

Citizens Demand A Chlorine-Free Georgia-Pacific

by Everett James

Over the past few weeks it’s been splashed all through the local papers. Bellingham coffeehouse talk is laced with it. For a couple of weeks in June the town was decorated with flyers further publicizing the issue.

The flyers were courtesy of the local citizen’s organization Friends of Whatcom County, with the goal of rallying concerned Bellingham citizens to attend a Washington State Department of Ecology meeting at the Port of Bellingham’s administration building at Squalicum Harbor.

Marathon Meeting

On Wednesday night, June 28, a panel of Department of Ecology personnel was assembled in the Port of Bellingham conference room for the purpose of informing the public about the conditions of their recently drafted Wastewater Discharge Permit for Georgia-Pacific West, Inc.

By 7p.m., when the meeting commenced, all available seats were full and the perimeter of the room was occupied by standing citizens. According to the Department of Ecology’s “Event Agenda” handout, their presentation was to run until 7:45, followed by an hour and a half of recorded public comments. The presentation ended at 9:30p.m. and the public comment period ran until 1a.m.!

Chlorine Dioxide Won’t Do

Under the draft permit, Georgia-Pacific will be switching from elemental chlorine to a chorine dioxide production process. The crowd was not impressed—they demanded that Georgia-Pacific be forced into “totally chlorine free” production.

Of the approximately 200 attendees, perhaps five or six were Georgia-Pacific employees, including plant manager Jim Cunningham. Maybe the deficiency of Georgia-Pacific personnel was due to the fact that some 600 of them had been temporarily laid off that day because their employer, refusing to pay skyrocketing electricity rates, had shut down operations—but that’s another story.

The level of issue-awareness among the attendees was impressive if broad. Awareness ranged from common-sense citizens who realized that spewing chlorine byproducts into our air and water couldn’t be good, to hard-core activists steeped in the convoluted complexities of the relationships between Georgia-Pacific, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Ecology, city government, and our local environment.

The crowd was sprinkled liberally with representatives from various environmental organizations—both local and national—including a Greenpeace boat captain.

Citizens Demand Accountability

The reason the Department of Ecology presentation lasted so long is because the four consecutive speakers were each overwhelmed by pressing questions from the crowd. The tone of the crowd was not rude, but demanding, and some of the questions could not be answered without illuminating obvious inadequacies in the Department of Ecology’s policies and procedures.

When the inevitable hedging began, citizens demanded and forced yes/no answers. The presentation at times resembled an interrogation, with concerned citizens demanding accountability and direct answers from the beleaguered Department of Ecology staff. To their credit, the four Department of Ecology speakers from Olympia remained amazingly unflustered and objective throughout the often daunting barrage of questions.

The presentation finally ground to a halt as Mark Dirkx was forced to wrap up his wearisome and technical overview of the mill’s “operations and production pollution discharges.” Dirkx, sensing unrest and apathy towards his presentation and seeing the lateness of the hour, asked if the public comment period should commence.

He was answered by an emphatic “YES”

from the crowd. Approximately 50 people signed the public comment register at the start of the meeting, and the varied personal styles and techniques of the speakers were informative, emotional, and occasionally humorously amusing.

Don’t Poison Our Air, Water, and People

The overwhelming message to the Department of Ecology was unmistakable—“stop Georgia-Pacific from poisoning our air and water; force them to operate chlorine-free.” At one point, Georgia-Pacific Plant Manager Jim Cunningham was asked if he had any comments to make for the record. Cunningham, from his position in the shadows at the edge of the room, replied, “I’m just here as an observer.”

I left before the end of the meeting, but I’ll never forget the drawn and haggard faces of the Department of Ecology staff members as they listened to citizen after citizen beg, beseech, and browbeat them to stop the chlorine poisoning of Bellingham’s water, air, and people.

Construction Blues

If You Observe Bellingham Code Violations: How to Report Them

by Russ Weston

Russ Weston is a self-employed systems analyst. Last year he was a candidate for mayor of Bellingham. He remains active in the community, attending most City Council and planning commission meetings.

Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to the article “City of Bellingham Needs Ombudsman, Not Newsletter” (Whatcom Watch, May 2000, page 10).

In April and May of this year, the Cody Avenue neighborhood between 20th and 24th streets has been traumatized by a relatively small construction project of three new homes. We have had the opportunity to learn much about citizen influence and possible remedies when codes are violated. We thank City Council member Louise Bjornson for her continued interaction; other players are city staff, Whatcom County Health and Human Services Department, Washington State Department Of Ecology, and the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County.

