Friday, May 16, 2008

Lake Whatcom: People For Lake Whatcom Meeting & Some Reconveyance Answers


The People for Lake Whatcom Coalition (PFLW) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) local grassroots organization formed for the purpose of advocating, educating, and taking action to protect, preserve and clean up Lake Whatcom, the primary drinking water source for our community.

PFLW will sponsor an informal meeting with Dr. Robin Matthews, Director of the Institute for Watershed Studies at Western Washington University to present the latest information on water quality in Lake Whatcom.

Meeting Details:

When: Wednesday May 21st
Time: 6:00 to 8:00 PM
Where: Garden Street Family Center (Brigid Collins Bldg) Conference Room (upstairs)
1231 N. Garden Street

The PFLW Board of Directors cordially invites citizens interested in learning about the current status of Lake Whatcom to attend.
Dr. Matthews will be giving a 30 minute presentation, after which an informal roundtable discussion and question, and answer period will follow.

Dialogue on Reconveyance:

Some folks decided to ask former County Councilman Dan McShane if he would respond to the questions I posted earlier.
I'm pleased to say he did respond with the information below.
Some of the answers are either partial or questions in themselves, while other comments seem a little more defensive or personal in nature.
But opening any sort of a more candid dialogue on this subject is essentially a good idea, don't you think?

Dan agreed to my publishing his answers, which are in italics following my questions in bold.

I was directed towards questions posted by John Watts on a blog regarding the reconveyance.

While I know this group has supported reconveyance, I thought it might be helpful to provide some answers to John's questions.

A few prefaces before the Q and A.

John indicates that he has not "heard any credible answers to most of the example questions listed below".
I do know John met with Lisa McShane last September. I do not know what his specific questions were then. I would hope he found her answers credible.
Whether he finds mine credible or you the reader of this is beyond my control.

I have a very clear memory of the public comment meeting for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan.
The overwhelming majority of citizens commented that they preferred no more clear cut harvests in the watershed.
I very specifically recall John Watts making an outstanding plea to choose an alternative that would stop timber harvests on state trust lands in the watershed.

That meeting had a big impact on me.
I and other Landscape Planning Committee members pushed hard to get the protections we could, but it was no where near the level of protection advocated by the overwhelming majority of the public that testified including John Watts.

Shortly after the Landscape Plan was adopted (after Whatcom County filed a law suite to force adoption), the limited protections of the plan were threatened.
One threat was the law suite attempting to strike down the plan filed by Skagit County and the Mount Baker School District with support by other timber counties and the timber industry.
In addition, Conservation Northwest through Freedom of Information requests discovered that the DNR was actively negotiating with a private timber/development company to trade the watershed lands so that the lands would become private land and would not be subject to the Landscape Plan.
The publicity stopped the negotiations.

I felt the Landscape Plan and the protections it provided might have a short shelf life and the Landscape Plan did not go any where near the level of protection our citizens wanted including John Watts.

In February 2006 I approached the County Executive with the idea of reconveyance.
This was not a new idea.
The County had contemplated this very action in the early 1990s, but political climate shifts and personnel shifts in the early to mid 1990s really precluded moving forward at that time.
The best approach was to get DNR on board as the reconveyance would be smoother and better with their help versus objections.
We did not want to blind side them.
The Council approved the budget for this undertaking in October 2006.
Ultimately the DNR agreed to be a cooperative partner in August 2007.

Where we are now is the public process for the park plan and the public process for approval of that plan by Whatcom County and the State Board of Natural Resources.

I hope the answers to the questions helps, and I plead with any of you to ask more if you want to know anything.
Even if you approve of the reconveyance, you should be able to answer questions such as these given that is this group's position to support reconveyance as long as the park plan meets criteria that are protective of the lake.

John Watts's stuff: (my answers in italics)

Now that I've figured out how to post a comment on NW Citizen and have the time, I've done so.
These were the comments [#9] I made earlier today on the May 2 article about 'Pete's Park Plan':

John Watts // Fri, May 09, 2008, 11:26 am

Debates on this subject are always good, but before locking into any position a few questions still need to be answered.
So far, I haven't heard credible answers to most of the example questions listed below:

1. Conceding that Parks are certainly fun, won't a large Lake Whatcom Park attract people from all around?

All the lands currently being considered for reconveyance are public lands and the DNR is mandated to further develop recreational activities on public lands.
A bill was passed last state legislative session funding plans for increasing recreational opportunities on state trust lands.
Blanchard Mountain is typical example of attraction to state trust lands.
I for one have frequently taken hikes and ridden my bike on DNR managed land in the watershed and I have a few favorite camp sites on DNR managed land on the Olympic Peninsula when I work over there.

Public access well might be greater under DNR management as an additional 20 miles or more of roads will be added under DNR plan thus potentially making access to larger areas much easier than at present.

Would the impacts of more visitors, their vehicles, boats, horses and dogs be positive for the health of the Reservoir?

This will depend on the specifics of the park plan.
Yes, there may be more visitors to a few limited areas.
But greater vehicle use if more likely under the DNR management with added road miles than under a low impact park plan.
I do not think people will be using boats on the reconvayed land.
Horses and dogs are already definitely an issue on the existing DNR managed land.
I have routinely seen both on my trips up Stewart Mountain.

Just look at what happens with boat trailers every year at Bloedel-Donovan and tell me how that is beneficial.

There won't be any increase boat access from reconveyed land.

Also, wouldn't some clearing, logging and creation of impervious surfaces be directly associated with development of Park facilities?

