Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Toolkit Complaint

This time, I'm really mad!
Not just average mad, but livid, outraged and angry.

The whole idea of the City Council giving lip service to the idea of adopting a TOOLKIT is ludicrous.
Why are they wasting time on something like this?
It's unnecessary, unworkable and maybe even un-American!
And to debate this worthless concept in public just demeans people who can't be at the meeting, or don't want to go.
Putting it on public TV is the icing on the cake, and that really frosts me, too.

First, why is any toolkit necessary?
In the old days, folks used to find a cave, or live in a place where the climate was good and food plentiful.
I resent having to pay for something that isn't needed, won't work and is too complicated.
That seems so artificial and wasteful.

Besides, to be affordable, most toolkits are probably made in another country, using inferior materials and workmanship, and having unintelligible instructions!
I resent that, plus having to understand every tool and how it is used.

Take a hammer for example. Why not use a rock?
Rocks are cheap, abundant and usually hard enough -even if they aren't exactly the right shape and size.
Besides, having access to a hammer tends to make folks think that every thing starts to look like a nail!
Why have people running around with tools designed to hit things?

Then, there's screwdrivers; whoever invented them?
And why did someone even carve the first screw? Didn't they have to use another tool to do that?
There are so many kinds and sizes of screwdrivers, too. Excessive!
Plus some idiot decided that screws need to turn to the right to work, most of the time.
Why right and not left? Some right-wing wing-nut probably thought that up to lord it over the rest of us.

Pliers are too dangerous for public use.
Why one could really pinch oneself, if they aren't careful.
And who wants to go around being careful all the time?
Its just another form of government meddling, and loss of individual rights!

There's a few other tools I've heard about, too, but resent having to learn how to use them.
I tell you, this country is going to the dogs, and fast!
Let people invent their own darn tools, I say.
Real folks just don't need 'em, and never did.

This city's already got too much stuff that it can't take care of.
I say stop this toolkit foolishness and save the money.
Heck, it didn't even seem like most Council members understood what a toolkit was for, either.
Who elected them to adopt a bunch of toolkits anyway?

Do they think they are rulers or something?
Are they on the level?
I don't trust 'em, and anyway its unfair to let them have tools when the rest of us have to make do with our hands and feet.
But, these elected officials will find out that we the people do have the ultimate power.

What I'm talking about is the right to run our mouths.
Anytime we want to, but especially after the fact, and fact-free.
And, we are free to do that whether somebody thinks we know what we're talking about or not!
You don't believe that? Just wait and see!

Hey, this is Amurica!

'Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.' - Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC)

Cheap Versus Free

An article in the current issue of New Yorker magazine by the insightful author Malcolm Gladwell discusses eloquently the difference between something that is cheap and something that is free.

Here's a hint; the difference is huge!
Gladwell first points up the problem with the rapid demise of traditional newspapers, which too long relied upon a business model that no longer applies.
As a result, people now rely upon free information from the Internet instead of buying newspapers that are quickly dated by fast-happening events.
News now costs little to nothing, but lost in this decline is the ability to even create in-depth news reports!
That sounds like a mixed bag to me.

Another example is the fast diminishing cost of producing transistors for use in electronic equipment of all types.
This trend does reduce the costs of electronics, but also the profitability of the very companies responsible for their R&D and production.
Another mixed bag.

But, the parallel I want to make is about taxes and the public services they provide for.
Everyone is as concerned with value received for taxes as they are with their own incomes, because the two are directly related.
And, there is no certain litmus test for determining who 'owns' this issue.
It isn't only rhetoric for political parties to bicker about.
It is a real social and economic issue that impacts everyone.

That brings me to the subject of the 'TEA Parties'.
Born of frustration and desperation for political traction, the deservedly diminished Republicans have seized upon taxes, yet again, to attract public attention and more importantly, public passion.
Even with the terrible economic climate -largely caused by irresponsible R spending on Iraq, the Wall Street bail-out, etc. - and the serious City budget crisis, they are willing to go there again!
Why, it's a wonder the words don't wither in their throats!

Do you think the R-TEAs see this as their best chance to whack the local 'guvmint' again while its already down, thereby paring services and programs they have resisted all along?
Things like Parks, Museum, Library are sitting ducks right now, not to speak of slimming down those over-staffed and over-paid Fire & Police Departments.
While being out of power, the Rs will be claiming a major victory by slashing the City's budget AND its services.
How about that for a strategy?

But, wait.
Remember the difference between cheap and free?
When things are free, people flock to get their share, plus maybe a little more.
Just being cheap won't work when something can be had for free.

Breaking news:
Nothing is free!
Especially those things that are valued cannot be provided with zero revenues.
Like water, we will know its cost when the well is dry.

So, let's don't go there.
Don't even think about it!
Keep the things that are necessary and carefully pare down those that are only 'desirable' for quality of life.
These times will pass and better times will come again.

Listening to the siren call of the TEA Party crowd is a loser for this town and most people already know that.
If we opt for 'free' and do not expect to pay for things that we need or want, we will lose them.
It is just that simple.
Read the New Yorker article, then draw your own conclusions on this.

Last time I checked, the average home-ownwer's annual General Fund costs for City services was about $500, excluding the Greenways Levy which was voluntarily passed by the voting publc.
That seems pretty reasonable to me.
At least that's my opinion.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities: Role Models for Bellingham?

A recent article in Crosscut was fascinating as it juxtaposed the positive and negative characteristics of two northwest cities, Seattle and Vancouver, BC.

What was really interesting was that expert representatives of each city had to advocate for the OTHER city!

That's an idea which requires serious role-playing and an honest effort to see, understand and support arguments and positions they would normally argue against.

Similar to a debating team format, where pro and con sides are selected in advance and the quality of arguments is monitored and rated by an audience and a jury, the method attempts to separate preconceived positions from rational concepts that can be widely understood and accepted.

Socrates would have loved this format, and probably would have been keen to argue both sides of the question himself.
It was that capacity for didactic argument and reasoning that made Socrates so unpopular in some influential circles, that were not at all comfortable with hearing opposing positions from the same person!

Yet that technique seems a very valuable one since it does identify legitimate pros and cons for reasonable consideration.
Here is a short list of good things about each city, remembering that the discussion is mainly about the built environments.

Vancouver, BC is great because it has:

Stanley Park

Real townhouses

No auto court six-packs

31 miles of mass transit

Consistent, visionary planning

More downtown residents

Skinny Towers that don't block views

More public waterfront access

Walkable neighborhoods

Bikeable streets

No downtown freeways

More cosmopolitan feel

More multi-cultural feel

More "granny flats"

Better new neighborhoods

Bike-borrowing program

More integrated design

More design focus on livability

Families downtown

Seattle is great because it has:

Unique neighborhood character

Downtown ferries

Pike Place Market

Hilly terrain

Local civic patrons

More money

Free downtown buses

Parking strip gardens

Olmsted legacy

Better residential architecture

More architectural risk-taking

Better downtown office towers

A less homogenized feel

More cultural institutions and events

University campuses integrated into the city


Major medical and research complexes

Westlake Plaza (Vancouver had no equivalent)

Seattle Center

As for the cons, both criticized their hometowns for significant failures.

Steinbrueck said of Seattle: "We've given up on families in the urban core."

Price said Vancouver's dirty secret was: "We've reached a very high level of mediocrity."

After the Q&A, the audience was asked to decide who won the debate. It was Gordon Price by a hair, which balanced things out nicely: Steinbrueck was voted the winner in Vancouver. Which produced the kind of result soccer cities can be happy with: a tie.

This topic -now being addressed locally by a housing 'toolkit' -is already of interest locally, as it has rightfully has been for a quite a while.

Examples include our Comprehensive Plan, including the 23 Neighborhood Plan updates [now 24], every annexation discussion, every development proposal of any size, design standards & guidelines, waterfront & other redevelopment schemes, etc.
And this good, certainly better than the public ignoring discussions that could impact the city and its neighborhoods in ways that may not be desirable.

But, there is also the feeling among some that even discussing such a topic is tantamount to opening Pandora's box.
They seem to feel that avoidance is better, that delay is preferable, that blind fear is justified, and that the 'City' cannot be trusted.
That stance is just so much BS!

Some opponents are avowed single issue advocates, some recall experiences in other places that purportedly caused huge problems, some are so focused on ADUs [accessory dwelling units] that they can't get past that block.

And, some advocates have the simple misfortune to be classified as 'developers'.

Both advocates and opponents are correct in that some risks will be taken, even if they turn out to be imaginary.

The bottom line is that if the City really wants to do infill better, it needs better tools to do it.
If this is only about mixed use and multi-family housing areas it falls far short; single-family homes must be part of the mix because there do exist lots that are suitable for modest additional housing.

The Real question is, as it has been, how far do we want to go in telling someone else what they can do with their property?
There are practical limits on what makes sense here, folks.

Besides, we have a professional Hearing Examiner to provide consistent review and compliance with City ordinances and design criteria.
Then, there is the neighborhood review process which gets the true input from those likely to be most affected.

Regarding the perceived 'complexity' of the proposed 'Toolkit', when has that claim NOT been made?
There has to be some thoughtful guidelines to be fair and consistent.

Besides, use of the Toolkit is voluntary, not mandatory!
The Toolkit is available for those who wish to use it, period.

