Saturday, October 20, 2007

Campaign Rhetoric Versus Institutional Memory: A Litany of Concerns - Part 3

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do. --Thomas Henry Huxley - 1825-1895-
Since this blog continues earlier blogs on the same theme, I am again repeating the introduction:

Sometimes there are discrepancies between what candidates claim -or choose to ignore- and what a more comprehensive recollection of history reveals.

If you want to prove a point, or get elected, you choose carefully what you want to talk about.

And, you know what subjects are to be avoided!

That is the subject of today's blog.

An earlier blog listed some reasons why I have chosen to support Dan Pike as our next Mayor.

This one lists some specific reasons that make it difficult for me to support Dan McShane as Mayor.

All of these relate directly to positions he has taken -or not taken- on some important issues, while serving on the County Council.
Here is a synopsis of these concerns as related to:

3. Stormwater Facilities - It's not just Erosion & Flood Control any more, it's Treatment and Removal of Pollutants!:

• Whatcom County has a Flood Tax which it collects from all property owners.

Forty per cent of these monies gets collected from property owners in the City of Bellingham, yet the County doesn't feel any obligation to share those funds with the City.

That is one reason the City needed to increase its Stormwater rates back in 2001.

Flood taxes were also used to fund the County wide WRIA-1 Process for several years until the going got rough, when these funds were simply cut off from being used for that purpose. [This was the subject of an earlier blog]

Flood taxes are old-fashioned taxes because they disproportionately fall on smaller property owners, favoring the wealthy.
But, they are only to be used for purposes related to flood and erosion control.

• The 1996 Clean Water Act Amendments required Stormwater treatment, in addition to flood and erosion control, which mandated rethinking what municipalities must do to comply.

Essentially, that meant building, operating and maintaining facilities to handle all Stormwater, including so-called 'non-point' source runoff from residential areas.

That was a big change that required a big effort to fund and achieve.

Yet, Dan McShane resisted the City's efforts to increase its Surface & Storm Water Utility rates to provide the adequate and stable funding needed for such an expanded program.

That despite new DOE regulations - applicable primarily to Cities.

Ostensibly, he argued against the rate increase on behalf of certain of his clients, who were in strong opposition.
Some of these folks weren't as concerned with the rates that were proposed, as they were with having any rates at all!

I still wonder if he really understands why this was necessary?

The City's Stormwater Utility is a big deal that any Mayor should understand.
And, it is an Enterprise Fund, which means it must totally support itself from Stormwater rates.

Anyone who considers themselves dedicated to protecting the environment will understand why such a program is needed.

But, a much simpler reason is that in 2001, the City Council fully authorized and committed to this program and the funding it requires.

The City is responsible -in perpetuity- for stormwater releases into Bellingham Bay regardless of source.

That even requires a separate NESHAPS permit, just like the permit the City must have to release treated wastewater effluent from the Post Point Treatment facility to Bellingham Bay.

Think about it.

That takes facilities, trained staff, maintenance and the adequate, stable funding to provide all of that - forever!

The City retained the services of CH2M Hill, an expert consultant on this subject, to help develop the program to be in compliance with regulations, and to be as fair to everyone as possible.

This resulted in a system based upon the amount of impervious area each property owner has, which is considered the best criteria available.

In fact, the Stormwater rates are fairer than the City's Water rates, because not everyone has a meter to measure water use.

• Criticism of the City's inability to effectively protect its urbanized 2 percent of Lake Whatcom has also been heard.
But, these Surface & Storm Water retrofits also depend on the same stormwater rates discussed above!

At least the City did take action, although no significant similar action was undertaken by the County to protect its 96 percent of this watershed.

Go figure.
Does it sound as if the pot is calling the kettle black?

Thankfully, the Cable Street drainage that enters Lake Whatcom close to the City's water intake is now finally being addressed by the County.

We can only hope it works better for Phosphorus removal than the City's 'Structural BMP' stormwater facilities do.
But, it would be a surprise if it does.

At least, the Cable Street facility will remove some heavy metals and other particulates, with is an improvement over what we have had for some time.

• Before leaving this topic, another important point needs to be re-emphasized.

By far the best -and cheapest- stormwater treatment that exists, is provided by Mother Nature!

That is the main point of watershed preservation; to reduce density as far as possible, and condition what occurs with buffers and retention of natural vegetation.

Those methods are called -maybe you guessed it- 'Non-Structural Best Management Practices [BMPs]'!

That's it!

Attack the problem before it occurs, at its source.

Ideally, that's before development happens.

• The County has talked about Stormwater systems around Lake Whatcom for some time, starting with the inadequate 'Entranco Report'.

But, so far, it's been almost only talk, with the exception of the Cable Street retrofit.

The issue of funding is a perpetual problem, regardless of jurisdiction.
And, because it is likely to be expensive and controversial, it will likely continue to be avoided as long as possible.

But the real problem, especially around Lake Whatcom, is that Structural Stormwater facilities just don't work very well.

That is why watershed preservation, the TDR program, the requirement for adequate buffers, native vegetation and better, lake-friendly living practices are so critical.

But, these concerns are critically important to the City as well.

It doesn't help to have polluted runoff, generated on County lands, drain into streams up-hill from where the City must then provide Stormwater facilities at its cost!

Correcting that problem is something only the County can address.

Yet, the County, during McShane's tenure, has done little to prevent this unmitigated pollution from occurring.

In fact, the County's Public Works Director and Assistant Public Works Director have left for greener pastures, so frustrated were they at the County's inaction on important water issues.

So, with no political leadership and a diminished technical staff, the County has just continued to equivocate on its Stormwater responsibilities.

Why hasn't this situation been addressed more forcefully by the County Council?

I hope the answer isn't the same one the City heard when it had the courage to raise its Stormwater rates back in 2001.

That answer amounted to nothing more than complaining about the City's action, denial that a problem exists, and the lack of courage required to willingly comply with the law!

Dan McShane was in a position to do better, but he didn't.

This information predictably won't be found in any campaign rhetoric.
But, it is part of the institutional memory of non-action on the part of the County regarding Stormwater management.
The world is divided into people who get things done, and people who get the credit.

Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.