Monday, May 26, 2008

Lake Whatcom: DNR Reconveyance & Park Plan Questions

"Sometimes it's easier to understand things than it is to figure them out"
-Casey Stengel

Maybe we can add: 'or explain them?'

It never ceases to amaze me how simple questions that consider the potential down side risks and consequences of public proposals can be so unwelcome! After all, every proposal has its pros & cons which ought to be explored thoroughly before important decisions are made.
Isn't a process including a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis supposed to be valuable?

As one who has served in elected public office, I learned how important it is to seriously listen to every citizen's concern. Without carefully listening to these concerns, how can reasonable responses ever be made?
The more good questions are asked, the more good answers are generated, and that process consistently makes for better results.

So it is with the DNR Reconveyance issue and the related proposal to create an extensive new public park system in the watershed of our municipal water supply.
This reconveyance can ONLY take place if an approved Park Plan is in place.
To date, I haven't seen this Park Plan in any sort of finished form that takes into account the serious concerns already expressed.

I know the County has appointed a 'stakeholders' group to consider the proposal and make recommendations to the Executive; that a presentation to the County Council is planned for July 2008, as well as a Public Hearing.

I also believe that the 10-person 'stakeholders' group appointed by Pete Kremen contains more members that have already expressed support for the idea than those who have questioned it, which is somewhat troubling.
Not that I doubt the sincerity of anyone, or their dedication to the important task they have accepted.
No, my main concern is that the group may be given all of the reasons that support the idea and only few of its drawbacks.
Also, that the time frame assigned simply is too short to generate the kind of information that will truly inform the decisions that are to come soon. Is the deadline for action artificial?
Do those seem like legitimate concerns to you?

But this proposal has some unique characteristics as well; not only is it targeted for the Lake Whatcom watershed, but it also seems to be on an unusually fast-track. with substantial cost implications -often problematic for the County.
Any of these characteristics should scream for caution!
That is why I intend to keep asking questions until the public -and I, as a concerned citizen - receive reasonably complete and factual answers.

And, readers should know, these aren't just my questions. They reflect similar concerns for others as well, including several currently elected officials.
For example, at the meeting Dan McShane's earlier response referenced, six people attended, including 3 current members of either the County or City Councils. While that 1-hour meeting did supply some answers I hadn't heard before, it also left others either unasked, or substantially unanswered.

I mention this in response to yet another 'questioning of my questions' from an employee -Mr Seth Cool- of Conservation Northwest [the entity that seems to have more information available to it than the County does, at least on the reconveyance question].
Since Mr Cool was also present at the 9/14/07, along with Lisa McShane, myself and 3 others, he should know exactly what was discussed, and what was not.
So, with that in mind, you tell me whether recent communication excerpt shown below- from Mr Cool and forwarded to me by others- provides any more useful answers, aside from providing the URL to the Northwest Conservation website which only touts the virtues of a 'Forest Preserve':

I find John Watt’s blog post odd and riddled with long dead rumors – I was personally at a meeting where he and others were briefed about reconveyance last fall and a former city councilman ought to know who to call to get answers.

But, since most citizens don’t have John’s experience in tracking down bureaucracy’s paper trail, I’ve put together a couple web pages about reconveyance.
Note the links at the top - The “Frequently Asked Questions” page is a summary, and the “documents and resources” page is full of source document:

Now I might be wrong, but it seems to me that Mr Cool is once again ducking direct questions that he either doesn't know or doesn't want to answer.
Maybe Mr Cool's assignment to Pete's 'stakeholder' advisory group will educate him better about the Park Plan, at which time more concrete answers will hopefully be forthcoming.
One can only hope!

For the record, here are three major concerns that have been shared with me recently by both City & County elected officials:

• Loss of revenues from DNR forestry. Even if there is no legal obligation for the County to provide replacement funds, what about moral or practical reasons for doing so? After all, our local Mt Baker School District does rely partially on these funds.