So, what is the problem -really?

It is certainly NOT the loss of our single-family neighborhoods!
Did you know that the proposed Toolkit was essentially 'borrowed' from Seattle, a city renowned for the excellence of its neighborhoods.

Let's get serious about this issue and get on with the business of creating more design options, green practices, affordability and land use efficiency.
At some point, citizens will need to connect the dots that this exercise has not happened out of thin air.

This project has been the result of many public planning sessions, careful thought and hundreds of hours of professional staff time.
To dismiss it with knee-jerk reactions is simply not responsible or appropriate, and demeans the effort expended as well as the reasonable intent behind it.

To mouth the words 'I'm all for infill', and then badmouth reasonable attempts to actually implement it, seems disingenuous at best.
Every Toolkit, ordinance or guideline developed will never please everyone, although each will undoubtedly obtain as much public process and consensus as is possible.

I do hope the City will approve this Toolkit in some form after its planned due process, because it does represent a step forward for the City.
Otherwise, we are spinning our wheels and wasting everyone's time.

If, for some reason, the final version of the Toolkit proves unworkable or otherwise undesirable, it can always be modified or rescinded.
Let's don't forget that.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

On Kings & Things

The recent sudden death of Michael Jackson, the 'King of Pop', has caused a sensation and a self-perpetuating media frenzy.
It also points up something about us as a society; that we desperately want -crave- heroes that we can idolize.

That seems true whether they are real heroes, entertainers, sports stars, egregious villains, the super wealthy or political figures are chosen.
Human nature is a strange beast that manifests itself in patterns through history.
And, sometimes, history itself seems to magnify and distort popular opinion.

Those two words, 'popular opinion' are key.
Popular means accepted by many or most people.
Opinion means perception, whether fact-based or not.

Interesting, that after centuries of learning and advances in science that we are still ruled by our senses, emotions and perceptions, isn't it?
Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, John Locke can also be thought of as popular figures in history, but they do not begin to rise to the level of Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson in the hearts and minds of most members of the American public.

Hard to say why that is so, but I expect it has to do with emotions being accessed before thoughts.
Like the heart always seems to trump the head in matters of love or other strong emotions.

Over 200 years ago, I expect things were similar in the midst of George Washington's immense popularity following the War of Independence.
Back then, folks were keen to make GW 'King for Life', not just President.
But, wise old George had other ideas.
He wanted to return to private life, not that he regretted spending about 50 years in the service of his country.

No, Washington was essentially a modest man, with strong ethics, work habits and a quiet sense of duty.
He is my preferred type of hero, and history only seems to enhance his image.

Even that other George -King George of England- thought our George Washington to be 'the greatest man in history' because he willingly gave up power!
Different strokes for different folks I guess.
Once a King, always a King - they like all that monarchy stuff that we fought to escape.

But, now we seem to crave 'kings' of a different sort; ones that can entertain us in ways that we enjoy -often without thinking required, just plain feeling without any lasting obligation aside from the costs which we willingly pay.
And, the new 'kings' seem to crave the spotlight, and the fame and the fortune it brings, until it's not much fun for them anymore.

They often become captives of their own success, seek privacy, develop coping mechanisms, and suffer in their own unique ways that are hard for their fans to understand.
I suspect that some would like to return to private life, like George Washington did.
But, maybe without the satisfaction of real sacrifice and public service?
I don't know.

At some point, I have to think that some kinds of success are inherently more rewarding than others.
But, that is not to say some modern 'kings' have not contributed mightily to humanitarian causes, and have developed strong values and goals in their lives, and set good examples.
It just seems sad that so many of today's 'kings' seem so shallow, trapped in materialism, hounded by the media, and doomed to a life that becomes less and less rewarding and satisfying to them.

Part of human nature, I guess.
I suspect that particular exploration and mastery is our real challenge and frontier.
Nobody knows...

"If we keep going the way we are going, we are going to end up where we are headed." - Groucho Marx

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Population Forecasts: Numerology or Just Mind-Numbing?

'Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell'
- Edward Abbey


Of course, ALL growth isn't necessarily bad.
Just look at agricultural products, the economy, scientific knowledge, kids becoming adults and the like.
The two things that set cancer cells apart are that they grow very fast and have malignant results.

Regarding population growth, that seems to be a reality that we can only plan for the best way we can.
So, here we go again, and so soon after the last Comprehensive Plan brouhaha, too.

Anyway, earlier this year, the City obtained a consultant's report which was duly reviewed by the Planning Commission which issued its Findings of Fact and Recommendations for the City Council's input and the County's eventual approval.

This blog won't go into a lot more detail, but those interested can access these reports and related others by going to the City's website, then searching on 'OFM Growth Projections'.

I attempted links to the above report and Findings, but they don't work directly;
The report is at "http://www.cob.org/documents/planning/Planning%20Commission/city-council-memorandum-growth-projection.pdf".

And, the Findings are at "http://www.cob.org/documents/planning/Planning%20Commission/growth-fndings-of-fact.pdf.

Instead, here is one question from the report, plus a summary of the various population growth projections reviewed by the Planning Commission:

Question 5: What are the legal requirements with respect to adoption of population growth forecasts?

Response: The GMA and hearings board cases have made it clear that population growth forecasts used in the preparation of comprehensive plans must be within the range provided by the State Office of Financial Management.
The OFM 2031 forecast range for Whatcom County is approximately 220,000 to 330,000 with a “baseline” forecast of 264,400. (OFM lists the baseline forecast as the “most likely to occur” scenario).
OFM does not provide population growth forecasts for individual cities.
It is up to the County, working with the cities, to allocate the county-wide growth forecast to the individual jurisdictions.


Table 1 – 2031 County-wide Population Growth Forecasts
2031 County-wide Population Growth Forecast

OFM Low Forecast 220,000

SEPA No Action Alternative (current comp. plans) 234,917

GMCC Recommendation 251,490

Consultant/Staff TAG Recommendation 256,950

EIS Alts. X and Y Forecast 258,450

OFM Baseline Forecast 264,400

OFM High Growth Forecast 330,000

You decide whether the Planning Commission is on the right track.
I think they probably are, because this equates to the City eventually accommodating a little over 44% of the County's population growth, and it is BELOW the OFM Baseline Forecast. [see report]

Last time around the City adopted a projection that equated to over 51% of county-wide growth.
And that was after a significant correction in the County's overall growth projection to just OVER the OFM baseline number.

Readers can also see from the City's report that the actual growth rate experienced by the City was less than that estimated.

Right, wrong or indifferent, the County doesn't want the City annexing any more land.
And, the City doesn't seem to want to annex more either, especially with the current strain on revenues. constraint on services, and the mind-set of several electeds.

So, something will have to give, won't it?
What do you think that will be?
Given the prevailing attitudes, it means that the the smaller cities and the unincorporated areas of the County will continue to accept more of the growth than they claim they want or are planning for.
To me, that would simply prove the following:

There is truth in the statement that the only thing people dislike more than sprawl is in-fill!

And that includes even in-fill that is appropriate, like Old Town, King Mountain, the Waterfront Redevelopment, and, yes, Chuckanut Ridge -or whatever it is now being called.

Does it seem to you like this growth planning exercise has become just a monumental waste of time?
Maybe we should just let the County decide, so we can spend full time bitching, arguing among ourselves, and generally being in denial of the good things that could be accomplished with good growth planning?

But then, how often does good planning deliver the results anticipated?
Implementation is the main problem, and I don't believe we have the tools, the political will, or the collective discipline required to consistently make progress in the direction we claim to want.

So, what we can do is simply try to slow down all population growth and prevent what growth does occur from becoming 'malignant' by some definition.
But, hey, aren't those things what growth planning is supposed to be about?


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Draft Sewer Plan: Perpetually Unfinished Business

This will offer 20 or so questions, several early answers from our former Public Works Director, plus a few comments from me submitted about 2 years ago.
But, the date really has little to do with this perpetually unfinished business, which will come up again and again.

And, because our sewer system -like our water system- is a Municipal Enterprise, its funding, including capital improvements, is funded by utility rates that system users pay.

That is not to say we don't have to be prudent and careful with the management of this fund, and the rates and system development charges that provide its revenue.
Anyway, rather than keeping this buried in my draft file, I might as well post it so those interested can read it or refer to it.

So, here goes:

How many people do you know who would willingly spend all day Saturday reading over 300 pages of a draft Sewer Plan?

OK, maybe a few engineers might do that.

Otherwise, only people like City Council members would do it, because they will need to understand why planning 20 years into the future is necessary, in order to justify making some important decisions that will affect how our sewer system must be expanded and upgraded, and these improvements paid for over that time.

Most people take sewers for granted as a basic necessity that is just -somehow- provided.
That's good, because the folks who operate our sewer system and waste treatment plant prefer to remain very low profile!
Remaining low profile means things are operating smoothly with little if any problems that can be noticed by citizens.

