Whatcom County Council - Issue of the Week

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cherry Point Clearing Questions Asked

Hi all,

Thought you might be interested in this letter (below) I sent to Whatcom County Planning and Development Services this morning trying to get answers for the many questions that have arisen from the clearing at Cherry Point. I'll let you know what I hear.


To: Sam Ryan, Director

Whatcom County Planning and Development Services


RE: Questions Regarding Clearing at Cherry Point

Hi Sam,

Ever since I alerted Tyler to the clearing at Cherry Point, and then made that information available to the public to ensure everyone was on the same page I have been barraged by valid questions from the public. I would like to get written answers to the following questions as soon as possible, and if PDS would like I would be glad to make time available in the Natural Resource Committee next week for an update on this situation.

From my brief walk through the area (you should have received the map and pictures which can be found at: http://carlvotes.blogspot.com/2011/07/cherry-point-full-disclosure.html) it appears that SSA/PIT has pushed through somewhere in the area of 2.5 miles of roads clearing 4-5 acres. Any clarity you can provide about this clearing would be greatly appreciated.

When I spoke with Wayne Fitch he said that SSA/PIT had been given written approval for some work to install monitoring wells in 2008. Please provide a copy of that approval. It has been reported in the media that SSA believed they had approval for this recent clearing because of their previous 1997 Permit. Was the 2008 approval for monitoring wells part of the previous permit, and if so did the approval for monitoring wells include the area east of Gulf Road and between Lonseth and Henry Roads? My remembrance of the previous permit and settlement agreement was that there was only a small amount of wetlands that would be impacted – in the 5-6 acre range – so how could this larger clearing be part of that permit?

Wayne told me that this recent clearing did not meet the requirements of the 2008 approval. Is that still the opinion of the County?

Did SSA/PIT notify the County before the start of this recent clearing? When did the County first become aware of these recent land-clearing activities?

It seems to me that this level of disturbance would have required review under SEPA. Was there a threshold determination? If so, I would appreciate it if you would provide the relevant documentation. If you believe that no new SEPA review was required, please provide the SEPA documentation that addresses these impacts.

Have the County’s Development Standards (WCC 20.80.630) been met? If not, what compliance or enforcement actions will be taken? If you believe that these standards do not apply, please explain why not.

What are the limits on clearing for such monitoring well activities or "geoexploration?" For example, can SSA, legally clear cut all 1,100 acres they own out there under this term, or is there a limiting number? Where in our regulations is this clear, or where is that number recorded? Please show documentation if it is not part of the 2008 monitoring well approval I already requested.

The County's wetlands delineation files and SSA Marine's project documentation both clearly show the presence of wetlands in the areas where these swaths were cleared. Do you agree that monitoring well activities or other geoexploration is not an exempt activity under either the County’s Critical Area Ordinance (see WCC 16.16.225 – 235) or Land Clearing Requirements (WCC 20.80.737)? If relevant critical area and land clearing requirements have been violated, as appears to be the case, what steps will the County take to enforce its ordinances as required by the Whatcom County Code?

I am unclear as to whether SSA can still be doing work based on their previous 1997 permit, or whether since they have declared new intentions and the County has ruled that the previous permit no longer covers their new intentions work on that previous permit should no longer be taking place. What is the County’s opinion on this question?

If SSA’s recent activities are justified by the 1997 permit, will PDS ensure that all of the terms, obligations, and limitations of the 1997 permit are met, including (1) compliance with the contractual obligations set forth in the Settlement Agreement, and (2) limitations on the size and commodities that will be handled at the proposed terminal?

-For example, Paragraph 2.1 of the Settlement Agreement states that “PIT {Pacific International Terminals] will implement and comply with all of the provisions of the PIT Wetlands and Habitat Mitigation Plan set forth in Appendix A [of the Settlement Agreement].” Has this contractual obligation been met?

- Paragraph 2.8.a states that “PIT has committed to using best management practices and has submitted draft plans to avoid and/or minimize the environmental impacts of construction and build-out.” Did this geoexploration and accompanying road construction comply with “best management practices”?