• Conservation easements for lake protection. If the reconveyance is supposed to better protect the lake than current DNR custody, where are guarantees this will in fact be the case? If the reconveyed land is to become a 'Forest Preserve', as claimed, will it be managed in the same manner as, say, the Stimpson Reserve, with mostly careful and passive uses?

• Prohibition of logging. Where in the law are the provisions that prohibit logging after reconveyance? It does appear that logging is still allowed in a reconveyed public park. Is that true?

Perhaps answers to these questions will be forthcoming soon, before the County's Park Plan is adopted -which should precede the reconveyance.
Does anyone know these answers well enough to dare explain them?

Some final comments:

1. My BLOGS touching on this subject were published on the following dates, and remain in the active archive:

9/11/07 -October Surprise
9/12/07 -Feedback from 9/11
9/14/07 -Meeting with Lisa McShane
9/21/07 -Pete's announcement
9/25/07 -McShane Campaign announcement
10/4/07 -Mitch's Koolaid
10/19/07 -ICT Concerns with Park Plan
11/4/07 -Spoonerisms
5/9/08 -Unanswered Questions
5/10/08 -Convergence of 3 issues
5/16/08 -Dan McShane's answers

2. The ICT Concerns with the County Parks Plan reported on 10/19/07 are very substantial!
Excerpts from this blog is partially reproduced below:

For those who aren't familiar with the 'ICT', it is the acronym for 'Inter-jurisdictional Coordinating Team', a small group of staff members from both City and County that meets regularly to discuss the Lake Whatcom Management Program [LWMP] and specifically those actions that are being planned and actually worked on.

Under the current LWMP, the County Executive & the Mayor assign people to this duty, most whom have been involved with Reservoir issues for some time.
That does sometimes help institutional memory.

But, ICT discussions are not open to the public, nor are elected officials -other than Exec & Mayor- welcomed.

ICT meeting that occurred sometime in April 2006, when a Draft County Park Plan was made available for review to members of the ICT.

It turns out the ICT met with both Mike McFarland [County Parks Director] and Paul Leuthold [City Parks Director] and discussed its unfavorable evaluation of planning for more intense recreational use of the watershed.

The ICT was assured that both the Whatcom County Regional Park Plan [Lake Whatcom], and the Draft Park, Recreation and Open Space Plan were weighted towards watershed friendly activities and that a public process would accompany any proposal for building facilities or major improvements.

But, the ICT's concerns were not assuaged by these verbal assurances.

Instead, the ICT questioned why such non-compatible uses (as listed below) would even be included in the Park Plan, if they weren't going to be proposed.

That sounds like a pretty good question to me, that gets right to the heart of the matter!

Because the ICT meetings aren't public, and detailed minutes are not required, there appears to be no written record that can confirm this particular dialogue.

But, members of the ICT do recall both the questions and the responses given.

And, the ICT did develop a summary in May 2006 upon which their comments were based.

Essentially the ICT's comments were lumped in two categories:

1) Proposals the ICT felt should be removed from the Park Plan because they were not compatible with transportation objectives

2) Proposals that increased build-out, stormwater generation, erosion potential, and other high impact land use.

For example park facilities (day lodge probably similar to Samish Park) at the end of North Shore that will become an attraction and increase transportation.

Or, the RV Park option at the South end of Basin 3.

Or, 6 more boat launch ramps

Or, encouragement of retail activities on the lake.

The ICT concluded these are all great ideas for a lake that is primarily a recreation facility.

Anyone would love to have trails and water based facilities for kayaks and canoes, and trails to hike that connect with regional trails.

But someday, we will need to declare that drinking water protection is a much more important undertaking!

And, how well we succeed at achieving that primary goal will determine the future of our community!

The basic irony is that if such a Park does get built and enjoys great success, that very success will also create even bigger challenges as peoople flock here to play in our Water Supply watershed!

These serious concerns remain unacknowledged by the County, in its haste to gain an election Surprise.

The County Council was briefed [on the Parks Plan] early this year, but that briefing did not include the proposed Lake Whatcom Park.

Yet, the information that was shown to me last month at Conservation Northwest seemed far in excess of what the Council has seen