Bet you didn't know these fascinating facts:

• The City operates 324 miles of wastewater collection systems

• The Post Point Wastewater Treatment Plant has a peak capacity of 72 million gallons per day

• The City's sewer service area covers 30 square miles and serves 83,000 customers

• The elevation ranges from sea level to a height of 800 feet

• Treated wastewater is discharged into Bellingham Bay

• Treatment of wastewater is closely regulated by the State Dept of Ecology

• Population growth over the next 20 years will require building capital facilities costing about $191 million [factoring in estimated inflation]

• All of this funding must be raised either from ratepayers [2/3] or public Revenue Bonds [1/3]

• The Sewer Utility operates as an Enterprise Fund, which means its costs of operation must be matched by its revenues.

• Some carefully considered increases to both sewer rates and system development charges must be adopted to meet projected needs.

With this brief background it may be easier to understand why this topic should be of more than passing interest to everyone.
That is why this afternoon's Council Work Session was important.

Unfortunately, this meeting was not televised on BTV10, or well-attended, which is why I'm mentioning this subject in this blog.

In preparation for this meeting, I asked the 20 sets of questions shown below, and obtained early answers to most of them before the issue was tabled for more work and future consideration.

Answers given to these are summarized following each question.
Answers to the rest await their being asked again.

Stay tuned to see what decisions this -or a future- Council will make on this important issue
Questions & Answers

Q1. The Sewer system dynamics make a good illustration of what is meant by 'level of service', and can also be applied to transportation.
By identifying pinch points and suggesting parallel piping, larger piping, holding tanks and combined flow mitigation,
these have direct counterparts to handling traffic.

A1. Agreed regarding traffic. That's why we have Deemer, Cordata and Eliza parallel to the Guide.

Q2. In the various scenarios, I don't see the idea of relocating the big interceptor that crosses Whatcom Creek.
Was this idea considered?
What is the estimated cost?
Is this the time to consider such an idea?

A2. We don't have the Whatcom Creek pipe in because relocating it doesn't help the sewer system.
We can do it by adding a pump station on one side of the creek.
It is millions and purely optional.
We can do it anytime someone provides the money.

Q3. Regarding the proposed C Street Remote Storage facility, would this be located near or on waterfront property?
Is this included in waterfront redevelopment planning?
Will this idea serve to excite the neighborhood?

A3. C Street would be a large vault built under the renovated C Street at the waterfront.
Maybe 50 feet wide, 500 feet long and 20 feet deep.
We would essentially drive on the roof.

Q4. Sewer service is a valuable commodity!
Do we need to reserve our existing capacity preferentially for in-City use?
How does this impact annexations and/or service to Water District?

A4. Quick feedback while working on the bigger answers: the sewer interlocal from 1974 does not expire after 20 years.
It says that the term is for a period of AT LEAST 20 years.
That means that it goes forever unless we mutually agree to a new agreement. I have contacted LWWSD to start the process.

A4. The Comp Plan planning section reviews the entire service area and takes into account the population projects and update TAZ data to determine adequate sanitary sewer capacity. The intent of the plan is to have a living document that can be updated as necessary. There is ‘no reserve’ but rather built in capacity for the densities that have been approved for current in-fill strategies. Example: if a future Council decided on limiting service to an area but wanted to expand density in another, the plan could be amended to achieve this goal or the capacity is already built-in to the system. How does this impact annexations and/or service to Water District? Generally, most annexations are in areas within the City’s UGA and those areas have been included in the planning/capacity analysis for this particular comprehensive plan. Unless during the annexation process zoning changes were being recommended to increase densities that may have not been originally planned for, there is again, built in capacity for those annexations. The City only serves one Water District with sanitary sewer service, LWWSD and the flows from that District are included in this plan based on 1) contract amount and the draft LWWSD comp plan.

Q5. Do we charge SDCs for the Water District? Can we? If not, can we raise sewer rates sufficiently to cover this subsidy?
What does 'average GPM' flow rate translate to in terms of peak flow?
If we increase SDC for city dwellers, doesn't that mean the Water District gets an increase?
Where do we stand in renegotiating the Interlocal with the Water District?
It was signed in 1974 and was to be in effect for 20 years. That ended in 1994!
I know rate increases will be 50% higher in proportion to the City, but is this enough?

A5. Yes, [we do charge SDCs for the Water District] however, the only District receiving sewer service is LWWSD and they have a contract that allows for a specific amount of sewage flow, therefore, we would not be able to charge an SDC for each one of their internal customers that are connecting to their system. We could, if a new district required service charge the provider for the new main connection and service to the City’s system, i.e. Ferndale or Lummi, etc

Q5. Can we? If not, can we raise sewer rates sufficiently to cover this subsidy?

A5. The SDC are a ‘buy-in+growth’ concept that the Council approved during the 2004 ‘cost-of-service’ model rate study. If a District where to ask for a new connection, the SDC would apply. The SDC is based on ‘meter size equivalent’ so generally there is really no ‘subsidy’ here.

Q5. What does 'average GPM' flow rate translate to in terms of peak flow?

A5. Depending on the context, but ‘average GPM’ is the expected flow in the system or from a customer on average over a specific time period. The industry usually uses ‘average annual GPM’ or ‘average annual daily flow.’ ‘Peak flow’ is the highest expected flow rate during a specific period of time; it can be in a daily format or an annual flow rate depending on whether one is discussing water or wastewater. In wastewater, we generally use daily peak flows as our way to gauge sizing of components and facilities.

Q5. If we increase SDC for city dwellers, doesn't that mean the Water District gets an increase?

A5. SDC are only paid at the time of permit, we would not be issuing any new permits to a water district unless they were to ask for a new connection. So, raising SDC for all new customers, inside and outside of the City only affects those services that are directly connected to the City’s sanitary sewer service.

Q5. Where do we stand in renegotiating the Interlocal with the Water District?

A5. The City is currently reviewing the Interlocal Agreement and is in the process of trying to reopen the process for negotiating. Internal meetings are on-going to outline strategies and objectives. The sewer interlocal from 1974 does not expire after 20 years. It says that the term is for a period of AT LEAST 20 years. That means that it goes forever unless we mutually agree to a new agreement.

Q5. It was signed in 1974 and was to be in effect for 20 years. That ended in 1994!
I know rate increases will be 50% higher in proportion to the City, but is this enough?

Q5. The Cost-of-Service model includes an analysis that accounts for the revenue generated by the 1974 agreement and subsequent payment options on new facilities, i.e. Oak St Lift Station Upgrade in 2005.

Q6. Section 3 assumes the County will OK the City's request for additional UGA land supply.
Since this is in question, how will less land supply impact the analysis of future needs?

A6. The analysis is conservative in nature and as a living document with an active hydraulic model it is intended to be updated and used on a continual basis; the plan can be modified as planning scenarios change and growth is either slowing or increasing. We will update and reevaluate the CIP on a regular basis to ensure that our targets are being met.

Q7. Are there further plans for separating sanitary and storm water, aside from reducing existing I & I?

A7. In 1978-1982, the City undertook a huge storm/sewer separation project that basically removed all known storm water from the sanitary system with some exceptions and no removal of roof drains from property owners. We are constantly evaluating the sanitary system through portable and permanent flow meters to determine unknown sources of storm water into the system. There are several large storm pipes that are in need of separation but unfortunately, no storm systems exists in the drainage area nor are those pipes easily constructed at this time due to existing structures and topography. These are in the downtown area, along the waterfront and it is expected that as the waterfront develops, these will be separated into new storm systems.

Q8. Since Yew Street has not been up-zoned, why is the extension to Samish Way at Lake Padden needed?

A8. There are existing homes that are in need of sanitary sewer that would remove septic systems from the Lake Padden drainage area.

Q9. There are expensive plans in Chapter 7 for sewer line extensions west of the airport and east of I-5.
Are these considered likely annexations?
If not, why plan for them?

A9. Annexations and their likelihood were derived from the Planning Dept and it’s direction from Council. It is not fully known on annexation timeliness nor likelihood. However, these areas are within the City’s planning area for wastewater service and thus need to be considered in the calculations at this time.

Q10. What are our plans for providing sewers to currently un-sewered areas in the City, like the South Neighborhood?
Is significant growth likely for this area? Enough to justify costs?

A10. The City approached this neighborhood in the mid-90’s as a potential candidate for a Utility LID (Local Improvement District) but after analysis the cost did not justify the improvements. Depending on neighborhood sentiment and growth, it may be advantageous to review this again.

Q11. The suggestions for eliminating bottlenecks, increasing efficiency, changing treatment technology and expanding unit processes and unit operations at Post Point seem well-conceived and phased.
What is the practical limit on this site?
I note a hydraulic capacity expansion to 82 mgd is suggested.
Is that the maximum likely?
What are plans once Post Point's ultimate capacity is reached?

A11. The site expansion would be limited for any continued expansion to the west and south by the new recommended improvements being built in 2009-2012. The City’s purchase of the McKenzie Ave property allows for some additional growth beyond the current proposal most likely into 2030. After that, if no additional property is obtained to the north (Port of Bellingham land) then possible upgrades to existing process with newer technologies that do not require larger footprints may be an option.

Q11. note a hydraulic capacity expansion to 82 mgd is suggested. Is that the maximum likely?

A11. The City has experienced flows at the WWTP around 72MGD instantaneous, so the 82 MGD and the higher 107MGD are good planning numbers that are consistent with growth projections and the planning storm of 2004.

Q11. What are plans once Post Point's ultimate capacity is reached?