Who to Contact? As was noted in the May article, citizens have the responsibility to notify authorities; the question becomes which authority? The following are a few circumstances you may encounter: 1. Construction workers dumping trash or construction debris on private property. This is a private matter and you must have witnesses as well as written documentation regarding when, where, and who the dumpers are if you wish to file a civil suit. If you are not present and alert day and night, it is difficult to obtain the necessary documentation. Another less expensive option is to contact the developer personally or else contact the Building Industry Association as they are interested in development practices. Thanks to the Building Industry Association, the concrete dumped on my property was cleaned up by the developer. 2. Big heavy construction vehicles driving on or dumping construction debris in your yard. What you consider to be your yard might in reality be public right-of-way.

Right-of-Way Includes Pavement, Shoulders, Sidewalks, and Ditches Right-of-way includes pavement, shoulders, sidewalks, ditches, and many times what you maintain for a yard. Most rights-of-way are 60 feet (except alleys, which are 15 to 20 feet wide). For new construction, only 18 feet of pavement is required, leaving several feet of unpaved surface (your yard) over which you have no authority. So if big trucks drive off the pavement and leave ruts or dump construction debris in the right-of-way there is very little you can do other than report the situation to the city.


The city has various departments that refer you to other departments and, if you stick with it long enough, you’ll get back to the department you started with so they can send you around again. We need the one-stop-shop approach the mayor discussed in the October 1999 issue of the Bellingham Business Journal. If you have a chance ask the mayor about the schedule on this.

The City Council is not a department and has no administrative authority, however, council members may refer you to codes or ordinances that should be enforced. These codes may be the jurisdiction of city, county, state or federal agencies. You should not expect City Council members to be familiar with codes other than at the city level.

The most effective department is Bellingham Parks and Recreation; they will clean up anything they perceive is within their authority, which costs the taxpayer when they overstep their bounds.

In our case, the city referred me to Washington State Department of Ecology, who so far have sent notifications to contractors involved to let them know they are breaking the law. No fines have been assessed. Some ugly tire ruts have been repaired by the adjacent property owners and the damaged septic system was remedied by the innocent homeowner who happened to live near the construction site. The developer had the street in front of the new homes cleaned and the city sent a street sweeper out to clean adjoining streets.

Building Codes Ignored By Some

Construction codes, you might understand if you’ve ever considered building, are followed by some and ignored by others. The more the developer can get away with, the more profit they make which improves their chance of survival. If a code is violated and the appropriate department is made aware (by you the citizen), the infraction may be remedied, however, rarely are penalties applied.

To keep Bellingham beautiful, work with your council members (they represent you) take photographs, and keep written logs of where problems exist. The City Council is the legislative branch of local government. The legislative branch approves code, defines fine structure, and authorizes the staff to enforce it. The mayor is responsible to ensure the code is enforced and to hold staff accountable; that’s balance in government.

New Positions: Code Enforcement Officer and Hearings Examiner

Two new city positions (code enforcement officer and hearings examiner) have been created this year at a cost of nearly $200,000/year. Perhaps, now fines will be assessed and collected. There could be light at the end of the tunnel (culvert) afterall. Only time will tell.


The Hidden Cost of the Harvest: Invisible Workers

by Paul Weideman

Paul Weideman is a freelance writer residing in Bellingham.

As farm workers in Whatcom County harvest the last ripening raspberries and blueberries this month, some 20,000 seasonal workers ready for the apple harvest in central and eastern Washington. In the Tri-Cities area of Benton and Franklin counties, where half the region’s workforce is employed in agriculture, workers prepare to harvest potatoes and onions.

Our nation’s farm workers are primarily foreign-born, and increasingly undocumented, according to the most recent National Agricultural Workers’ Survey (NAWS) by the Department of Labor. Statewide, they supply the labor power for a $6 billion agricultural industry.

In this era of supposed national prosperity, many are inclined to ask how much of the bounty is shared by the nation’s 2 million farm workers.

“These hard-working Americans toil in the fields for meager earnings and few benefits,” says Cecilia Munoz of the National Council of La Raza, a nonprofit, advocacy group for Hispanics. “They sustain multi-billion dollar industries…yet they remain largely invisible to the rest of the country.”

Indeed, the National Agricultural Workers’ Survey indicates that farm workers wages have dropped 11 percent in the past decade and the average work year has declined from 26 to 24 weeks. Median yearly earnings for farm workers are below $7,500. Three of every five farm worker families live below the poverty line.

Proposed National Legislation Would Track Foreign Workers

Though farm workers and unions cite this data to demonstrate an oversupply of labor, proposed national legislation is based on the claim that there is a labor shortage.

The primary legislation, known as AgJobs (S. 1814), seeks to amend the current national H-2A program. The H-2A program is also called the “Agricultural Guest Worker Program.” Under H-2A, if agricultural employers cannot recruit U.S. workers, they may apply to the Department of Labor to bring in foreign workers. Sponsors of the AgJobs bill call the H-2A program “bureaucratic and inflexible.”