If SSA/PIT has breached the Settlement Agreement by failing to meet its contractual obligations, what recourse does the County plan to seek for this breach?

From my limited understanding of DNR forest practices it appears that SSA should have filed a forest practice application with DNR. Is this correct? Was such an application filed? Has DNR been notified regarding this clearing? Under the County’s forest clearing regulations, isn’t a development moratorium now required, in light of the unauthorized clearing?

Are there other activities that SSA is still taking under the 1997 permit? If so, please provide a list of those activities and copies of any approvals, permits, disciplinary actions, or other written agreements that pertain to ongoing activities.

Has the Department of Ecology been made aware of this clearing activity, and if so has the County been informed of any concern they may have regarding water quality impacts to public waterways?

Since the following statement is in the Project Information Document on Page 5-68 (http://www.co.whatcom.wa.us/pds/plan/current/gpt-ssa/pdf/2011-02-28-project-info-doc.pdf):

"A Jurisdictional Determination by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issued on March 5, 2009, confirmed the extent and location of delineated wetlands on the Pacific International Terminals property. The USACE also determined that all aquatic features, including wetlands, streams, and ditches, on the Pacific International Terminals property are jurisdictional because they either abut or are adjacent to unnamed tributaries of the Strait of Georgia, a traditional navigable water. More details on existing wetland conditions can be found in the Wetland Determination and Delineation Report (AMEC 2008). . . .

Wetlands comprise approximately 530.6 acres, or approximately 49 percent, of the Pacific
International Terminals property."

Has the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers been made aware of this clearing activity, and if so has the County been informed whether the Corps has issued permits allowing the destruction of these wetlands for these purposes, and if no permits have been issued is the Corps investigating these issues? Who at the Corps would be responsible for such investigation?

I am sure you are well aware that a significant number of people in Washington State have concerns with the public process set up by the Governor to review SSA’s new proposal. There are also many people here in Whatcom County that question whether the County has the resources or will to use the County’s enforcement provisions to adequately deal with environmental violations. Clearly, the degree to which state agencies and the County handle this current clearing situation in a transparent, expedient, and adequate manner will either help rebuild trust in government or further erode it. I believe clear answers to the above questions will help this process rebuild trust.

Thanks for your help with this mess. I will be in DC Monday through Wednesday this week and hard to reach. Answers to these questions can be emailed to me. For documents that cannot be emailed, I will pick them up in the Council office on Thursday. If it would be easier to just post these questions, and the answers and documentation on the SSA website that PDS has set up that would also work just fine.

Thanks again,

Carl Weimer, Member

Whatcom County Council

District 3

cc: Pete Kremen , David McEachran , Roxanne Michael , Tschroed@co.whatcom.wa.us, "Ted Sturdevant" tstu461@ecy.wa.gov, Grout, Richard (ECY) , "Jeannie Summerhays" JSUM461@ecy.wa.gov, Wenger, Barry (ECY) , ben.cleveland@dnr.wa.gov, darin.cramer@dnr.wa.gov, cpl@dnr.wa.gov, Randel.J.Perry@usace.army.mil, Barbara Brenner , Sam Crawford , Ken Mann , Kathy Kershner , Tony Larson , Bill Knutzen , Carl Weimer , Dana Brown-Davis

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cherry Point - Full Disclosure

Hi all,

Once, or sometimes twice a week I walk my dogs at Cherry Point. It’s the best off leash dog park around and they love it.

As many of you probably know Cherry Point is a real conundrum for County Council members these days. While many are allowed to read about and attend meetings regarding the proposed SSA coal port, Councilm
embers have been advised by our attorneys to stay as blissfully ignorant of the entire proposal as possible. Since we may ultimate make the decision on whether that coal port goes in or not we are supposed to maintain our "appearance of fairness" by doing our best not to form an opinion about the proposal until the process plays itself out and all the information from all the different parties is given to us to make our decision. If we are seen attending anti-coal forums or having private lunches with Craig Cole from SSA, someone could challenge our impartiality and ultimately our right to be part of the decision.