A11. Hydraulically, additional collection system storage or high rate treatment facilities may be necessary within the collection system at key conveyance points to meet futre needs, similar to what is being recommended for the collection system in 2012.

Q12. What about nutrient removal? Is this for Nitrogen? Will it work on Phosphorus?
Where is DOE coming from on this?
When does our existing NPDES permit expire?

A12. Based on discussions with DOE, nutrient limits (ammonia, N, and/or P) are not likely to be imposed during the planning period. Furthermore, the current recommended expansion is not designed to provide nutrient removal per se (although bio-P is provided via the anaerobic selector). The planned expansion can be modified if needed at some future date, to accommodate nutrient removal. The City received its new NPDES permit on November 02, 2007, it is good for 5 years from that date.

Q13. Recommended conveyance systems improvements fall largely at the edges of City limits, some in UGAs.
If the City must finance these prior to annexation, isn't that an undue burden on existing taxpayers?
Will Latecomers fees recover all these costs?

A13. If any utility improvements are installed by ratepayer funds, the City will assess property owners a future latecomer fee to access the system. Another possible way to achieve improvements prior to annexation or during would be to form a Utility LID. Costs that are associated with capacity are rolled into the SDCs and new developer pays the buy-in + growth, thus paying back the cost that the City incurred to make the necessary capacity available to the new customer.

Q14. Chapter '11' for Capital Improvements Plan is scary!
But, seriously, the Basis for Estimated Cost on page 11-5 is interesting.
Can or should this methodology be applied to other capital projects?
Like a Library?

A14. Yes, many other organizations, especially the Federal Government use ‘Cost Basis of Estimate’ or BOE. The Cost Basis of Estimate provides a record of the procedures, ground rules and assumptions, data, environment, and events that underlie a cost estimate’s development or update. Good documentation supports the cost estimate’s credibility, aids in the analysis of changes in program cost, enables reviewers to effectively assess the cost estimate, and contributes to the population of data bases for estimating the cost of future programs.

Q15. Thank goodness this isn't Chapter 11!
Good job of presenting the results of many complex activities and projects.
The point needs to be made clearly these total $110 million in present day costs.
The $191 million takes into account escalation over time and on time.
Regardless, it is good news that only 30% of the total amount must be raised from bonds, grants and other sources other than rates & SDCs.
Having to raise $33 million present day or $60 million escalated will be far more acceptable for Council to approve.

A15. No comments received.

Q16. The rate increases of 7% for 2008 and 7.68% for 2009 are OK with me because they do seem necessary because they address a known deficiency earlier rather than later.
But, some others may feel differently and an alternate phasing might be advisable to have in your back pocket.

A16. Phasing options will be available for discussion.

Q17. The SDC increases are quite substantial and will probably be fought by the BIA and others.
So, timing is important! Maybe early December after elections?
You might also consider a phasing plan for SDCs, although its probably better to just get beaten up once instead of multiple times.
But, a $4201 increase over the existing $3436 SDC is a big jump! 122%

A17. This will be something that we will want to discuss at the November 19th Council session on water/sewer rates.
A phasing plan is always an option and if Council like to explore the possibility of phasing the SDC, we will have several courses of action to choose from.

Q18. The comparison to other cities on page 12-15 is useful.
But only Kirkland is shown as having a higher SDC AFTER we increase ours.
That may be a negative.

A18. No comments received.

Q19. Appendix D - Water District Agreement needs revisiting!
I know we can't rescind it, but we can change it!
Changes in circumstances is really all we have to claim.
Since 1974 we have finally discovered Lake Whatcom is our reservoir and taken significant action to protect it.
Those actions cost dearly and all parties need to share more equitably!
Sudden Valley should not be considered a low cost community.
Other developments around the Lake are certainly not low cost either!
This sewer agreement is leverage the City ought to be using better.

A19. No comments received.

Q20. It would be nice to get the changes is SDCs and rates into the 2008 budget, whether before we approve on Nov 26 or early next year.
But, if Water rates and Stormwater rates are to be increased as well, you need to think about what's most important and start with that.
It will be very nice to get these big utility funds updated to last several years into the future, regardless of administration.
Including phased increases is a very smart way to do that, for multiple reasons.

A20. No comments received.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009


The simple answer to the question posed above is 'you bet they can!'
But, like almost everything else, TDRs are not automatic; they must actually be set up to work, then this tool must be used.

The Whatcom County PDR/TDR program was established about 10 years ago, but has languished for a number of reasons.
[PDR stands for 'Purchase of Development Rights', and is used primarily to preserve farmland and other resource lands]

So far, Whatcom County hasn't used PDRs much because of lack of funding, but mostly a lack of political will and commitment.
And, the same can be said for the City of Bellingham, although it has acquired about 700 TDRs from it's Lake Whatcom Watershed Acquisition & Preservation Program.

But, it is good to see the TDRs actually being discussed again, because if a potentially good land use tool isn't on people's minds, it is very unlikely to be used to any good effect.
Now, with some recent annexations approved in 4 northern neighborhoods, the City of Bellingham may be able to establish and promote more so-called 'receiving areas', the lack of which has severely hampered the TDR program.
We'll have to see about that.

It is also a good sign that the Old Town redevelopment will require some TDRs from Lake Whatcom, and that the City has agreed to accept 'fees-in-lieu-of' payments in place of the somewhat awkward TDR transfer process.
Almost anything that can be done to jump-start an effective TDR program is probably worth the effort, particularly in establishing a future tool that can be readily used.

Rarely, do incentives alone achieve their goals; there must be some requirements, too.
The two must work together.

Earlier this year, the City commissioned a report to update the TDR status. The PC approved its Findings and Recommendations in April of this year.

A few excerpts illustrate the meat of this report:

• To date, the Lake Whatcom Watershed Property Acquisition Program has expended about $18 million to purchase about 1450 acres and about 700 associated TDRs.

• About 229 of these TDRs have been purchased and 31 of them actually transferred to 'receiving areas', located outside the watershed. Average cost per TDR is about $30,000. This translates to a 10:1 transfer ratio, if the sales price of TDR used in a receiving area is $3,000.

To make any TDR program work, 6 things are required:

1. Availability of suitable 'receiving areas'
2. Cooperation between Sending and Receiving jurisdictions
3. A balanced marketplace for TDRs
4. Attractive financial incentives
5. A TDR 'bank' and facilitating mechanisms
6. Community support

Some of these are substantially missing, which accounts for the very modest performance compared to what is possible.

Of more importance, are the 7 Conclusions & Recommendations of the report:

1. The City must set minimum density requirements, as a condition of annexation.

2. Alternately, the base density could be lowered, but this is not considered a good idea at this time, because development is already occurring at lesser density than desirable for an urban area.

3. Demand for TDRs will likely increase in the future, but we need to get ready now.

4. TDR use may be encouraged by making them available on an exception basis.

5. City could expand the Lake Whatcom Acquisition Program

6. We need actual experience to make TDRs a usable future tool. Consider a demonstration project.

7. The City may need to offer public amenities to encourage using TDRs, equal to or greater than their value.

Anyone remember the sessions with Rick Pruetz, the TDR expert? I do.
Most of what is now being discussed, was made available by Mr Pruetz in one of the 3 publications listed below, whether it was actually used or not. I know a copy of 'Saved by Development' is available in the City Council library, because I put it there.

Saved by development
preserving environmental areas, farmland and historic landmarks with transfer of development rights
by Rick Pruetz
Published in 1997, Arje Press (Burbank, Calif)

Beyond takings and givings
saving natural areas, farmland, and historic landmarks with transfer of development rights and density transfer charges
by Rick Pruetz
Published in 2003, Arje Press (Marina Del Rey, Calif)

Putting transfer of development rights to work in California
by Rick Pruetz
Published in 1993, Solano Press Books (Point Arena, Calif)


Here's an excerpt from a MEETING SUMMARY on the County website:
Agriculture Advisory Committee Meeting Held 12-07-05
Agriculture Service Center
6975 Hannegan Rd

Troy Holbrook from the Whatcom County Planning and Development Services presented a power point presentation to the committee regarding the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program. Troy provided the committee with a handout pertaining to the power point presentation.
Troy stated that the current TDR program was targeted at the Lake Whatcom Watershed in hopes of protecting Bellingham’s source of drinking water and surrounding critical areas. The Lake Whatcom Watershed is a current “sending” area in the county.
Troy stated that a second “sending” area has recently been established in the Birch Bay area.

The “receiving” areas are the Bellingham UGA and a small section of Birch Bay. Troy
stated that the City of Bellingham does not participate in the program.
The program is currently voluntary and as of December 7, 2005 330 TDRs have been certified in the Lake Whatcom Watershed. Fifty-two of the 330 TDRs have been transferred into the Bellingham UGA.

Troy stated that the current price for a TDR is $2,000-$6,000. Transfer of Development Right certificates are issued at the time of purchase. The certificates can be sold or transferred. Certificates are permanently placed on the respective property titles.
Chuck stated the need to create a market for TDRs in the county to boost competition. Troy recommended that the committee support the TDR program to the County Council. In turn, Chuck recommended that the committee draft a document supporting the TDR program and the possibility of a TDR sending area in agriculture areas of the county.
Troy also provided a brief presentation on the PDR program in Whatcom County. A PDR Summary Table, Target Areas Map and Recommendations by the PDR committee were made available by Jessica to the committee for review.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Local Labor Boss Issues 11th Hour 'Warning'

Yesterday's Herald carried an opinion piece by David Warren designed to not-so-subtlely dissuade our Mayor and City Council from seriously reconsidering the City's ill-advised 'Big-Box' ban.
You can read this article right here.