AgJobs, introduced by Bob Graham (D-FL), Gordon Smith (R-OR), and Larry Craig (R-ID), would create registries to keep track of workers. Under a notion the senators term “earned amnesty,” a worker who works 180 or more days annually in agriculture for five to seven years for the same employer could then be eligible for permanent residence.

Additionally, an alternative system for recruiting foreign workers would be established. The employment service in each state would register the workers, check their legal status, and match them with farm positions. The foreign agricultural worker would have a quasi-legal status, and would have to return to his or her home country in the off-season.

Indentured Servitude?

Farm worker advocates decry the bill as unbalanced legislation with the scales heavily tipped into the hands of the growers.

“They call their bill AgJobs,” says Rosalinda Guillen, political director of the United Farm Workers in California, “We call it ‘the indentured servitude bill.’” Guillen insists that workers, desperate to maintain their jobs and their “tickets” to legalization, will be straitjacketed by the requirements of AgJobs.

Marcos Camacho, counsel for the United Farm Workers, concurs, “The fundamental flaw in these programs is that workers are not free to change employers and offer their labor in a free labor market.”

AgJobs would end the H-2A requirement that growers provide free housing. Growers may substitute an allowance, which would be required only for the first three years.

Wage regulations are also redefined in the AgJobs proposal. While the growers must pay a prevailing wage, this wage can be determined by an employer-generated survey. According to Rural Migration News, while current wage regulations protect individuals, AgJobs would allow growers to pay piece rate as long as “the average of the hourly earnings of workers, taken as a group, is the minimum wage or more.”

The AgJobs requirement of 180 workdays amounts to about 9 months of work per year. Lupe Gamboa, the United Farm Workers’ executive director in the state of Washington, observes, “Most workers in [Washington] work 4, 5, 6 months. [The requirement] is a cruel hoax because it’s something farm workers will never get.” Nationwide, the latest National Agricultural Workers Survey reported that crop workers in the U.S. averaged 135 days of farm work in a single year.

Local Solidarity Marches

Around Washington State, farm workers and advocacy groups hope to bring these issues to the attention of residents, farm workers, and politicians alike.

The Farm Worker Solidarity March Committee of Skagit County organized an awareness and solidarity march in Burlington and Mt. Vernon in May. In Pasco, the United Farm Workers held a march and rally for amnesty and fair wages during the cherry harvest.

Union organizing is growing statewide. The United Farm Workers recently signed its first union contract with a wine grape producer in central Washington. After a successful boycott, workers welcomed the union with a 2 to 1 vote.

“We negotiated a contract and things have been going well,” remarks Gamboa. “The [wine grape] company’s expanding and making a lot of money still.” The contract guarantees a livable wage, medical benefits, a pension fund, and a grievance system for workers.

Even so, Gamboa cites continuing political powerlessness of workers as a concern: “There’s a very serious problem of reprisals against the right to organize,” he says. “Growers don’t respect [that right].” Moreover, he cites pesticide usage, lack of housing, and injury as major issues facing Washington’s farm workers.

Our Affordable Food Supply for Citizens at What Cost?

The AgJobs proposal, along with complementary bills in the House and Senate, has been referred to congressional subcommittees. Though Larry Craig (RID), a co-sponsor of the legislation insists that it assures Americans “a safe, consistent, and affordable food supply,” many believe it would undermine farm workers’ needs and rights in the process.

“There is no need for [the additional foreign] workers in the United States. The need is for the agricultural industry to compete as an employer to attract the workforce,” insists Rosalinda Guillen.

As new legislation awaits enactment, it remains clear that the fruits of farm workers’ labor are certainly more visible in our marketplaces than are the conditions under which they are produced. Poverty, lack of housing, job insecurity, and health concerns are the hidden costs of the harvest.

Groups Threaten To Sue Environmental Protection Agency Over Pesticides and Salmon

Two Pacific Northwest environmental groups intend to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to develop a plan to safeguard salmon from pesticides in the region’s streams and rivers. The formal notification—delivered July 27—says the Environmental Protection Agency must act within 60 days or face a lawsuit seeking action under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Washington Toxics Coalition of Seattle, and Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides in Eugene, are preparing the lawsuit. (7-27-00)

From The Seattle Times.
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/news/ local/html98/toxi27m_20000727.html

Local History

Sunnyland Memorial Park: Bellingham’s Second Official Park

by Aaron Joy

Aaron M. Joy is finishing his sociology degree at Western Washington University. He is The Bellingham Herald librarian and author of The Bellingham Herald’s “Millennium Milestones” 1999 series. In addition, Mr. Joy is author of “A History of Bellingham’s Parks,” and is a middle and high school youth leader at First Presbyterian Church.