Well now my dog walking adventures have put me between a rock and a hard place regarding this appearance of fairness. While wandering around Cherry Point a couple week ago we noticed that someone had started clearing parts of the wetlands on the SSA property at Cherry Point. I thought that was odd since the Council had just recently been told by our planning staff that to date SSA had not even submitted a complete application for their project, let alone been given permits to start clearing anything. So my dogs and I investigated a little and what we found was somewhere in the area of 2.5 to 3 miles of new roads have been cleared through the wetlands at Cherry Point in the exact location where the new rail loop would be placed to dump the coal. Here is a very basic map of where the clearing has occurred.

It would appear that based on the length and width of the new roads that about 4.5 acres of wetlands have been cleared to push these new roads into the wetlands (2.5 miles of road x 5280 feet x 15 foot wide roads / 43,560 square feet per acre). Here are some pictures of these new roads.

Last week I checked with the County's Planning and Development Services (PDS) since they are the ones that are permitting this project and should know about such activities on the site. They did not know about this clearing and road building, but said they would be in the area the following day and would stop by and take a look. When I checked back with PDS a couple days later they said that yes the clearing and road building had been done without proper permits, and that the company had been told to apply for a clearing permit after the fact and had been told to restore the site. PDS also said they had contacted the Department of Natural Resources in case some form of forest practice application should have been obtained. They were very surprised that SSA would have done this without the proper authorization. They said the roads had been put in to drill some monitoring wells. Here is a photo of one of those drilling sites at the end of one of these new roads.

They also said that SSA had asked for and was given written permission in 2008 to drill some monitoring wells, but that permission did not include permission to clear vegetation or do anything near this level of ground disturbance. That made sense to me because over the course of the last couple years my dogs and I had seen a number of monitoring wells go into the fields and along the edges of the forests at Cherry Point. Those monitoring wells disturbed very little, and are within this time frame, so I assume those were the wells that PDS gave SSA permission to drill. Here are some pictures of those earlier wells.

So what happens now because of the unpermitted clearing and road building? How much damage has this done to the wetlands that a good deal of the pending environmental review would be concerned with?

Those questions, and I suspect more, are for someone else to figure out. I don't really even know what part SSA played in this clearing. My purpose pointing this out to PDS was to make sure all the County rules were being followed. My purpose posting this information here, and submitting it to PDS and all my fellow councilmembers is to make sure we all have this information for whatever it is worth as part of our future decision making, and that I am not the only one that has this information. Full disclosure accomplished?

The coal port proposal will go through tons of analysis on a whole range of important issues, and the wetlands disturbed by this unpermitted clearing is only one issue. I do find it more than a little disturbing that a company that has been claiming they will build this huge project in an environmentally friendly manner that far exceeds how such facilities have been built anywhere else on earth made such a substantial permitting blunder when they know they are under a public microscope. Hopefully they can do better from here on out!

Here are a few more pictures from the clearing.



Update 7/31/11

Buddy (the County's chief compliance officer) was up way too early this morning wanting to get back to Cherry Point to continue his nosing around.

We got out there early enough to run into a couple of deer and a coyote, and saw some large flocks of goldfinches in the fields. We walked west on Henry Road from the closed gate at Gulf Road (this is still a public road even past the locked gate).

We found some additional clearing on the parcel just west of where the clearing above occurred. This clearing runs parallel to Henry Road from nearly Gulf Road to the top of the bank of the creek that divides this parcel. Below is a map.

This probably represents about another quarter acre of clearing. Here are some pictures of it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Weimer Runs For The Hills

Hi all,

Thanks for all the wonderful votes of confidence and offers of support you have all sent trying to encourage me to run for the county executive position. It has been somewhat overwhelming, and really did push some deep soul searching. In the past few days much analysis and number crunching has lead me to the belief that I certainly could win the race for county executive. That left the main question as not whether I could win, but rather why would I want to?

