Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Local Politics: 25 Reasons?

Beware of candidates claiming their inexperience as their main virtue.
I'm just now returning to the present after a short interlude to the past, studying ancient & medieval history.
That was interesting, but I must say we have it better these days, notwithstanding the habitual lying and dishonest posturing on political matters.

For example, I'm pleased that another local blog, Latte Republic, published a document -plus responses to it- entitled

The original list of '25 Reasons' purports to support 4 brand new candidates for County office by trying to smear 4 other candidates, three of whom have actual experience in that office.
[Note McShane has been out of office since 2007 and Mann has never held elected office]
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the 25 'reasons' are bogus and don't hold water, but since several are on the subject of water, I'll get back to that.

Anyway, this particular political piece ends this way:

Please ask your friends, families and neighbors to review this list. All of these statements are factual. Make sure everyone you know understands that the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County. The 'Gang of Four' (Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan) must be removed from office.

And finally, this admonition:
We Must Support Kathy Kershner, Mary Beth Teigrob, Michelle Luke, and Bill Knutzen!

Note that none of these favored four have any experience at all in public office, which is being touted as a virtue.
Instead, their clever handlers are speaking for them by using this poorly aimed broadside.
A fitting, and more likely result will be actually to turn the 'favored four' into political cannon fodder, a hard lesson for not being careful with the truth, or with whom you let speak for you!

This reminds of a quote nearly 60 years old: 'The GOP would do well to remember the warning of Maine Republican Margaret Chase Smith, who worried in 1950 that her party was trying to achieve victory on "the Four Horsemen of Calumny -- Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear."'
Guess we could also add simple lying and deliberate misinterpretation of facts.

Of the 25 'Reasons' several are related to important water issues, so this piece will focus on them.

1. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan advocated for, and voted to raise taxes without offsetting the net cost to the taxpayer. This has not otherwise occurred in the 14 years Executive Kremen has been in office. Carl initially advocated for more than double the increase that was finally passed by a slim Council majority.

Carl's response: This refers to the increase in the Flood Tax which amounted to less than $1/month on the average house. This small increase was needed to start to implement the Lake Whatcom stormwater plan, meet other mandated water quality issues, and shore up the flood fund that was dipping below what has historically been the level set to meet emergencies. Luckily this increase happened when it did because the January 2009 flooding required a big chunk of this emergency money.

My response: This 'increase' actually was a partial restoration of funding necessary to accomplish water related work considered vital to this entire county. Formerly, the so-called 'Flood Tax' was used to fund the WRIA1 Program [Water Resource Inventory Area #1], a comprehensive planning effort supported by 5 'Initiating Governments', Whatcom County [Lead entity], City of Bellingham, PUD #1, Lummi Nation & Nooksack Tribe and several stakeholder groups. About $4.5 million was expended in this effort over several years, before the effort was undermined by those -including the development community- who felt threatened by it; quite possibly by some of those who are still attempting to discredit water planning as a necessary task.
Whatcom County retains the serious, legal responsibility for providing water-related services, and to give these priority without providing the necessary funding would be irresponsible, thereby inviting costly legal actions the County would likely lose.

2. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan increased the taxes to pay for pet projects, one of them directly benefitting a friend and campaign advisor. This of course was for the "Shellfish Bed Inventory" portion of the designated uses for the Flood Tax increase. Geoff Menzies will assist in this work, and gain financially.

Carl's response: This again refers to the increase in the Flood Tax ($12/year for a $300,000 property). The rest of the statement is a bald faced lie. There was no money included for anything like a “shellfish bed inventory,” or anything that Geoff Menzies would have in any way been paid for. There was money for shellfish closure response plans for Birch Bay and Chuckanut Bay because the pollution in those areas have closed shellfish beds and we are required by state law (and it’s the right thing to do) to develop recovering plans in such circumstances. We also enhanced the Flood Fund with $500,000 from the REET fund. Here are the ways that money was targeted.