Of course, today - the 'ides of June' - is the day that public discussions will be held to reconsider the so-called 'big-box ban, along with other measures to help the City bring its General Fund budget back into a better semblance of balanced.
So, it's understandable that folks who are afraid their ox will be gored, show up to beg, cajole or intimidate our elected officials to do their bidding.
That's OK, and part of the process, as long as our electeds are careful to observe the fractured latin of 'petticoati tyrannus non bossanova', which roughly translates into 'don't let petty tyrants boss you around'

In his piece, Mr Warren:
• disagrees with the Herald editorial board that the 'big-box' was really targeting Wal-Mart [it was]
• tries on a 'green suit' in an effort to court sustainability fans [not his color]
• rails against any corporation who dares to get too big, resist unionization, go bankrupt, pay less than family wages & benefits, lays off workers, or leaves an 'empty' building behind [welcome to America]
• claims -unconvincingly- he is not an 'anti' Mayor Pike [huh?]
• applauds the City for searching for 'creative ways' to solve the current severe revenue shortfall, without offering any plan himself for reducing expenditures [kinda hard, isn't it?]
• avoids mentioning entirely the furlough plan now being considered by Whatcom County [inconvenient & unpleasant]

Can you see a pattern here?

As the chief architect of the hasty and unwise so-called 'big-box ban', Mr Warren's response is predictable.
Perhaps, he has another remedy in mind for the city's major revenue shortfall, which is partly due to loss of sales taxes from big box stores, including Wal-Mart, itself the largest single sales tax source?

As president of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, Warren wields inordinate power, not only over the 85% of City employees who are members of nine different unions, but over elected officials dependent upon the support of organized labor.
Is he sending a 'message', designed to influence officials and candidates during the upcoming elections?
After all, union bosses are sometimes noted for their strong-arm tactics, as I personally experienced after my opposition to both the so-called 'living wage' ordinance, the 2004 budget shenanigans and the big-box ban.
Those tactics didn't work very well on me, but they did on 4 or 5 Council members, and the mayor at the time.

And, you know 4 of those Council members are still around.
[drumroll, please]
rat-a-tat: Louise Bjornson
rat-a-tat-tat: Gene Knutson
rat-a-tat-tat-tat: Barbara Ryan
rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat: Terry Bornemann

Of course, that's not to say other Council members, Mayors, mayor-wannabe's, or candidates couldn't be similarly 'persuaded' by Mr Warren to do his bidding, either

Hey, no one blames Mr Warren for doing what he is paid to do, but he is not an official who is elected by the public, or necessarily represents them as a first priority.

Maybe Warren does have a plan to reduce the substantial union contract wages & benefits that have been negotiated over time?
Something like that would certainly help the budget situation more than any other responsible act the City could take.
That's because the great majority of the General Fund is comprised of mainly employee wages & benefits.
Much as we might like to shift those monies around, there are laws and mandatory government accounting practices that prevent us from doing so.
Sometimes, it is possible to borrow from Peter to pay Paul. But Peter needs to be paid back. And, what about Mary?

I cannot imagine anyone doubting that the City's employees are its main asset!
That is why a voluntary wage & benefit reduction plan would respond best to the short-term problem, as well as long-term sustainability.
But, I'm not holding my breath for that to happen.
More likely, Mr Warren and his ilk will push to have any budget cutting happen 'somewhere else', even though there is 'no where else' that can be legitimately cut - to the extent needed.

And, I seriously doubt the City has ANY plans to sell real estate to big box stores.
That is simply ludicrous and designed to appeal to emotion, not facts.
Besides, most available property is not owned by the City, but by private interests.

The fact is, the big-boxes are already here, and have been here for some years.
Plus, I have heard NOTHING about totally rescinding big-box regulations, and Mr Warren should know that, if he doesn't already.

One other point, this article purports to be about so-called 'big-boxes, but that doesn't wash.
It IS about Wal-Mart, pure & simple, as it has been from the start.
Expanding Wal-Mart to 'big-boxes' was necessary for the legal cover needed to 'legitimize' the unwise measure initially approved by the City Council.

Citizens may wish to understand that our local 'big-boxes' also include Target, Costco, Home Depot, Lowe's, Fred Meyer and others, of course excluding the now defunct Circuit City and any others that may not yet survive these tough economic times.
But, methinks Mr Warren would really rather not open this discussion more widely, preferring instead to stonewall wage & benefit gains already achieved.

And, don't forget those 'big-box' bragging rights, either!
Hey, did you know Bellingham was the first city in Washington to adopt an anti-Wal-Mart -er, 'Big-Box' - ordinance?

One last question; If Warren feels so good about Costco, why include them in the 'Big-Box' ban?
Is it Catch-22 time?

This is the time of year when the heat starts getting turned up on the local government griddle!
Good luck, Council.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Center For Watershed Protection: Helpful Articles

'The only consistent financial “loser” in the watershed protection balance sheet is local government.'

Years ago, I found the CWP website and read a number of articles posted there.
Then, somehow, I lost or forgot that link and was left to scramble to try and reconstruct information from memory to use in our efforts to protect the Lake Whatcom Reservoir.
Now, I've relocated this updated website and found most of the information I had tried to recollect, intact!.

Mind you, none of this was written specifically for Lake Whatcom, but it might have well been, because so much of is directly applicable.
The problem of protecting watersheds is a universal one, shared by everyone in one form of severity -urgency- or another.
And, so are the economics associated with addressing this problem, whether it is a drinking water supply, recreational waterbody or farm pond.
By and large, the economics always seem to strongly favor prudent protection over expensive, after-the-fact clean-ups.
This so-called 'precautionary principle' was best defined by old Ben Franklin's 'a stitch in time, saves nine.'

So, I'm pleased to again cite the CWP website, as well as a list of articles that ought to be helpful to those trying to learn and teach others about watershed protection.

In particular, this article on the Economics of Watershed Protection seems appropriate and timely, considering the important TMDL response that will be due from the City and County later this year:

The Practice of Watershed Protection Articles

Below are articles from The Practice of Watershed Protection that pertain specifically to this topic. To purchase the hardbound book or CD of these articles, please visit our store. For citing these articles, add the article author and title to the following: The Practice of Watershed Protection. 2000. T. Schueler and H. Holland, eds. Center for Watershed Protection. Ellicott City, MD. Authors of each individual article are listed as initials at the end of the article, with full names as follows: Carol Anne Barth (CAB), Ken Brown (KBB), Ted Brown (EWB), Whitney Brown (WEB), Deborah Caraco (DSC), Richard Claytor (RAC), Hye Yeong Kwon (HYK), Jennifer McClean (JMC), Ron Ohrel (RLO), Janet Pelley (JP), Eric Reeves (ER), Chris Swann (CS) and Jennifer Zielinski (JAZ). To view comprehensive list of all downloadable articles from this book, visit the Practice of Watershed Protection Articles page.

Section 1: Stormwater Pollution
1. The Importance of Imperviousness
2. Hydrocarbon Hotspots in the Urban Landscape: Can They Be Controlled?
3. Influence of Snowmelt Dynamics on Stormwater Runoff Quality
4. Nutrient Movement from the Lawn to the Stream?
5. Urban Pesticides: From the Lawn to the Stream
6. Cars are Leading Source of Metal Loads in California
7. Sources of Urban Stormwater Pollutants Defined in Wisconsin
8. Is Rooftop Runoff Really Clean?
9. First Flush of Stormwater Pollutants Investigated in Texas
10. Dry Weather Flow in Urban Streams
11. Multiple Indicators Used to Evaluate Stream Conditions in Milwaukee
12. Characterization of Heavy Metals in Santa Clara Valley
13. Simple and Complex Stormwater Pollutant Load Models Compared
14. Impact of Suspended and Deposited Sediments
15. Stormwater Pollution Source Areas Isolated in Michigan
16. Diazinon Sources in Runoff From the San Francisco Bay Region
17. Microbes in Urban Watersheds: Concentrations, Sources and Pathways

Section 2: Habitat and Biodiversity
18. Effects of Urbanization on Small Streams in the Puget Sound Ecoregion
19. Dynamics of Urban Stream Channel Enlargement
20. Stream Channel Geometry Used to Assess Land Use Impacts in the Northwest
21. Habitat and Biological Impairment in Delaware Headwater Streams
22. Comparison of Forest, Urban and Agricultural Streams in North Carolina
23. Historical Change in a Warmwater Fish Community in an Urbanizing Watershed
24. Fish Dynamics in Urban Streams Near Atlanta, Georgia
25. Housing Density and Urban Land Use As Stream Quality Indicators
26. A Study of Paired Catchments Within Peavine Creek, Georgia

Section 3: Watershed Protection Tool #1 - Watershed Planning
27. The Tools of Watershed Protection
28. Basic Concepts in Watershed Planning
29. Crafting Better Watershed Plans
30. Economics of Watershed Protection
31. Microbes and Urban Watersheds: Implications for Watershed Managers
32. Methods for Estimating Effective Impervious Area of Urban Watersheds