Editor’s Note: The following is the second in a series of articles recounting the history of Bellingham’s Parks, taken from “A History of Bellingham’s Parks” by Aaron Joy (available for sale at the Whatcom Museum and Henderson’s Books).

Created: 1889
Location: E. Connecticut, King, and Interstate 5
Area: 5 acres (originally 81/3)

During its early days, today’s Sunnyland Memorial Park was unofficially known as King Street Park. It officially became Sunnyland Park in 1909. In 1919, the two southernmost blocks of land were designated as Memorial Park, with Sunnyland Park occupying the northern block. By 1922, both parks had been unofficially combined into the single Memorial Park. In 1928, the land permanently became Sunnyland Memorial Park, though the park is still sometimes simply referred to as Memorial Park. The block north of Illinois is unofficially known at the Memorial Park Nature Area.

Sunnyland Memorial Park, Bellingham Bay’s second park to be created, had humble beginnings as an almost forgotten public park set aside by the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company. In 1889, the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company was developing the surrounding land into an attractive neighborhood to attract settlers to the area. Those settlers would in turn provide a work force for the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company.

The Bellingham Bay Improvement Company was created by San Francisco industrialist and philanthropist Pierre Barlow Cornwall, namesake of Cornwall Park, to help develop the surrounding town of New Whatcom (earlier called Sehome). The executives of the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company hoped Bellingham might become a major metropolitan center and did everything they could to promote this cause.

Eight Acres Set Aside to Beautify the Neighborhood

The company set aside a little over eight acres—bounded by King, Connecticut, Indiana and Lincoln Streets—which they donated to the city for use as a public park. Their idea was to make the area more aesthetically pleasing. (This act to help beautify the neighborhood was repeated again in 1906 with the donation of Broadway Park.)

The park was left fairly undeveloped until 1909, when plowing, seeding, and sowing of oats commenced under the jurisdiction of the five-year-old Bellingham Parks Department.

From Public Park to Sunnyland Park

The park was officially named Sunnyland Park at this time, having previously been known only as “Public Park.” Plans for a playground were created a few years later by local civil engineer, Everett Lyle, who designed Broadway Park. The plans were never implemented.

In 1919, the Mothers of World War Veterans organization acquired the park and dedicated it as a lasting memorial to their deceased sons on the anniversary of the actual end of World War I.

Mothers of World War Veterans was originally known as the Mother’s Club, an auxiliary of the American Legion, which was organized in November 1917 with 80 charter members (eventually growing to several hundred). The purpose of the women’s group was to extend aid and comfort to men in service and give assistance and sympathy to bereft mothers.

Eighty-eight dogwood trees were planted around the perimeter of the park—one for each deceased soldier—and the park was officially renamed Memorial Park. Only two blocks of the parkland south of Illinois Street were designated as Memorial Park.

The block of land to the north of Illinois Street remained a separate section that has since been given numerous names, including Memorial Park (during a brief consolidation) and Sunnyside Park. It is currently the Memorial Park Nature Area.

Memorial Entrance Archway Erected in 1922

In 1922, the memorial entrance archway was erected. It was designed by local architect F. Stanley Piper, who also designed the entrance pillars to Fairhaven Park. On November 11 of that year, the Mother’s Club dedicated the renovated park.

The November 11th Bellingham Herald recounted the event: “Almost at the moment of dedication, the sun, whose rays had been shut off by threatening storm clouds, burst upon the scene as more than 200 persons gathered at the Maryland Street entrance of the park.

“To those whose heart[s] swelled as the memory of years came back to them, it became a message from those boys represented in the strong young limbs of the trees that edge the combing of the green lawn. The men in uniform stood at one side of the arch and the Bellingham juvenile band on the other, with the representatives of the Mother’s Club in the center.”

Buried that day in the archway was a bronze box containing the preamble of the United States Constitution, a copy of the Mother’s Club constitution, a Mother’s Club emblem, an American flag, and a copy of the Morning Reveille newspaper of November 11, 1922.

Fountain Was Constructed in 1927

In 1927, a memorial fountain was added to the park just inside the entrance. (From about 1985 through 1996, the fountain was nonfunctional. It was put back into service in 1996 through an Eagle Scout project.)

Maintenance of the park was funded over the decade following 1927 through the Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.). After the Second World War, a few additional memorial trees were added in the center of the park.

In 1956, Sunnyland Memorial Park was reduced by about a third, particularly in its northern section, when Interstate 5 was built through that part of town. The state bought the property for $11,040, which was double what the city was asking. The asking price was not only for the land, but also for the cost to move and replant many of the memorial trees.

Gas-Fired Plants

Whatcom County Does Not Have a Shortage of Electrical Generating Power

by Connie Hoag

Connie Hoag represents District 2 on the Whatcom County Council.