In the end I have decided to run, but not for the county executive position. I have decided to run for the hills and try to recapture some of the things I love that working two jobs too hard has kept me from. In each of the last three years I have lost significant chunks of paid vacation time because I could never find the time to take it. That is the definition of nuts! This year I will be 58 years old, which to me translates to the fact that I only have a handful of summers left when I can strap a backpack on my back and make it to the top of Whatcom Pass (not sure I can even do it now). I refuse to give up one of those summers for the inanity of campaigning. At this point in my life the desire to get to Whatcom Pass is a much higher priority than getting to the executive’s office, and I also believe it will be a much more rewarding adventure.

There are certainly other reasons too. Some of them are:

• I believe that government hardly ever initiates positive change. That comes from like-minded individuals working together to create momentum for change that the government ultimately has to give in to. The world is at a place where positive changes need to happen and I don’t want to be the captain of a ship where the rudder often seems disconnected from the wheelhouse often.

• I have an amazing job with the Pipeline Safety Trust that allows me to have tangible positive impact nationwide while also empowering local communities. In the past year I have led a team that has testified to Congress seven times, brought significant changes to both federal agencies and the pipeline industry, and am regularly asked for advice from national media sources, agency heads, and leaders of industry and environmental groups alike. In many ways it is a much bigger job than the County Executive’s.

• County politics around here are currently quite ugly and oppositional with both sides guilty of not letting the facts get in the way of their opinions. Few reasonable, rationale people, who can see beyond the short term benefits that carry long term consequences, want any part of it, which leaves a lack of good candidates for races such as the county council. That means policies and budgets that an executive has to live with are not being set by the most capable among us. That hopefully will change, but to date I have seen precious little indication of that this year.

• Pete Kremen is stepping down because of an underlying health condition that is made worse because of the stresses of the executive’s job. Pete is only a year or so older than I am, and I already have an underlying health condition (inflammatory disease) that gets worse with stress. Since this decision came up, and you all began chiming in, the inflammation in multiple joints has been so bad that I can hardly move. Think there might be a signal there?

There are other reasons too, but those will suffice. I certainly will continue to work hard on the Council for decisions that are a benefit to the long-term health of our county.

Sorry if this decision is a disappointment to some of you. Of course if you are really concerned you can always run for something yourself. Hope to see you in the council chambers or maybe at Whatcom Pass.

Thanks again for all your words of support!


P.S. - During these deliberations this poem kept coming to me as a strong reminder of things I have misplaced. If you get it - you get it, if you don’t get it nothing I say will help.

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hi all,

I want to thank all of you who have sent me the kind notes encouraging me to start blogging again and inquiring about why I have stopped. Many people seem to believe I quit blogging because of the election results, or because the new more conservative County Council has depressed me so much I just don’t see the point anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is I have just been too busy. I like doing the blog to let people know in more detail what is going on with the County Council, but it is really a luxury that had to be set aside while I attended to necessities.

As you probably know the County Council is just a part time job that doesn’t pay very much, so I have another job to pay the bills. In my full time position as director of the national Pipeline Safety Trust I work more than full time, and because of a number of high profile pipeline disasters in the last few months I have been extremely busy, which is why the blog stopped since September.

Over the summer the Pipeline Safety Trust testified to Congress six times. Then in August a pipeline failed and dumped nearly a million gallons of crude oil into a river in Michigan. About a month later a natural gas pipeline near San Francisco exploded killing eight people, totally destroying 38 homes and damaging a good part of the rest of the neighborhood. The media swarm that those tragedies spawned was all encompassing with reporters starting to call my house at 5 AM, and often not giving up until 9 PM. During the months of August, September, and October a national news clipping service reports that the Pipeline Safety Trust was quoted in 1824 stories in 724 separate news sources.

That is why this blog has been on a hiatus. Luckily, things have started to mellow out again in the pipeline world so hopefully the blog will become a little more regular after the first of the year. I look forward to once again having the time to devote to this luxury.

For those of you who are interested in these pipeline safety issues there is much information on the Pipeline Safety Trust’s website here. A good seven minute TV story about many of these recent issues, and filmed in part along Whatcom Creek, can be viewed at:


Happy Holidays!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Subsidizing Rural Development - A blatant case study

Lummi Island - Providing transportation between a rock and a hard place

People who live in our county's cities are starting to learn the lesson that they are often called upon to share an increasing portion of their tax dollars to support services for those who live in the more rural areas of the county. For years the County through planning and zoning decisions has encouraged lot creation in rural areas, which in turn has encouraged people to “drive till they qualify” since cheaper housing has been available the farther you are willing to drive. Places like Birch Bay, Peaceful Valley, Sandy Point Heights, Sudden Valley, and Lummi Island were all places where families could find an affordable first home, and where lower income folks could more likely afford the rent.