Section 4: Watershed Protection Tool #2 - Land Conservation
33. Impact of Stormwater on Puget Sound Wetlands
34. Loss of White Cedar in New Jersey Linked to Stormwater Runoff
35. Wetter Is Not Always Better: Flood Tolerance of Woody Species
36. The Compaction of Urban Soils
37. Can Urban Soil Compaction Be Reversed
38. Choosing Appropriate Vegetation for Salt-Impacted Roadways

Section 5: Watershed Protection Tool #3 - Aquatic Buffers
39. The Architecture of Urban Stream Buffers
40. Urbanization, Stream Buffers and Stewardship in Maryland
41. Invisibility of Stream and Wetland Buffers in the Field
42. Techniques for Improving the Survivorship of Riparian Plantings
43. Impact of Riparian Forest Cover on Mid-Atlantic Stream Ecosystems
44. The Return of the Beaver

Section 6: Watershed Protection Tool #4 - Better Site Design
45. An Introduction to Better Site Design
46. The Benefits of Better Site Design in Residential Subdivisions
47. The Benefits of Better Site Design in Commercial Development
48. Changing Development Rules in Your Community
49. The Economics of Urban Sprawl
50. Skinny Streets and One-Sided Sidewalks: A Strategy for Not Paving Paradise
51. Use of Open Space Design to Protect Watersheds

Section 7: Watershed Protection Tool #5 - Erosion and Sediment Control
52. Muddy Water In; Muddy Water Out?
53. Clearing and Grading Regulations Exposed
54. Practical Tips for Construction Site Phasing
55. Keeping Soil in Its Place
56. Strengthening Silt Fences
57. The Limits of Settling
58. Improving the Trapping Efficiency of Sediment Basins
59. Performance of Sediment Controls at Maryland Construction Sites
60. Construction Practices: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
61. Delaware Program Improves Construction Site Inspection
62. Enforcing Sediment Regulations in North Carolina

Section 8: Watershed Protection Tool #6 - Stormwater Management Practices General Background on Stormwater Treatment
63. Why Stormwater Matters
64. Comparative Pollutant Removal Capability of Stormwater Treatment Practices
65. Irreducible Pollutant Concentrations Discharged From Stormwater Practices
66. Stormwater Strategies for Arid and Semiarid Watersheds
67. Microbes and Urban Watersheds: Ways to Kill `Em
68. The Economics of Stormwater Treatment: An Update
69. Trends in Managing Stormwater Utilities

70. Pond/Wetland System Proves Effective in New Zealand
71. Performance of Stormwater Ponds and Wetlands in Winter
72. Performance of a Stormwater Pond/Wetland System in Colorado
73. Performance of Two Wet Ponds in the Piedmont of North Carolina
74. Performance of Stormwater Ponds in Central Texas
75. Pollutant Removal Dynamics of Three Canadian Wet Ponds
76. A Tale of Two Regional Wet Extended Detention Ponds
77. Performance of a Dry Extended Pond in North Carolina
78. Influence of Groundwater on Performance of Stormwater Ponds in Florida
79. Environmental Impact of Stormwater Ponds
80. Pollutant Dynamics of Pond Muck
81. The Pond Premium
82. Water Reuse Ponds Developed in Florida
83. Trace Metal Bio-accumulation in the Aquatic Community of Stormwater Ponds
84. Human and Amphibian Preferences for Dry and Wet Stormwater Pond Habitat
85. Dragonfly Naiads as an Indicator of Pond Water Quality
86. Establishing Wildflower Meadows in New Jersey Detention Basins
87. Persistence of Wetland Plantings Along the Aquatic Bench of Stormwater Ponds

88. Return to Lake McCarrons
89. Nutrient Dynamics and Plant Diversity in Stormwater Wetlands
90. Adequate Treatment Volume Critical in Virginia Stormwater Wetland
91. Pollutant Removal by Constructed Wetlands in an Illinois River Floodplain
92. Pollutant Dynamics Within Stormwater Wetlands: I. Plant Uptake
93. Pollutant Dynamics Within Stormwater Wetlands: II. Organic Matter
94. Pollutant Removal Capability of a "Pocket" Wetland
95. Performance of Gravel-based Wetland in a Cold, High Altitude Climate
96. The StormTreat System: A New Technology for Treating Stormwater Runoff
97. Vegetated Rock Filters Used to Treat Stormwater Pollutants in Florida
98. Practical Tips for Establishing Freshwater Wetlands
99. Broad-leaf Arrowhead: A Workhorse of the Wetlands
100. Mosquitos in Constructed Wetlands: A Management Bugaboo?

101. Failure Rates of Infiltration Practices Assessed in Maryland
102. Longevity of Infiltration Basins Assessed in Puget Sound
103. A Second Look at Porous Pavement/Underground Recharge
104. The Risk of Groundwater Contamination from Infiltration of Stormwater

105. Developments in Sand Filter Technology to Treat Stormwater Runoff
106. Further Developments in Sand Filter Technology
107. Performance of Delaware Sand Filter Assessed
108. Field Evaluation of a Stormwater Sand Filter
109. Innovative Leaf Compost System Used to Filter Runoff in Northwest
110. Bioretention as a Stormwater Treatment Practice
111. Multi-Chamber Treatment Train Developed for Stormwater Hot Spots

Open Channels and Swales
112. Performance of Biofilters in the Pacific Northwest
113. Runoff and Groundwater Dynamics of Two Swales in Florida
114. Performance of Grassed Swales Along East Coast Highways
115. Pollutant Removal Pathways in Florida Swales
116. Ditches or Biological Filters? Classifying Pollutant Removal in Open Channels
117. Performance of Dry and Wet Biofilters Investigated in Seattle
118. Level Spreader/Filter Strip System Assessed in Virginia

119. Performance of Oil/Grit Separators in Removing Pollutants at Small Sites
120. Performance of a Proprietary Stormwater Treatment Device: The Stormceptor
121. New Developments in Street Sweeper Technology
122. The Value of More Frequent Cleanouts of Storm Drain Inlets

Section 9: Watershed Protection Tool #7 - Control of Non-Stormwater Discharges
123. Dealing with Septic System Impacts
124. Recirculating Sand Filters: An Alternative to Conventional Septic Systems
125. Use of Tracers to Identify Sources of Contamination in Dry Weather Flow

Section 10: Watershed Protection Tool #8 - Watershed Stewardship

Watershed Education
126. Understanding Watershed Behavior
127. On Watershed Education

Watershed Advocacy
128. Choosing the Right Watershed Management Structure

Pollution Prevention at Home
129. The Peculiarities of Perviousness
130. Toward a Low Input Lawn
131. Homeowner Survey Reveals Lawn Management Practices in Virginia
132. Nitrate Leaching Potential From Lawns and Turfgrass
133. Insecticide Impact on Urban and Suburban Wildlife
134. Minimizing the Impact of Golf Courses on Streams
135. Groundwater Impacts of Golf Course Development in Cape Cod

Pollution Prevention at Work
136. Practical Pollution Prevention Practices Outlined for West Coast Service Stations
137. Practical Pollution Prevention Emphasized for Industrial Stormwater
138. Milwaukee Survey Used to Design Pollution Prevention Program
139. Rating Deicing Agents: Road Salt Stands Firm
140. Pollution Prevention for Auto Recyclers

Watershed Monitoring
141. An Introduction to Stormwater Indicators

Stream Restoration
142. Assessing the Potential for Urban Watershed Restoration
143. Stormwater Retrofits: Tools for Watershed Enhancement
144. Sligo Creek: Comprehensive Stream Restoration
145. Bioengineering in Four Mile Run, Virginia
146. Coconut Rolls Used For Natural Streambank Stabilization
147. Pipers Creek: Salmon Habitat Restoration in the Pacific Northwest
148. The Longevity of Instream Habitat Structures
149. Stream Daylighting in Berkeley, CA Creek
150. Parallel Pipe Systems as a Stream Protection Technique

More Library Volleys

Back on May 4, I wrote this blog.

An article written by Fred Volz and published in the March issue of Whatcom Watch had sparked that particular blog because it contained so many errors and misrepresentations.

Subsequently, Pam Kiesner, our BPL Library Director, also responded to Mr Volz' comments in another article that appeared in the May, 2009 issue of Whatcom Watch

Now, in the June issue of Whatcom Watch, Mr Volz has again occupied printed space to spread misinformation and actually engage in personal attacks on Ms Kiesner.
I find that as offensive and mean-spirited, which may explain why Whatcom Watch has not chosen to publish this latest text in its online version.
Readers will need to obtain a hard copy of WW in order to read Mr Volz' latest sorry missive.
I suspect most regular WW readers will take Mr Volz with a large grain of salt, if they read him at all.

In related news, today's Herald ran this story

From the Whatcom County Library System website, information is readily available.
And, from this site, answers to 10 Frequently Asked Questions [FAQs] are listed.

The Bellingham Public Library website also contains much information on its services, budget and 4 locations, including its most recent user's survey.
Although BPL -by law- is funded separately from Whatcom County's 9 rural branch libraries, it has a very close working relationship with the Whatcom County Library System.