The level of clearing and park facilities development will depend on the park plan.
The proposed plan is for minimal parking improvements mostly at existing parking areas or at areas outside the watershed.
The level of impervious areas under a low impact forest preserve park will be significantly less than the approximately 30 additional acres of impervious surfaces created under the Landscape Plan by road construction.
Clearing and logging under the landscape plan will greatly exceed clearing and logging in a forest preserve park.
Once again, the DNR under their own recreational management depending on State funding could add recreational facilities in the watershed.

How about more restroom facilities, garbage receptacles and re-fueling stations?
Development by any name is still development, isn't it?

Currently there are no rest room facilities or garbage collection on the DNR managed land that I am aware of.
Gas stations are banned in the County portion of the watershed (there is a grandfathered station in Sudden Valley).

Yes, rest rooms and garbage receptacles are park developments.

2. Is the fact that the DNR continues to chafe at and resist the more stringent 'harvesting' of timber requirements of the Landscape Plan that was so painstakenly worked out over several years -at the UNANIMOUS direction of our State Legislature- sufficient reason for eliminating it?

There is no proposal to eliminate the Landscape Plan by Whatcom County.
No one at the County has ever suggested this and the County has emphatically stated that the landscape Plan stays.

Is this a matter to be simply administratively dismissed and forgotten?

See above.

Does the secrecy and surprise introduction of the so-called 'Reconveyance' Plan suggest complicity with local officials?
I am unsure what complicity action is being suggested here.
If John is suggesting getting rid of the landscape plan, that is not happening.
What secrecy and surprise?

Wouldn't private forestry owners and managers also be glad to see the DNR Landscape Plan gone?

I suppose they would be, but there are actually some significant advantages to public lands being managed for environmental purposes.
Examples would be if spotted owl habitat or marbled murlet habitat increases on public land by not harvesting, the pressure under endangered species listings on private land could be diminished.

3. Can the significant revenues from DNR 'harvesting' [logging] be permanently lost, without the income streams for Schools and other State trusts coming from some other source?

Yes they can be lost.
Under reconveyance, the County is under no obligation to provide revenue.
This is similar to City purchased land in the watershed.
These lands are public and are not taxed.
I ma sure that we would all find it highly objectionable if the City was required to pay taxes to the County and State for City purchased lands in the watershed or for city purchased greenways parks.
Why would the County agree to tax its own park land?

A further note is there already has been lost revenue on these trust lands due to the Landscape Plan.
The DNR has claimed the lost revenue is about 50%.
There has been no obligation to make up these lost revenues.

Is the County willing and able to make up these funds -in perpetuity? If so, what method is intended, and in what amount?

The only reason to do so would be to ease any burden to say perhaps a local school district.
Has the City of Bellingham offered to do this on its park lands?
That said at the federal level there is some precedent under national forest lands under the Secure Schools Act and under the Payment in lue of Taxes (PLT).
Both of these programs are discretionary and are annually debated in congress.

4. In addition to replacing the anticipated LOST revenue from DNR 'harvests', won't the creation, development, operation and maintenance of a large new Park require ADDITIONAL public funding?

Yes parks do need funding. However, there is no obligation to replace the revenue.

How much will be needed and for what purpose?

Estimated cost of the reconveyance per the October 2006 budget was $300,000.
This is for required survey work and minor help with negotiations with the DNR.
I believe that operations and maintenance is estimated at $150,000/year and capitol outlays at similar level subject to variability depending on the overall county park planning priorities.

From where will the County obtain such funding?

Funding sources will vary with a mix of general fund, conservation futures funds and real estate excise tax (REET).
Grants may be possible and inter fund transfers from other agencies are possible.

Will this funding be stable and long-term in nature?

The level of funding needed is well within county budgets and represents a very tiny portion of the County budget. Conservation Futures funds are very stable and REET has a very large reserve at the present time and I do not anticipate it will be greatly impacted.

To what priority would these new funds be assigned?

Priority – too big a question – but Lake Whatcom has been a priority for County spending out of several funds and I would hope that it remains so.

Would new Park funds subtract from the funding needed or available for other purposes, like Lake Whatcom water quality protection?

Not likely, but I am sure some will make that claim.
The park will have no impact on the Flood tax and very minimal impact on the Road fund.
These are the two fund sources used for lake protection efforts.
An argument could be made that it would save lots of money on park acquisition costs as we are getting approximately 7,000 to 8,000 acres at very little cost.
How much would 8,000 acres of watershed land cost to buy from the private land holdings in the watershed?

Can future County Administrations and Councils be expected to continue supporting the Park Plan far into the future?

These lands are required to remain park land.
As to the commitment to a particular park plan, there can be no sure thing.
However, I think some agreements can be asked for to ensure that the park remains a low impact forest reserve park.
This would be a great issue for the Councils to hammer out in an interlocal agreement.
Perhaps some revenue contribution from the City to support forest protection of the watershed in exchange for a commitment from the County limiting the park to a forest preserve type park.

5. What other 'unintended consequences' might occur as a result of the Park Plan moving ahead?

Well, put on your thinking caps, I can't think of any.
But fear of consequences should not kill a forest reserve park in our drinking watershed.

Which properties would be traded and who might gain or lose from such trades?
What about adjacent properties?

The only trades that can take place are between trust lands.
Under the law, there can be no winners or losers.
The trades must be timber value for timber value.
The values must be equal.
Some adjustment can be made for blocking lands together to reduce management costs.

If the Park Plan were to fail for any reason, what would be the fate of the lands involved?

As noted above the land can only be used for park land.
If the County at some future date decides it no longer wants to support a forest preserve park in the watershed, the DNR would take back management of the lands for timber.

Would they revert to DNR, and if so, would the Landscape Plan again apply?

The Landscape plan would apply.

Would they become private forest lands, which are restricted by the Landscape Plan?

No. Unless of course the DNR exchanges the forest board lands out of the watershed.
Remember that the forest board lands in the watershed were obtained by a land exchange in the early 1990s.