With the recent Bellingham Herald coverage of the closure of Georgia-Pacific and Bellingham Cold Storage, I am concerned that those who are not familiar with the power situation in Whatcom County might jump to the wrong conclusion. The articles did not include information on the availability of power in the county.

Georgia-Pacific did not close due to a shortage of power. It closed down because their contract was tied to the cost of power on the spot market, which has been wildly fluctuating. Some might feel that if we had more power produced here by adding more power plants, a situation such as the recent Georgia-Pacific closure could be avoided. Not only is this not true, but the gas-fired plants here could be a major factor in the problem.

Four County Power Plants Produce 675 Megawatts

We currently have four power plants in Whatcom County: Whitehorn, Ecogen, Tenaska, and Sumas Energy1. They are permitted to produce 675 megawatts of power. The power consumption in Whatcom County is 390 megawatts, according to testimony from Puget Sound Energy and the Whatcom County Public Utility District #1 at public meetings sponsored by the County Council. (370 megawatts are on Puget Sound Energy’s customer base, including Georgia-Pacific and all industry, commercial, and residential customers, and 20 megawatts are on the Public Utility District’s base).

The only exception to the preceding figures is Intalco, which has a federal contract with the Bonneville Power Administration, so is not served by Puget Sound Energy or the Public Utility District. Intalco gets its power from Bonneville Power Administration at 2.25 cents per kilowatt, a rate with which no one else can compete.

The four power plants do not sell to the Bonneville Power Administration, because their power is much more expensive than the hydro-power available to Bonneville Power Administration. For that reason, Intalco is not included in the equation.

Puget Sound Energy Required to Purchase Power from Local Plants

As each of the four power plants was built in the last ten years, Puget Sound Energy was also required by federal law to purchase the power produced by each plant. This local power is more expensive than the power available to Puget Sound Energy from the Bonneville Power Administration, and usually more expensive than the power available on the spot market.

This federal requirement increases the cost of providing power, and ties it to the cost of natural gas because all four plants in Whatcom County are gas-fired. A few weeks ago, Canada raised its natural gas rates considerably in a 33 percent hike.

Natural gas rates have increased 65 percent in the last year. Many experts attribute this to the increasing use of natural gas for power plants. The swell in natural gas rates in turn raises the costs of power produced by gas-fired plants.

There is a power plant right next to Georgia-Pacific (Ecogen) that produces far more power than Georgia-Pacific uses. However, Ecogen’s excess power is shipped out of the county. There is no shortage of power in Whatcom County, but local prices are too high for companies dependent on cheap power to operate in an economically efficient manner.

By deregulating power, we are pitting one industry (power, which is looking to increase profits through deregulation) against others such as Georgia-Pacific and Arco, which need consistently cheap power. It would be a real service to the public if the press would investigate the ramifications of deregulated power.

Sumas 2 Would Have to Honor Contracts, Whether in Southwest or Whatcom County

National Energy Systems Company (NESCO), the proponent of the proposed plant in Sumas, has been asked repeatedly in public if they would commit to keeping the power in Whatcom County if a reliability or shortage issue arose (which would be doubtful, since we are already producing almost double the power we use).

They responded that they would have to honor their other contracts. According to documents filed with the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, Sumas 2’s power is likely destined for the Southwest, where power production may be insufficient to cover use, and where they will pay high dollar for power.

Not only would this not help industry in Whatcom County, the huge consumption of natural gas by Sumas 2 would likely further increase costs of natural gas. The proposed plant’s consumption will be 98,630 million British Thermal Units (BTU’s) per day.

Washington State Community, Trade and Economic Development testified that the gas usage of Sumas 2 will be a 14 percent increase in the state’s consumption, equal to 55 percent of the residential use in Washington State, and more than twice as large as the next largest user. They are concerned about how this may affect prices and availability for other consumers. Natural gas suppliers in Canada have also expressed concern about the ability to provide gas to such a huge market.

Demand Drives Up Natural Gas Prices Which Increases Electricity Cost

Demand drives up prices, and when natural gas prices increase, the cost of producing power will also increase, and therefore the cost of electricity will go up. It will increase the cost of heating and cooking for those who use gas, so every resident will be affected, either with increased costs for gas or electricity. Every consumer’s costs will rise.

In addition, natural gas is a finite resource. There is concern for the future availability of gas if we waste it producing power. There are better ways to produce power. The Southwest, which may be deficient in production, is also an area where there is great potential for solar power production.

There are many other new technologies available for power production. Why aren’t they being tapped?


The Rusted Shield:
The Failure to Enforce or Obey Environmental Laws Threatens the Recovery Of Wild Salmon

by Daniel Jack Chasan

Daniel Jack Chasan is a Vashon Island writer and attorney.