All of the public debate, questions and ideas on the future of our Library is legitimate, of course.
That is part of our system of checks and balances about priorities, as it should be.
And, no one doubts the dire financial straits that currently face our community and the restrictions that brings.
But, no one should doubt the hard work done over the last several years, either, to identify future needs and seek to scope them into a cohesive document that comprehensively addresses the challenges anticipated.

While it is a moot question as to the exact timing of the new library facilities required, their need is clear to any clear-eyed observer.
No amount of malicious or misinformed rhetoric can change our community's basic underlying need for adequate library facilities.
The time for asking citizens to support a library to meet more modern needs is coming, and when that occurs, it will be nice to have all the community input possible.
After all, that's how 'public process' is supposed to work, isn't it?

And, what is it about these arrant naysayers, that impels them to continuously bad-mouth ideas that clearly benefit our community?
Maybe they should just check out a good book to read, and learn something from it?
You can borrow one at any public library...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Olympic Pipe Line -Versus- Lake Whatcom Reservoir

"When the well runs dry, we know the worth of water." – Benjamin Franklin

The legendary major league baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige, who never disclosed his real age, was once asked 'what is the secret to your longevity?
To which he answered; 'just don't look back, because something might be gaining on you!'
What a great answer, or non-answer, or whatever.

For some reason that little recollection came to mind yesterday, right after the 10-year commemoration of the Olympic Pipe Line disaster here in Bellingham.
As spectacular and tragic as that horrendous explosion and its after effects was, our drinking water reservoir carries a similar potential for undesirable results over a longer, and therefore much less noticeable, period of time.

Does that statement sound plausible?
It ought to, even though the instant and unmistakeable results won't likely be linked in the same dramatic way - at least in the memories of those living here today.

What is the difference?
It's hard to say with certainty of future effects and their timing, isn't it?
Kinda like the difference between a frog being gigged or slowly being brought to a boil in a large pot of water.
The ultimate result is the same, but instantaneous drama is missing.

Anyway, this is the point I'm trying to make; things that surprise us with misfortune, but seem correctable, attract our attention and action.
Things that are merely scientifically and observably trending in a bad direction, don't exhibit the urgency needed for really effective corrective action.
Unfortunately, less urgency translates into doing little or nothing until the situation has grown so bad that emergency action is often required, which in too many cases is simply too little, too late.

Just imagine, for example, if Whatcom Creek had been the inlet to Lake Whatcom, not the outlet.
How might that have impacted Bellingham on JUne 10, 1999, the date of the Olympic Pipe Line explosion?
Think that might have made a difference in how we care for our drinking water supply?
I think something like that would have made a huge difference, not that anyone would ever wish for such a thing.

I'm really glad that so much good of lasting value has come out of our community's response to the Olympic Pipe Line disaster.
Even with that drama and the tragic deaths, destruction and indelible fear of future such events, we pressed on with such determination that other communities, our legislators at all levels, and eventually our regulators and even the petroleum industry itself became part of the solution!
That is as truly remarkable as it is commendable.
It makes one wonder, how did we miss such obvious safety precautions?

One reason we couldn't miss the lessons from the Olympic travesty, was the universally resonating drama it created, among virtually everyone -in the community, state, region, nation and the world.
We do not have that kind of gut-wrenching attention when dealing with preserving our reservoir for future generations, and that is very good!
But, without the publicity to galvanize necessary action, we are left with far less than adequate response.
It's just too easy to 'kick the can down the road' to the next City, County, State or Federal administration to take care of, isn't it?
Yet, the situation never seems to actually get handled.
That's the problem.

Since the Washington State Dept of Ecology issued its so-called TMDL [Total Maximum Daily Load] Study last year, our local governments have been charged with drafting and implementing remedial action plans.
They got about a year to comply, but if that deadline passes, what's the penalty? A slap on the wrist?
After all, it took Ecology 10 years to get the TMDL Report written, reviewed and issued.
Meantime, the clock is ticking!
Not a fancy atomic clock, or even a digital Mickey Mouse watch, but an hour glass, with a too narrow neck and damp sand!

I know there are other 'priorities'.
I know there is a major budget crunch.
I know, I know, oh how I know!
What I don't know is when the publicity of a very serious problem will get so dramatic and urgent that the required difficult and growing actions will actually start making an observable difference!
So far, despite all the rhetoric, business and actions taken, only a slight decrease in the RATE OF DEGRADATION has been seen to have occurred.
That means the situation with our only source of drinking water supply is still getting worse, not better.
Hello, can you hear me now?

Here's a hint; RESULTS COUNT, not talk and minimally effective 'actions'.
We're talking about REAL actions, like those taken in the last 10 years following the Olympic Pipe Line 'incident', as it euphemistically called at one point.
That must have been a time when someone was trying to gently soft-pedal what was truly a disaster!
Please, let's don't let it happen again, masked as a frog is a pot of slowly heating water.

"Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over." - attributed to Mark Twain

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Economic Development: Why Not Combine City & Port?

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." - Einstein

'Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.' - Einstein


You know, it doesn't really take an Einstein to figure out when something is not working too well, or to suggest a few changes that might help.
Common sense, based on observation can go a long way in that direction, but only if folks decide to pay attention.
There may be some impracticalities included in these remarks, but maybe a few good ideas, too.
You decide.

For purposes of efficiency and connecting planning with results that fit the purpose, maybe its time to consider consolidating the functions of City and Port?
Think about it.

For years, the City has been criticized for not having an Economic Development Element in its Comprehensive Plan, because the State Growth Management Act doesn't actually require it.
Yet, a super majority of the jobs in Whatcom County are located in the City.
And, experts tell us that is desirable for multiple reasons.

On the other hand, the Port of Bellingham has followed its nose as a Special Purpose District since its inception, and without much public notice until fairly recently.
That significant moment in time occurred when the Port decided to acquire the former G-P property and redevelop our Waterfront.
But, that was also the time the Port stepped spectacularly into the real public eye, by traipsing through a very public puddle -called 'public process'.
Not a very comfortable place to enjoy relative obscurity, those public puddles!

Now, since the Port has actually touched the 'tar-baby' of partnering with the City, its choice to remain anonymous has disappeared.
And, since the Waterfront District clean-up and redevelopment are both desirable goals, why not make the City-Port partnership real, and permanent?

Understanding the full gravity and scope of the waterfront redevelopment being proposed, puts into clear perspective the challenges that both Port and City face.
But, already cracks are appearing in the facade of true cooperation.
Like the Port's insistence upon having its way with street layout, parking provisions and exemptions from impact fees for starters.
And, the Port is willing to posture on these points as if they were really deal breakers!
What's with that?

While it is normal for developers to negotiate hard with regulators, the Port's attitude is beginning to wear very thin.
Just look at the Port's actions regarding extension of water and sewer to its properties adjacent to the airport, for example.
Rather than accept the City's new and long overdue policy of requiring annexation before extending these essential utilities, the Port would rather stay stuck in the past, and legally challenge the annexation policy.
It's OK to pose legal challenges, but what does that say about the type of partnership the Port has in mind?
Maybe the County will be encouraged to do a similar thing when they get around to actually building a new jail facility, which likely may locate just past the airport?

Point is, the City's rules and regulations are there for good reasons, and must be applied consistently and fairly.
So, if constant tussles are in the offing over this kind of stuff, maybe the City needs to take a more active role in big, important projects like waterfront redevelopment.
I'm sure the Port is up to the job technically and professionally.
But, attitude-wise, not!
That is a poor foundation for a lasting, productive relationship, and it ought to be addressed before proceeding too much further.

It wouldn't take much to establish another City Department and set it up as essentially another Enterprise Fund that is self-supporting, something like the Water, Sewer and Storm water utilities.
Also, the former 'Commissioner' function might continue in some important capacity by duly appointing at least five Directors of a new Public Development Authority, along the lines of the Public Facilities District which has worked pretty well to improve the City's Cultural facilities, using monies returned to it by the State of Washington for that sole purpose.
BTW, Whatcom County also saw the value of participating in the PFD.

I can visualize an appointment process along the lines the City now uses to pick its Finance Director; establish specific duties for the new agency and its Directors, solicit applications from persons qualified for the job, interviews, short list interviews, appointment by Major, subject to Council approval for a fixed term of office, public meetings of the PDA all televised by BTV10.
Sound viable?

Of course, there might be a few flies in this proposed ointment, too.
Turf protection
Resistance to change of any kind
Financial liability
Expansion of City control
Just to name a few.

But, these can be overcome if citizens see this as a way toward better control of the Port's public activities and accountability.

Regarding funding, the Port already collects funds from public taxes, grants and revenues from its properties and operations.
Conceivably, these could remain to be used for customary and necessary purposes.

What could be wrong with trying such an approach?
It would take time and effort to accomplish.
And, since there are a few other things that might limit attention away from fundamental structural changes like this being made, there would need to be a groundswell of public support behind it.
But, think about it.
It would greatly improve the public process people seem to want.
And, it shouldn't require major new funding.
Plus, it could benefit the City's efforts to create jobs and help our local economy.

Would Whatcom County object?
That might depend upon who is in office.
After all, the County's relationship with the Port has been nothing to write home about!
Why, it's made the City/Port partnership look positively peachy keen in comparison.
Of course, the City/Port are no longer getting along as well as they were a few years ago, either.
Is that the way it is with relationships?
Familiarity breeds contempt?