Now we have thousands of people living in these far-flung areas, and while their homes may have been cheaper, providing them with county services is way more expensive. On top of that many of these rural residents seem to believe that the sheriff, the fire department, and the ambulance should show up in the same amount of time as if they lived on Maple St in Bellingham, and they want their roads to be wide and smooth so they can drive fast to get to town where they for the most part work and shop. Ironically, many of these rural characters are some of the most outspoken against any hint of raising taxes to pay for services, instead preferring to continue to allow services for the majority of taxpayers who live in urban areas to decline so their taxes can be used to provide “essential” services to these rural dwellers.

There is no place quite as easy to see and evaluate this problem as Lummi Island, and the current quandary regarding the lease for docking facilities with the Lummi Nation has brought it front and center. Without getting into that lease quagmire, and the increased costs that will have to be put on someone, lets just take a look at how much Lummi Island is already being subsidized by others in the county.

I believe when most people pay taxes to the County they believe that some small “fair share” of that tax money goes to support each of the services that the county provides. While not everyone might agree on the need for all the services, the services at this point include law enforcement, courts, roads, elections, controlling disease, planning, parks, protection of natural resources, economic development, a variety of social services, etc. So for rural residents of Lummi Island how much of their county tax dollar supports these services?
• In round figures the 2010 assessed value of all property on Lummi Island is $270,079,836. This equates to 1.08% of the total countywide assessed value of $25,077,540,196.

• The 2010 assessment for the Road Fund is $1.3361 per $1000 of value, so people on Lummi Island will pay $360,854 into the Road Fund. This equates to 2.12% of the total Road Fund collected countywide.

• The 2010 assessment for the General Fund is $1.02054 per $1000 of value, so people on Lummi Island will pay $275,627 into the General Fund. This equates to 1.08 % of the total General Fund collected countywide.

• The 2009 Lummi Island Ferry operating expenditures were $2,545,688. According to current county policy 45% of ferry operating costs are supposed to come from county taxpayers, and 55% of the costs are supposed to come from collected fares. In 2009 the taxpayers share was $1,145,560, which equates to $509,079 more than all the General Fund and Road Fund taxes that will be collected on Lummi Island in 2010. In other words all property taxes collected on the Island for the General Fund and Road Fund fall over a half million dollars short of covering the cost of just the ferry, and provide no support for other county provided services such as law enforcement, courts, road repair, elections, health department, planning, parks, etc. Of course property taxes only account for about 50% of the General Fund and 75% of the Road Fund, but it is clear that sales tax and other revenue sources paid by people on Lummi Island do not come near paying for the ferry, let alone a per capita share of other county provided services.
Now before my friends on Lummi Island go to look for their pitchforks let me be clear that I am not suggesting that people on Lummi Island should pay 100% of the cost of the ferry. Just like I am not suggesting that the people who use Mosquito Lake Road pay the millions of dollars recently spent to replace the Middle Fork bridge, or that people in the Deming area pay 100% of the millions of dollars that have been spent to protect their area from flooding, or that people in Columbia Valley pay 100% of the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent to build them a Resource Center, or that the handful of families that live on Rutsatz Road pay 100% of the tens of thousands of dollars that was recently spent to fix their road from river damage. The theory and promise of government is that if we each pay our small fair share, that money will go much further to provide desired services and protect us all from catastrophic losses (violent crime, spread of infectious disease, flooding, loss of our homes or income source, pollution of our drinking water, etc) then if we each had to try to provide those things for ourselves.