Editor’s Note: This is the third part of a series on the history of Washington State government and its attempts to circumvent environmental laws. This paper, The Rusted Shield, was commissioned by the Bullitt Foundation and is being reprinted with permission.

Part Three

Dams, Electric Power, and Political Power

For many years, dam-building—which symbolized progress in the Pacific Northwest—did not even need the fig leaf of hatcheries to violate laws that were supposed to protect salmon. The Elwha dams were not unique.

In 1901, the city of Seattle dammed the Cedar River and diverted water through wooden pipes to supply its growing population. Water supply dams for other cities and dams built to produce hydroelectric power blocked salmon spawning runs in clear violation of the law.

Some dams did bring safe water supplies to the cities and electric light to people who had read by coal oil lamps, but they also brought death to entire salmon runs—often because it was easier and cheaper to ignore the law than to try saving fish.

Tacoma’s Power Dams Destroyed Salmon and Steelhead Productivity

Without even a gesture toward the law, the city of Tacoma’s Cushman power dams blocked the whole north fork of the Skokomish River and deprived the lower main stem Skokomish River of roughly half its natural flow.

“The [Cushman] Project destroyed the salmon and steelhead productivity of what the Washington Department of Fisheries called ‘among the most important and valuable food salmon spawning streams in the State of Washington.’” 1

Tacoma obtained a federal license to flood 8.8 acres of federal land. It then “used the license as a pretext to build unlicensed, unregulated hydroelectric facilities, including two dams, two reservoirs, diversion works, two power houses, transmission lines, and appurtenances to flood 30-plus acres of federal land within a total project area of about 4700 acres and to divert the entire North Fork Skokomish River from its watershed.” 2

This formed part of a pattern. “[D]uring the 1930s and 1940s the public power interests turned against their former allies in the fishing industry and sought to avoid all laws for the protection of salmon,” Bruce Brown writes.

“Tacoma City Light led the way in 1926 when it built Cushman Dam on the Skokomish River without fish ladders or a hatchery. Milo Bell, retired professor of fisheries at the University of Washington, recalled that ‘the Department [of Fisheries] tried for years and could never get anywhere with Tacoma City Light. They wouldn’t even meet with us.’” 3 Yet the department did not try to block construction of the dam and never took legal action against Tacoma.

Most of the Damage Was Done By Hundreds of Smaller Dams

Large concrete power dams were the exception. Most of the damage was done by more modest structures.

Lichatowich has written, “even before the 1930s [when the first big dams were built on the Columbia River], hundreds of smaller dams were built for municipal water supplies, stock watering, irrigation, placer mining, and power generation. Like their large counterparts, these small dams also prevented salmon from reaching spawning areas, flooded upstream habitat, and degraded salmon habitat downstream by altering flow patterns.” 4

Despite the laws against blocking fish passage, timber companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries routinely built destructive “splash dams” that stored water to float logs down small streams. “On northern Puget Sound…reliance was placed on river drives [of logs] until well into the twentieth century,” forest historian Robert Ficken has written. “Logs were gathered in booms to await the production of high water by nature or by specially built splash dams.” 5

Flash-Floating of Logs Carried Spawning Salmon Downstream

The water “would be released suddenly to ‘flash-float’ logs down the river,” according to a description of one dam. The dams kept fish from getting upstream. Worse, they destroyed habitat and disrupted spawning for miles below.

“The sudden wall of water and logs crashing downstream was like a spring freshet occurring several times during the spawning and incubation periods. The salmon didn’t stand a chance of spawning effectively, for they were carried downstream with the flood each time it was released. In between floods the stream bed was nearly dry and in the winter the eggs were exposed and frozen.” 6

Of course, this happened many years ago. But the philosopher George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 7 In our treatment of wild salmon, we have been repeating it, one way or another, for generations.

Now, with fish runs on the brink of extinction, we must decide whether or not to break the cycle. As a first step, we must see why our efforts to date have failed.

Where We Stand

A Critique of Salmon Protection Efforts

The government does not enforce laws to protect salmon habitat.

Even at the turn of the century, people knew that the laws were not being enforced. Little was done about it. “In 1899, the U.S. fish commissioner’s report to Congress noted that ‘in Washington, while the throwing of sawdust into streams is prohibited, it is reported that the regulations have not been well enforced,’” Bruce Brown writes in “Mountain in the Clouds.”