I suspect the attitude Whatcom County might display depends on what's in it for them.
Because they seem used to thinking of themselves as the big dog, which in a sense they are under State law.
Just look at how the County has acted during the protracted Growth Management proceedings known as population forecasts and Comprehensive Plan update.
Much more attitude than aptitude in my book!

In this regard, maybe some of the Port properties outside of Bellingham might be turned over to the County as potential 'free trade zones' or places where start-up companies could get started, incubate and grow.
And, maybe the County could be persuaded to locate its proposed new jail facility down on the waterfront, to keep it in town and prevent more sprawl?
The G-P warehouse could provide a good sized footprint, while continuing to cap the contamination underneath.
Just more food for thought.

But, look at how the County acted when presented with the opportunity to support the so-called LIFT legislation to help pay for waterfront redevelopment infrastructure costs.

To date, there have not been any County Economic Development Incentive [EDI] funds targeted toward waterfront redevelopment, either.
Why is that?
After all, EDI funds were appropriated to help pay for Market Depot Square.
So, why not the waterfront?

Whether the County's attitude towards other municipalities -City and Port included- is deliberately malicious or merely aberrant and self-serving, is difficult to know with certainty, except from public expressions from individuals, and the County's own public record.
More likely, the County is just being jealous of its status as chief purveyor of Economic Development Incentive [EDI] funds and countywide services, and is so blinded by its own importance that ignorance of issues and activities outside its command and control mentality is allowed to grow like an untended garden.
If any of this perceived attitude continues, the County could also become a roadblock to any consolidation of City and Port responsibilities.

These musings, ideas and concerns are not just my opinions, because several do reflect fairly broad publicly stated positions.
But, don't you think they need to be aired and debated?
What better time for that than during an election that could result in changing two of the three Port Commissioners?

Just ask each candidate;
'Do you think some dramatic changes are in order for the Port?
Or, do you think things are pretty much OK the way they are?

See where each comes down on these questions.
Then, ask them to justify their positions.

If citizens are listening, they will get to decide this issue at the ballot box, come November 3.
After all, its in the public's best interests to not only get the best plan possible, but the best elected representatives to carry it out.

'It is no use saying, We are doing our best. You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.' - Churchill

'Some see private enterprise as a predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few are those who see it as a sturdy horse pulling the wagon.' - Churchill

Friday, June 5, 2009

Growth Management: Choosing Our Sprawl & How To Pay For It

A recent article in Crosscut appears to question whether concentrating growth eliminates sprawl, or encourages it.
The answer is probably some of both, because any population increase at all just tends to squeeze us together.
Rather than ask a binary 'either, or' question -which is a false choice- we ought to simply inquire which type of sprawl is likely to be less insidious, more desirable, and less costly in the long run.

We all agree there are limits to land and water supplies, as well as limits to essential public services at affordable cost.
Remember, we were forced into funding our EMS unit, Whatcom Medic One, on a countywide basis a few years ago, to save it?
Too many intentional games get played between municipalities regarding who pays for public services and amenities; that silliness needs to end.

As far as growth is concerned, it's much better for each new development to be required to pay its full share of anticipated costs, without externalizing that burden to unsuspecting 'others'.
For example, why are there no B&O taxes or impact fees required for businesses locating outside of Bellingham?
And, why is there no agreement to consolidate the funding and management of public amenities such as Libraries, Parks and the like?
Why doesn't Whatcom County see completing the WRIA 1 [click on label below] process as absolutely necessary to plan its future land and water use?

To me, all of this means that fewer feuding fiefdoms and much better cooperation and collaboration between governmental agencies should be required.
Another example, why are separate 'planning departments' needed for County and City functions?
The same might be said for other public safety, public health, public welfare, and public utility services to varying degrees.

The severe budget difficulties that both City and County are now facing should be a clear tip-off that things, as they are, have become increasingly unsustainable.
It just doesn't hack it to react to such problems in an erratic, knee-jerk fashion that mainly serves to passing the buck to the next administration; haven't we had enough of that?
And, for services that citizens truly need, allowing them to lapse or become dysfunctional is shortsighted and irresponsible!

Here's an idea for a furlough policy: time off -without pay- for all elected executives and legislators, until they come up with viable plans to consolidate public services and adopt them!

That ought to instill a better sense of responsibility and urgency, don't you think?
It also might force some important decisions to be made that some folks would rather avoid!
That by itself might be the equivalent to term limits, who knows?

While I am glad to see several new candidates stepping up to our next local election, I hope some -or all- of them are up to this particular challenge.
And, it is a challenge!
But, hey, someone's got to do it...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

WAL-MART: Hate to Say 'I Told You So', but....

My post on September 4, 2007, Big Box Theory: Attacking Mall-Wart, has proven to be anticipatory of a future reality.
And, that reality is now, if it is not already too late.
I hope it's not.

There are lots of things that people love to hate; bigness, low wages & benefits, lack of choice, high prices, brutal competition, cheap imports, large parking lots, strong central control, crowds of boorish shoppers, and the like.
Also, the opposites of many of the above.

Point is, you can't please everybody anywhere near all the time.
But having a relatively inexpensive place to shop for essentials, and maybe a few extras, is not inherently a bad thing.
In fact, it can be a very good thing for many, particularly in hard times, like these.

WAL-MART is now a $400 Billion company, every year - if not the largest, close to it.
And, it's culture and practices have changed somewhat, in response to both criticism and market pressure.
There are early indications that WAL-MART can't be everything to everybody, and must choose its strengths more carefully.
This has even begun to attract other business to locate close by to fill the lacks, while taking advantage of of the large volume of customers that WAL-MART regularly draws.
Big chains, like Target, for example.
If that trend were to continue we might literally begin to have malls of Big Boxes.
Municipalities might even be willing to plan for that to happen.
What a concept!
Better mass transit, land use and common public amenities.
Less sprawl, wandering traffic and congestion.

But, time will tell, as it always does.

So, back to the present, so we can revisit the past.
With that in mind, the Herald editorial of Saturday, May. 30, 2009 is reprinted below:
Mayor offers end to store-size mistake

It's time for the city of Bellingham to rescind its law limiting the size of stores.
Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike has proposed a plan to ease the city's ban on allowing stores larger than 90,000 square feet, as long as the buildings are developed in step with environmentally friendly building standards and only in the part of town where large retailing already exists. The City Council will take up the mayor's idea in June.

The City Council has limited the size of stores to 90,000 square feet and limited expansion of stores that are already larger than that. The limit was put into place after Wal-Mart expressed interest in expanding its Meridian Street store to a "Super Wal-Mart." The larger stores including full grocery offerings.

City officials, apparently upset about Wal-Mart's practices as an international conglomerate, decided to take a stand, even if their stand flew in the face of all of the hard work they had done to control and direct growth in our community.

The current location of Wal-Mart is the best location for Wal-Mart. If the company is going to put a "Super Wal-Mart" in our community it should be built where all of our county's major retailing, and the traffic that goes with it, is already located. Forcing Wal-Mart and other stories outside of Bellingham flies in the face of growth management efforts in our community.

Meanwhile the city's ordinance had unintended consequences when Costco also wanted to expand slightly. We are not aware that City Council members have anything against Issaquah-based Costco's retailing practices. But once the law was in place limiting Wal-Mart, it would have looked bad if the city made an exception for Costco. Such an exception would have exposed the store-size limit for what it is, an unfair restraint of trade aimed solely at a particular business.

If any city official tries to deny their intention was to limit Wal-Mart, ask them why they did not object to the creation of the Bakerview Fred Meyer, which is larger than 90,000 square feet, or a strip mall along Bakerview Road that is much bigger than 90,000 square feet when considered as a whole.

We are hopeful that enough time has passed for the council to consider the mayor's proposed changes to the store-size rules without council members feeling as if they have abandoned their convictions. What the mayor is proposing is what should have always been in place.

Big box stores should be limited by zoning to certain parts of the city. Certainly no one wants a giant store built in a historic neighborhood. The current areas along Meridian Street and Bakerview Road are the proper places for such development.
And requiring any new building to follow environmentally sensitive rules is common sense, whether for an expansion or an entire new store.

We hope the council takes the mayor's proposal seriously and moves quickly to modify the store-size rules. So far the council has been lucky. Wal-Mart, Costco and others have not started building new, bigger stores in some other location - such as in Ferndale or on the Lummi Indian Reservation.

But eventually , if Bellingham's leaders don't change their policy , they will force out these businesses and create the worst possible scenario - a big loss to the city's tax revenues and unsightly sprawl in parts of the county where it should not be.


Bravo, to the Herald and its editorial board for revisiting this issue, especially, in the cool light of projected City budget deficits!
And, do not doubt that the clear and serious threat to City revenue streams is the real reason for any reconsideration, despite all the other nice sounding rationale.
Once the financial dots are connected, most issues can be seen with more clarity.
And, that is without corrective lenses to combat political myopia, astigmatism, sensitivity to light or night blindness.
But, there is no simple answer for those who prefer to keep their eyes closed, or receptive only to what they want to see.
That's why 'wake-up' calls are sometimes necessary.