Under current county policy the people on Lummi Island are not supposed to pay 100% of the ferry service but only the 55% that gets collected as ferry fares, and then their small percentage of the 45% of the costs that come from taxes. I was not arguing that they are not paying enough, but only using the Lummi Island example to point out that development in rural areas, wherever it occurs, rarely pays for itself and has to be subsidized by those in urban areas. My main point is - before we start arguing about the fairness of such subsidies we should at least stop making it worse!

Unfortunately it appears that some on the County Council, perhaps a majority, while apparently ready to throw the folks on Lummi Island under the bus on these rising ferry costs are also still in favor of encouraging more lot development in rural areas which will just continue to increase the same type of subsidies in other parts of the County. While a logical, slow, predictable correction of these subsidies may be valuable over the long run, it makes no sense to pull the rug out from under these communities after encouraging this type of development for years. But I am not sure any such correction is the plan of the current Council, instead I think those in urban areas better hold onto their wallets, and those in places like Point Roberts, Acme, Kendall, Lummi Island, Deming and Lake Samish better watch your backs because it appears the County Council is just planning to continue the subsidies by allowing services to continue to erode for most taxpayers and robbing existing subsidies from some to appease others. Dumb growth returns to Whatcom County.

It should also be noted that the people of Lummi Island did recognize the problems of such dumb growth and through their comprehensive planning efforts asked that Lummi Island be down zoned to protect their quality of life and their finite water source from being depleted through excessive development and drilling of more exempt wells. Exempt wells in areas where water is already over allocated is another dumb growth subsidy, but that rant will have to wait for a future blog.

So as the cries escalate for making folks on Lummi Island pay their "fair share" watch to see whether the underlying cause of such rural subsidies is going to be addressed, or whether appeasing the selfish grumblers by throwing one area at a time under the bus is a more politically feasible solution than acknowledging and correcting our dumb growth history.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

August 10, 2010 - Issue of the Week

Tuesday will be the last Council meeting until September 14th, so the agenda is packed with a number of important items, and there are a number of things that will be discussed that the public has not been privy to because they are being “added in” at the last minute.

Here are the ones that I am trying to focus on, although a million gallons of oil dumped into to a river in Michigan from a pipeline has diverted my energies significantly.

Interim Lake Whatcom Subdivision Moratorium - This “interim” moratorium has been in place and renewed every six months since 2005. About a month ago we tried to make this moratorium permanent but that failed because some Council members still don't believe that additional development in the watershed will have any negative impacts on water quality. Others argued that they didn't want to take people's property rights (in this case rights that don't even exist yet) without using taxpayers money to pay them, and they wanted more time to try to develop such a system. That is all chronicled here.

On Tuesday we will see whether there are four votes to extend the moratorium again in hopes of developing some sort of transfer of development rights (TDR) program to compensate property owners. I suspect we will know the outcome fairly early in the day since it is scheduled in the Natural Resource Committee at 9:30 AM. Both Bill Knutzen and Ward Nelson are on that Committee and one of them will have to vote in favor of this moratorium for this to pass. While Kathy Kershner has voiced support for a TDR program, she is on vacation and will not be at Tuesday's meeting, so my sense is that this will come down to Bill's vote, since Barbara Brenner, Ken Mann and I are already on record as supporting this.

There will be a public hearing on this in the evening.

Lake Whatcom Management Plan - At the evening meeting we will be asked to approve the 2010-2014 Lake Whatcom Work Plan. In general this work plan is much easier to read and figure out what is really proposed to go on for the Lake. I think it includes the programs we need to implement to address numerous water quality problems and the pending TMDL. Unfortunately while the programs are listed and catalogued there is not much real commitment to actually implement them, especially from the County. At this point it seems pretty clear that we know what needs to be done (just as we have known for years now), but unless we can beg grant money from the feds or state we really have no intention of moving forward in a timely manner.

For the five years I have been on the Council there has been an ongoing discussion about creating some sort of Stormwater Utility District around the Lake to help fund movement of these programs. This plan does not address that huge issue, and without it getting addressed this plan, like all previous plans, amounts to hoop jumping without any clear path toward success. I am considering voting no on the plan because I no longer want to be a part of the deceit the County has for years foisted on the public and other agencies about how much we care. If we cared we would develop a dedicated funding source, instead of hoping money to protect the lake will somehow magically appear.

