Wednesday, February 29, 2012

From Buffers to Bulldozers - As the BAS Turns

The BAS, as we are told by some, is the singular feature of our CAO process that will make our new ordinances "smart" unlike our existing "dumb" sensitive areas ordinance that we've been living relatively happily with for years. Okay, let's follow the bouncing BAS and see how smart it is.

The following emails show the evolution of the word "drainageway" which is a new term introduced into our latest draft wetlands code.  What is a drainageway?  Well, it depends when you ask the question apparently.  In the first email below from Dr. Adamus (August 20, 2010), a "drainageway" is worthy of protection by a buffer if we "are truly using a BAS approach" as he puts it.

In December 2011, Paul Anderson of Ecology appears to liken a "drainageway" to a stream or a watercourse. Again, that's a concept worthy of protection via buffers, since the state Hydraulic Code has all sorts of requirements if you care to do work in the bed of a stream.

However, by January 17, 2012, Ecology seems to have had a change of heart about "drainageways."  By then, the Ecology folk (Anderson, Hruby, McMillan, and Stockdale) are advocating that "drainageways" be removed from a site by site-recontouring because they short-circuit a buffer.

What?!?  Ecology is recommending we bulldoze them? Yes, they are, and our latest wetlands draft CAO includes that notion of a drainageway despite the fact that back in 2010 Adamus said that "if we were truly using a BAS approach" then "drainageways" should have buffers.

I know.  I don't follow it either.

And I know I'm a broken record, but the emails below once again show the level of continuous involvement by Ecology in our County and with the CAOs, despite their claim:

"We don’t have regulatory authority in local critical areas ordinance issues. We don’t make rulings or issue enforcement actions under local critical areas ordinances. Those tasks are on local government turf" (Gordon White, Eco-Connect Blog, Feburary 14, 2012.)
From: Paul Adamus []
Sent: Friday, August 20, 2010 5:31 PM
To: Shireene Hale
Subject: my next visit; meet w. DOE; deadlines

Hi Shireene,

My next visit will be the week of September 20.  I will be doing a final check on Mindy and Ted, and would also like to see if, on one of those days, Paul Anderson or Erik Stockdale from DOE would be willing to meet with us (you, me, Colin, Janice, maybe Fralick, Pete) to discuss some aspects of the CAO.  Could you try and set up a meeting?  Specifically, before we get too far along I want to gage their reaction to the no-extra-cost innovations I mentioned to you last time, which I believe are necessary in order for us to say we are truly using a BAS approach: (a) putting wider buffers around drainageways that feed wetlands seasonally rather than uniformly around the perimeter of each wetland, (b) modifying the habitat portion of the DOE Rating System so all the Habitat scores are generated using my GIS analysis of LiDAR data and other sources, which would allow us to rate all wetlands regardless of whether they are on private inaccessible parcels, and would improve the accuracy of the assessments that Mindy and Ted have already done.  A third idea, which I will first describe to you early that week or before, concerns the types of wetland landscape settings in SJC that I have determined from my BAS review should result in higher ratings and wider buffers.

As regards the overall schedule, I am progressing well with reading reports and papers for the BAS and extracting key points that I will use in the BAS report.  At this point it looks like the only thing that's threatening the timely attainment of the deadlines is the fact that Pete hasn't been able to get to preparing the Task Order for me to subcontract the necessary GIS work, which he gave a verbal OK to. 

From: "Anderson, Paul S. - NWRO SEA (ECY)" <paan461@ECY.WA.GOV>
Date: December 9, 2011 9:03:38 AM PST
To: Shireene Hale <>
Cc: "" <>, "" <>, Janice Biletnikoff <>, Rachel Dietzman <>, Scott Rozenbaum <>, "Stockdale, Erik (ECY)" <ESTO461@ECY.WA.GOV>, "" <>, Steve Belluomini <>, Janet Alderton <>
Subject: RE: Alternative Wetland Buffer Procedure

Thank you for passing along the revised alternative buffer proposal and accompanying documents. 
My only comment at this time is that I recommend keeping the existing “Drainageway” definition.  I think this definition is easier to understand than the proposed alternative (the alternative definition would require a definition for “stream”) and is more consistent with the “watercourse” definition in the state Hydraulic Code (WAC 220-110-020(105)).
Paul S. Anderson, PWS Wetland Specialist Washington State Department of Ecology 3190 - 160th Ave. SE Bellevue, WA 98008 Phone: (425) 649-7148 Fax: (425) 649-7098 Email:  

From: "Stockdale, Erik (ECY)" <ESTO461@ECY.WA.GOV>
Date: January 17, 2012 4:11:10 PM PST
To: "" <>
Cc: Janet Alderton <>, Scott Rozenbaum <>, Janice Biletnikoff <>, Rachel Dietzman <>, "Anderson, Paul S. - NWRO SEA (ECY)" <paan461@ECY.WA.GOV>, Steve Belluomini <>, Ed Kilduff <>, "Hruby, Tom (ECY)" <thru461@ECY.WA.GOV>, "McMillan, Andy (ECY)" <anmc461@ECY.WA.GOV>
Subject: Ecoogy comments on January 16th SJC Buffer Calculator

Hi Paul:
Per your request, below are consolidated comments from Paul Anderson, Tom Hruby, Andy McMillan and me. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like clarification.
          (middle section omitted by ECK for brevity)

Drainageways. Thank you for adjusting the weight for the drainageways that will potentially short-circuit a buffer. We recommend the CAO include measures to remedy such situations by requiring that a site be re-contoured to promote sheet flow across the buffer.

Thank you for adding the drop down menus for questions 1 and 2.
Thanks to all for the continued conversation.
Erik Stockdale, PWS |Wetlands/401 Unit Supervisor|Department of Ecology| 425-649-7061|


  1. Dear Tojan,

    Could you interpret this portion of the Adamus Letter to Shireene:

    "... which would allow us to rate all wetlands regardless of whether they are on private inaccessible parcels, and would improve the accuracy of the assessments that Mindy and Ted have already done. ..."

    Is this an attempt to assess what wetlands, if any, are on private property and then apply BAS to that unknown?


  2. @Unknown - my opinion is yes. Adamus employed a rapid assessment technique for wetlands. Most definitely they evaluated, using aerial photos and remote sensing data, "wetlands" on private/inaccessible property. Their interpretation of the aerial photos and remote sensing data became maps. The maps became part of BAS. Many landowners are now coming forward voicing their great skepticism of the maps. However, as part of the map development, Adamus had Mindy and Ted perform on-the-ground field checks to see if the maps truly identified "wetlands". Lo and behold, every one of the places field checked by Mindy and Ted were, in their opinion, wetlands. Pretty astonishing hit rate, wouldn't you say? 100% accuracy? This resulted in Adamus having a high degree of confidence in his maps, so even for those locations that are private/inaccessible, the belief is that if the map says so, there is a wetland there.

    I have to add that there is a belief, expressed by some Council members, that citizens are somehow "hiding" their critical areas. I have found this to create a bias to believe the map over homeowners. If the map says you've got a wetland, but you say you don't have a wetland ... well, you must be surreptitiously hiding your wetland from the authorities. We know you've got one. The map says so.