• Increased Flood Planning, Implementation, and Response $555,000
• Shellfish Closure Response Plans (Birch Bay and Chuckanut) $70,000
• Code revision to add appropriate Low Impact Development standards for county roads, other developments $60,000
• Design and engineering for Lake Whatcom sub-basin natural drainage retrofit - $150,000
• Stormwater Low Impact Development Pilots for existing homes (Lake Whatcom) $120,000
* CAO/Shorelines Education and Enforcement (PDS) Additional FTE $85,000
• Enhance implementation of shoreline, salmon, marine restoration, and shellfish recovery plans $50,000
• Lake Whatcom Stormwater capital projects planning and construction per Lake Whatcom Stormwater plan $390,000
• Lake Samish stormwater plan development $110,000

My response: Drayton Harbor has a terrible problem related to high levels of fecal coliform that is evidenced particularly at low tide. As a historic shellfish habitat, addressing this problem and restoring a healthy shellfish production was considered a worthwhile task of the former WRIA1 program, and remains so.
The attempt to characterize this effort as personal and political is bogus and gratuitous. In other words, a lie!


4. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan are strong advocates to create a gigantic park around Lake Whatcom, rather than allowing for an environmentally, responsibly, and economically-managed (by DNR) undeveloped forested landscape to be maintained around the lake. While this removes revenue to the County, it adds a huge future cost-liability to the taxpayers with no other foreseeable reimbursement.

Carl's response: This refers to the proposal to reconvey about 8000 acres of DNR land around Lake Whatcom back to the County to set it aside as a low impact reserve. Yes some hiking will be allowed in the area, but those impacts will be minimal compared to the impacts associated with road building and logging. New studies have recently been released, and more are on the way, that show pretty clearly that logging in the watershed has a much larger impact on phosphorus loading to the Lake than previously acknowledged. While it is true that DNR does a better job than most private forest operations, in the Lake Whatcom watershed we need to get into place more stringent control on all logging if we hope to restore the lake. It should be noted that DNR recently increased their forest practice regulations, and the Dept. of Ecology has just started a huge process to address the scientific evidence which shows that the much touted Forest and Fish law is not adequate to protect water quality in general, and certainly not in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

My response: My position is clear from previous blogs, and can be briefly summarized as follows. Protection of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, the sole water supply for half of Whatcom County, is important, and minimizing development and land/vegetation disturbance is critical. To the extent the County can fund and carefully manage the reconveyance of 8400 acres of forest lands around Lake Whatcom, the proposed reconveyance may be helpful, notwithstanding the loss of revenues from timber harvests. To date, I have not seen the land use plans nor the longterm funding source that would give me confidence this will work as anticipated. But, the potential for protecting the Lake and its watershed are considerable.

5. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan led the charge to create a costly and inefficient homeowner septic inspection program. Under this scheme, the property-owners of Whatcom County pay millions per year for needless inspections, with well over 90% of the results being 'everything's fine'.

Carl's response: The state legislature passed a law requiring counties to institute a system for the inspection of septic systems. The local Health Department estimates there are 30,000 septic systems in the county, although they don’t have any records for a third of those systems. That equates to somewhere in the area of 30,000,000 gallons of human sewage in the county that no one knows where it is, or if the systems are functioning properly. What we do know is that every stream in the lowland parts of the county are failing to meet federal water quality standards for fecal coliform pollution (the measure of sewage in the water). Sophisticated DNA testing in area streams shows that this pollution is coming mainly from livestock and to a lesser degree septic systems. The regulations we passed require an initial inspection by a professional so we can get a clear baseline of where all the septics are and how well they are working. After the initial inspection most systems can then be inspected by the homeowners themselves on a regular schedule after they take a class from the Health Department. The first year of data indicates that about 5% of the systems inspected so far a failing outright, and about 20% need maintenance. If these types of numbers hold for the rest of the county it would mean somewhere in the area of 1500 systems are failing county-wide (1,500,000 gallons of human sewage), and as many as 6000 systems need maintenance to keep from failing. The cost of an inspection is between $200 - $300 which is still a bargain compared to what people in the cities pay for sewer annually. The County is working on a low cost loan program for people who need to do expensive repairs to their systems The Council has also made it clear that once the initial baseline inspections are complete we will look at the data to decide whether it makes sense to then relax the inspection interval to even further lower the cost.

My response: What is it that is so hard to understand about following State law? The County's responsibility includes public health & safety. Get serious!

6. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan came up with a scheme to remove the authority of the County Executive to veto tax increases in one of the County funds. They did this to insulate the Council from veto, and it was this very fund that a slim majority of Council members ended up increasing.

Carl's response: This is referring to the Flood Tax again, and is not at all accurate. The Flood Control Zone District (FCZD), which sets the Flood Tax level, is set up in state law as a separate municipal entity from the County. Currently the FCZD Board and the County Council are one and the same, but under statute it doesn’t necessarily have to remain that way. There was an audit finding in the 1990s that pointed out that the County was incorrectly mingling the functions and money of the FCZD with that of the County. Correcting this error has been in the works on and off for years, and the need to do this surfaced again a couple years ago. The County Prosecutor, Council, and the Executive all agreed this was needed. Part of that separation of functions was to follow state law in the operations of the FCZD, which would not allow the Executive to veto the decisions of a separate municipal entity (the FCZD), just like he is not allowed to veto the decisions of the City of Bellingham. Another example of this incorrect intermingling was that the interest off the Flood Tax was being directed into the County’s General Fund instead of accruing for Flood Fund purposes. This intermingling still has not been completely fixed, but is in the works.

My response: It's good that some discipline has been imposed on the County in its accounting practices. Those who complain are being either ignorant or disingenuous at best! One of the reasons the County failed to continue diligent pursuit of its WRIA1 Program was the threat of legal challenge over legal use of its funds. Now, at least part of that is fixed.


8. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan championed one-size-fits-all shoreline regulations which require limiting or eliminating uses, such as homes and driveways, within 150 feet of the shoreline, with no supporting evidence whatsoever that somehow this would afford environmental protection.

Carl's response: There is tons of evidence (I have it) that impervious surfaces like homes, driveways, sidewalks, etc have a significant negative impact of our shorelines, fresh water, and ultimately Puget Sound. Most all of these studies show impervious surface totals in the 5-15% range have significant impacts on water quality. Saying over and over again that there is “no evidence” doesn’t make the evidence go away, although it may make people who do not want to have to adopt reasonable stewardship practices believe it.

My response: The Shoreline Management Program recently updated by Whatcom County is considered as an excellent effort by the Dept of Ecology and others knowledgeable in such matters. By its nature, the SMP must be fair and consistent to everyone. It's very hard to teach 'supporting evidence' to those who are being paid not to learn!


10. SKIP

11. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan are currently advocating and promoting an elaborate and costly stormwater-tax scheme for many areas around Bellingham and Ferndale.

Carl's response: This refers to a proposal that is being developed by the Executive’s Public Works staff to create a Stormwater Utility in the urban areas of Bellingham and Ferndale that are outside of the city limits. Much of the impetus for this is to create a dedicated funding source to address mandated water quality issues around Lake Whatcom (NPDES, TMDL). The creation of such a stormwater utility would help start to shift the cost for such programs to those that are for the most part creating the problems or will benefit from the programs (people who live in the watershed or drink the water), instead of requiring people that are not the cause of the problems, or people in Cities already paying stormwater fees, to subsidize the cleanup.

My response: Stormwater and its potentially harmful effects are well known and regulated. Not only erosion and flooding are the problem, but also chemical contamination going into our lakes, streams, estuaries and bays. The City of Bellingham had pass new stormwater rates in 2001 to support a number of mandatory program elements, including stormwater treatment -in perpetuity. The County is required to do the same, beginning with those areas adjacent to urban areas and critical water resources. Because we are all living in watersheds, there is a necessity for a cooperative effort, with each participant paying their fair share of costs.

12. through 25. SKIP

Now, returning to the author(s) of the '25 Reasons', and the request to potential supporters of their anointed acolytes;

Please ask your friends, families and neighbors to review this list.
All of these statements are factual.
Make sure everyone you know understands that the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County.

I hope folks do review this list, because that could be a valuable lesson in what passes for political discourse in a significant portion of our population.
But, also review the responses, and also ask a few questions of your own, because that is how the truth gets known.
I don't believe a majority of the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County at all.
Quite the contrary!
But those who believe that all the '25 reasons' are factual, do have a problem!
Accepting any of these statements as true without questioning does not serve anyone's best interests -including those who think they might benefit from it.

Candidates with integrity and competence always need to protect those valuable traits against such temptations!
I hope they will.