And Now for the “Public Process? Who Needs a Stinking Public Process?” section.

Thursday afternoon, the day after the agenda for the Council meeting is made public, Sam Crawford submits a resolution to start the process for dismantling the County-wide EMS system. In his email with the resolution he said:
“I would like to discuss the attached Resolution at the Tuesday evening Council Meeting. I would like to bring it to a vote.”
While the EMS system does have huge territory issues between different groups, the system as a whole continues to deliver outstanding ambulance service county-wide. The Herald did a background piece here. There is no doubt that these issues need to be worked out, but the plan that the voters approved included a revamped ambulance advisory board made up of representatives from the cities and county and the emergency response experts that run our system, and tasked them with making recommendations regarding the budget and conflicts. That voter approved conflict resolution system has not yet been used, so in my opinion this move to dissolve the EMS system is way premature.

Even more troubling is the way the resolution was introduced so as to keep it off the publicly available agenda. An item like this that moves to do away with a voter-approved system should at a minimum be shared with the public so the public has time to comment. I have posted the proposed resolution here, because as of Saturday morning it still was not publicly available anywhere else.

10-Year UGA Review - In the same “who needs public process?” category we have another attempt by the Council majority to expand the UGAs. This is the same ordinance that they have wasted huge amounts of time on for months now, but once Sumas and Nooksack decided that they didn't want to have to pay for the legal defense of something that is already scheduled to happen next year anyway, the Council had to introduce a new ordinance to only include a chunk near Ferndale and a small piece in Birch Bay.

While there has been plenty of opportunity for developers and their consultants and attorneys to comment on this process there has only been one public hearing, and that was on an entirely different ordinance. This is also a Comprehensive Plan amendment which is supposed to go through the public process of our Planning Commission, but that hasn't happened either. So what we have on Tuesday is a new ordinance for a Comp Plan amendment, with two cities removed, a bunch of new “findings of fact,” and no hearing for the public to comment on it.

To make things even more fascinating it appears that perhaps even more changes will be made to the ordinance before it is voted on Tuesday evening. Late Friday I received a copy of an email from Barbara Brenner to the Council's attorney Karen Frakes, basically saying she thinks Sam Crawford's proposed new finding-of-fact to help justify the Birch Bay expansion is a good idea. You can read that email exchange and the new "fact" here. What's more fascinating is that the language in Mr Crawford's new finding of fact which he sent to Ms Brenner on 8/5 is nearly exactly the same language from a letter submitted to the entire Council from the developers consultant on 8/6, so I am left to assume that Mr Crawford and developers consultants worked together on this new “fact” which will be voted on with no public review or hearing.

Public process? Who needs it when you have developer's consultants and lawyers to give you the facts? I'm sure they are looking out for what's best for the public.

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 27, 2010 - Issue of the Week

Breaking News - The UGA Proposal that the Council has wasted months on, shrinks even further and is pulled from agenda.

This afternoon the Council got an email saying that the ordinance that the relatively new Council majority has spent months preparing to overturn the UGA reductions that the previous Council passed has been pulled from the agenda. Seems like the cities of Sumas and Nooksack reviewed comments received in the past few weeks and have decided there is little reason to spend taxpayer money to defend a poorly written County ordinance, when they can most likely get the same results next year during the already planned UGA review. Could Ferndale be so wise?

Now the Council majority has to reintroduce a new ordinance that only includes the expansion of the Ferndale UGA and a small area in Birch Bay, and I'm guessing schedule another hearing. Quite the waste of time from visions of expanding UGAs by thousands of acres - West Blaine, Caitac, Yew Street Rd etc - to swapping a UGA reserve in Ferndale to a regular UGA. How many thousands of taxpayer dollars were wasted on this boondoggle that is already scheduled for next year? Now that's some fiscally conservative planning.

UPDATE - 7/2710 5:45 PM
It appears there will not be an additional hearing on the new reduced UGA expansion ordinance. Legal counsel says we only are required to have a hearing if we are adding additions to an ordinance, but since we are just removing two cities and changing many of the findings that is not considered a substantive change.