“The same report was appalled that laws regulating the commercial salmon fishing seasons were not enforced outside southern Puget Sound in the vicinity of the state capital. One early state fish commissioner even issued a public mea culpa for the non-enforcement of laws to protect the salmon. In 1911, a disgusted British Columbia commissioner of fisheries described Washington fishery law as simply a ‘dead letter.’” 8

Department of Ecology’s Lax Enforcement Record

People for Puget Sound reported in 1993 that in the two previous fiscal years, “The Department of Ecology applied formal enforcement about 15 percent of the time….Penalties were assessed on approximately six percent of these violations in 1991 and on five percent in 1992. Even if penalties were assessed at twice the rate of this estimate, the current enforcement system does not appear to provide a strong incentive for compliance.” 9

For two decades, the Department of Ecology simply refused to restrain egregious violations of the federal Clean Water Act by dairies. The Environmental Protection Agency was aware of this non-enforcement, but did nothing.

In sworn testimony before a federal court, the Department of Ecology regional water quality manager Robert Barwin was asked recently, “the amendments to the Clean Water Act in 1977…defined concentrated animal feeding operations as point sources, didn’t [they]?”

“Yes, [they] did.”

“And point sources are required to have National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are.”

“[But] some 20 years [elapsed] after the law went into effect before Mr. Hosma’s facility, which had been operating that entire period of time, obtained a permit; isn’t that correct?”

“That’s correct,” the witness agreed. Later, the judge asked, “you had the ability to issue individual permits, didn’t you?”


“And you had the obligation to, in fact, when there were discharges, didn’t you?”


“And you didn’t do that, did you?”

“No…” 10

The testimony is unambiguous.

Even when permits are required, the state does a poor job of applying the law. “Toxic Soup,” a 1996 study of industrial water pollution in Puget Sound, found that, “Permit limits for given pollutants are inadequate and outdated,” and that the “use of dilution zones [mixing zones around the point of discharge] is inappropriate….The combination of basing permits on inadequate limits and allowing dilution zones…prevents these toxic discharges from being considered a problem.” 11

Government Needs Creative Problem Solving

Enforcement is not an end in itself. Government may accomplish more by helping citizens, businesses, dairies, and other parties to solve problems than by treating them as antagonists. Officials should not be indifferent to the risk of, for example, forcing farmers out of business.

If western Washington farms disappear, they will probably not be replaced by anything more environmentally benign. But executive agencies have no authority to ignore the law.

Through non-enforcement, government not only fails to protect the resource, it also misleads the public—which assumes the resource is being protected—and in effect penalizes all the citizens and businesses that obey the law.

In one Puget Sound county, for example, a series of housing developers preserved the required buffer along a small non-fish-bearing stream that flows into a lake, which in turn feeds a chinook salmon stream.

But then another developer, acting as property manager for an elderly absentee owner, cleared, filled, and leveled the wetland in which the stream naturally rose. He subsequently acquired the property and now intends to build a road and houses on it.

County government has taken no action against him, so the conscientious behavior of neighboring developers and property owners has been largely in vain. “I thought the salmon rules would protect it more,” an indignant neighbor says. “The rules are not protecting anything.” 12

The situation “typifies and exemplifies everything that is not working,” says a county watershed steward who monitored the wetland for three years. “The big guys get away with bloody murder and the little guys stand in line to get a permit.” He says, “it’s all about money . . . and a lack of respect for the public trust.” 13

Washington State Hydraulics Code Rarely Enforced

Under the state’s widely violated hydraulics code, anyone who performs work that will “use, divert, obstruct, or change the natural flow or bed of any of the salt or fresh waters of the state, must secure the approval of the department as to the adequacy of the means proposed for the protection of fish life.” 14

In other words, one must get a hydraulics permit from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. That’s the law. If anyone installs a dam or even a culvert that blocks fish without including an approved, effective fishway—or building and providing the money to operate a hatchery—the Department of Fish and Wildlife can order him or her to remove the obstacle or install a fishway.

If the property owner refuses, the department may destroy the obstruction as a nuisance or may remove or replace it at the owner’s expense.15 But the law is rarely enforced.

Much of the public does not even know it exists. And government itself has violated the law thousands of times, often by not providing adequate fish passage when it builds roads.

State Places Low Priority on Protecting Fish

In all too many places wild fish cannot get past the state’s own highway culverts. In a recent study of Washington State’s Hydraulic Code, the Center for Natural Resource Policy concluded that “the Department [of Fish and Wildlife] places a low priority on implementing the Hydraulic Project Approval process and its enforcement…[which] contributes to the demise of our salmon and steelhead resources.” 16

The report continues,

There are potentially thousands of impassable fish-blocking culverts in Washington State. These impassable culverts affect hundreds of miles of fish habitat and the production of tens of thousands of salmon and steelhead. In addition, these barriers affect the lives and livelihoods of thousands of commercial and recreational fishers throughout the State.

Unfortunately, the legislature does not fully fund nor does the Department place a high priority in its funding and enforcement authorities to the Hydraulic Project Approval process….

Owners of Impassable Culverts Are Criminally Liable

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has statutory and common-law authorities to hold those that own impassable culverts both civil and criminally liable. However, the department has negligibly used these authorities. Ideally, the strategy to comprehensively address fish passage problems throughout the state should include an aggressive enforcement and compliance program by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. In addition, the department should discontinue issuing Hydraulic Project Approvals for road culverts in areas that have listed fish species, at least to the extent to those individuals that still own impassable fish blocking culverts.

However, it is unlikely the Department of Fish and Wildlife will alter its approach of “idly sitting by” while thousands of culverts illegally prevent salmon from reaching their historic spawning and rearing habitats. The only feasible recourse may lie with various interest groups or members of the general public to hold the agency or those who own impassable culverts accountable. 17

In short, as local, county, and state road builders routinely violate state law by blocking fish passage, the Department of Fish and Wildlife takes little or no initiative to protect the fish.

The state legislature compounds the problem. “[T]he legislature does not fully fund nor does the Department of Fish and Wildlife place a high priority in its funding and enforcement authorities [on] the HPA process.” 18

At the current levels of funding and commitment, the Department of Fish and Wildlife predicts “it will take over 75 years just to inventory all the fish blocking culverts statewide.”19

Next Month — Part Four:

Salmon Need Water; the State Fails to Provide it or Protect it


1 Brief of Skokomish Indian Tribe, Skokomish Indian Tribe v. Tom Fitzsimmons et. al., No. 23367-3-II, Court of Appeals, Division II, State of Washington (October 12, 1998).
2 ibid.
3 Brown, Bruce. “Mountain in the Clouds,” Collier Books, 1992.
4 Lichatowich, Jim, personal communication.
5 Ficken, Robert, This Forested Land, University of Washington Press (1987).
6 International Pacific Salmon Fisheries Commission, Salute to the Sockeye (1958 ).
7 Santayana, George, The Life of Reason, cited in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, Little, Brown & Co. (1992).
8 Brown, op. cit.
9 People for Puget Sound, “An Analysis of the Department of Ecology’s Water Quality Enforcement Program: Conclusions and Recommendations” (December 20, 1993).
10 Community Association for the Restoration of the Environment v. Henry Hosma Dairy et. Al., CY-98-3011-EFS (Eastern District, Washington, 1999).
11 People for Puget Sound, “Toxic Soup” (December 1996).
12 Personal conversation. The source, a public employee, asked to remain anonymous, to avoid retribution.
13 ibid.
14 RCW 75.20.100.
15 RCW 75.20.060.
16 Center for Natural Resource Policy, Critique of the State’s Hydraulics Code, June 1999.
17 ibid.
18 ibid.
19 ibid.


Hummingbirds Left Bellingham Early

by Al Hanners

Al Hanners is a naturalist and retired geologist.

Bellingham’s hummingbirds left shortly before the first day of summer, a month or more ahead of their usual departure time. Evidence that hummingbirds have left is clear. First, a friend living on South Hill said that hummingbirds suddenly stopped going to her feeder. I live near St. Joseph Hospital. That same day I noticed the sugar water in my feeder had been untouched, and I had seen no hummingbirds in my garden. Wondering whether the sudden absence of hummingbirds resulted from a disease in local neighborhoods, I telephoned Bellingham’s birding guru, Terry Wahl, who lives on Eldridge Avenue.

“I’m glad you called” was his immediate response. “I, too, noticed I had seen no hummingbirds lately. My yard is full of flowers for them to feed on, young hummingbirds have fledged, and characteristically, they, were chasing each other. I think they have left. When they leave, they move to mountain meadows where they feed on flowers before going to Mexican mountains for the winter.”

Almost all of our hummingbirds are the rufous hummingbird species. They normally leave in late July or early August. If you see a hummingbird after that it is very likely an Anna’s hummingbird. Anna’s are a California species that do not migrate but have extended their range northward where a few survive winters because people feed them.

“Why did the rufous hummingbirds leave now,” I asked. “You’ll have to ask them,” Terry replied. Be that as it may, speculation is interesting. There are three main stimuli that set bird migration in motion: (1) the length of daylight, (2) loss of food supply, and (3) local weather. Members of the local Native Plant Society noticed a number of wild flower species blooming about a month early this year. Hence, it seems that hummingbirds left because of the abnormally early season for some coastal native plants, a function of weather.

A few days before the hummingbirds left, Jim Duemmel hiked Church Mountain in the Cascade foothills east of Bellingham. He found up to eight feet of snow in a mountain meadow and he was not optimistic that there was a significant population of wild flowers in bloom on rocky ridge tops where snow had already melted. Of course, the hummingbirds did not know about the snow when they left the lowlands of Bellingham. Where did they go and will they survive? Will there be a serious die off? And if early seasons continue, will their instincts be reset?

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