Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Future ...

Tomorrow is the Planning Commission meeting on the wetlands CAO draft. In my view, the wetlands draft CAO is deeply flawed in nearly every regard. Nevertheless, based on reports recounted to me, Council members and their confidants have been overheard saying that the CAOs will be rammed through by June and enacted by July, and the Council will place great "importance" on what the Planning Commission does. In short, it seems that the Council will use the Planning Commission as cover.

This blog has talked about the scientific flaws and fallacious arguments used to support the proposed CAOs, but I feel the most insidious aspect of the CAOs is its cultural and ecological wrong headedness. One of my favorite books is Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol. It is not an environmental book. It is a story about race. It is a story about American culture. Kozol observes that the best place to find segregated society in America today is to go to a school named after Martin Luther King or Thurgood Marshall. America's schools have re-segregated decades after Brown vs Board of Education:

One of the most disheartening experiences for those who grew up in the years when Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall were alive is to visit public schools today that bear their names, or names of other honored leaders of integration struggles that produced the temporary progress that took place in the three decades after Brown, and to find how many of these schools are bastions of contemporary segregation. It is even more disheartening when schools like these are not in segregated neighborhoods but in racially mixed areas in which integration of a public school would seem to be most natural and where, indeed, it takes a conscious effort on the part of parents or school officials in these districts to avoid the integration option that is often right at their front door.

Kozol goes on to profile one school named Martin Luther King by saying:

Segregated schools like Martin Luther King are often tense, disorderly, and socially unhappy places, and when episodes of student violence occur, the inclination of the parents of white children to avoid such schools is obviously reinforced.

Kozol's observations strike me as having some relevance to currents in mainstream environmentalism as well.  Communities dominated by right-minded mainstream environmentalists are seeking to reestablish a kind of eco-segregation. Environmentalism today seeks our separateness from nature even when, or maybe especially when, it is right outside our front door. Signs, fences, trails, and buffers are advocated to control us from being in nature, and in fact, human-ecological integration seems anathema to the mainstream environmental movement.

It wasn't always this way, Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic was about "extending" our idea of human community to plants and animals. That is a fundamentally integrative concept, not a separatist one. One of my greatest fears over the CAOs has to do with their potentially disastrous effect on integrative ecological ideas like permaculture. Nearly everything that permaculture stands for will become illegal under our new CAOs. In our larger world, it is already illegal to make cheese from raw milk and there are even environmentalist efforts to have farm hogs declared an invasive species. How could the environmental movement have drifted so far off course?

I think it's because contemporary mainstream environmentalism has become detached and institutionalized. The large environmental organizations are headed by "CEO's", and they work with government agencies and other large bodies. Foundations wield influence by providing grant funding to "local" organizations, diminishing the importance of genuinely local voices. Professional societies, such as the US Green Building Council and the American Planning Association, also play an increasing role in advancing their own environmental agenda mixed with professional ambition. These new institutional players are the Sierra Clubs of today, and environmentalism, as a cause, has been supplanted by environmentalism as a career. Instead of being part of the anti-establishment, environmentalism now is the establishment, with all the baggage that comes with it.

In the midst of all this is the missing grassroots, and I'm not talking about people who show up at WTO protests or are Earth First-ers. I'm talking about the grassroots who have a simple integrated view of nature and who just want to live with it, as best they can. They know the community and ecological vision put forward by our CAO authors is wrong.

I suppose it's time to set aside our permaculture dreams, abandon our hopes of living with wildlife, and instead figure out how we will clearly demarcate the buffers and boundaries that will be the hallmark of our coming eco-segregated community. And just as the names of the great civil rights leaders of the past now lend their monikers to sad examples of the failure of integration, we will mark the failure of old time environmentalism by our community's increasing eco-separeteness. I doubt any ecological benefit will result, and in the process we will have become a "tense, disorderly, and socially unhappy place."

Yesterday, the comment below was left in response to a Seattle Times article about the San Juans:

It is long past time. The people that live on the Islands are the problem. They must be relocated before they destroy it for all time. The Ferry service is the drug, eliminate that and the cure will suely follow.

The people that have ruined the land must not be compinsated. To pay people for this distruction is akin to paying people to kill little baby seals.

The future is now.Every day that the people that squat on the San Jaun Islands and destroy the habitat is a nightmare. The military has the right to be, the rest of the people must go.

The aminals and the enviroment need our help now. The death ferry's must end. The future of these percious lands depends on your actions. Remove the people and remove the threat. Why these people were allowed to decimate the land in the first place is beyond belief.

Help us now, remove the cancer before the damage is simply to great. There is no cure for the damage they have done, but there is hope. Eliminate the Ferry Service, our children will why didn't you do anything?

Remove the people and let nature heal this hideous scar. The ferry is their hypodermic needle, lets cut the supply off. Lets do it for the children, lets do it for our future, lets do it because it is the right thing to do.

It belongs to eagles and the seals, it belongs to nature. These people have polluted it long enough. The time has come to say fair is fair, it belongs to nature, lets give it back.

A Tax By The Naive?

Lopezian and Yale-educated economist, Ed Dolan, has a new post on his economics blog about the CAOs. Many people have asked about the economic effects of the CAOs and Ed analyzes economic aspects and alternatives. Ed makes many good points, especially about the way the CAO shifts the cost burden away from the public sector to individuals. We often hear public officials saying that the County or State cannot afford to reimburse homeowners for the loss of use of their land.  Here is what Ed says about that:

Personally, I find it very hard to accept the notion that something that is “unaffordable” becomes “affordable” if you just have the temerity to take it without paying for it.

It has been said that the lottery is a tax on the naive. Given all the flaws in our CAO draft, if our County officials swallow it anyway, we could call the CAOs a tax by the naive. If you have one of these critical areas on your property (and many of us do), you've won the lottery, but the "lottery" resembles the classic short story authored by Shirley Jackson.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reading The Buffer Tea Leaves

Since "they" won't show us the problem, we can try to read tea leaves instead. I reckon we can read tea leaves mathematically by back-calculating. The buffer abacus targets 70% to 75% pollutant removal. It is largely based on the Mayer paper (Mayer et al, 2007). The Mayer paper considered only nitrates, so let's consider nitrate regulatory limits.* The drinking water standard for nitrates, the maximum contaminant level (MCL), is 10 mg/L, which is the same level established as the aquatic life criterion set by EPA.

Presumably, "they" sized our buffers so that our water would be safe coming out of the buffer, meaning nitrate levels no higher than 10 mg/L. At efficiencies of 75% removal, that would imply that our pre-buffered water from development areas could have ambient nitrate concentrations around 40 mg/L. For 70% removal, that would imply a figure as high as 33.3 mg/L.

Is that a lot?

Yes, it is, especially for surface waters. I believe it is unreasonable to think concentrations around here could ever be that high. Those levels are high even for aquifers in heavy use areas, such as the Salinas Valley in California, where there has been decades of intensive nitrogen fertilizer use associated with agriculture.

The USGS says the background concentration of nitrate in groundwater in the Puget Sound region is only about 3 mg/L. As for surface water data from the San Juans specifically, there is no mention of nitrates in the 303d reports. However, a study by Huxley College monitored nitrates and several other constituents in the islands, and they found nitrate concentrations to be around 2 mg/L or less. They had just one data point that was significantly higher in concentration, a 7 mg/L reading that they attributed to alders, not an anthropogenic source.

The Huxley comment about alders raises an interesting point. Many plants fix nitrogen into the soil, like alders. Other plants take it out, like grasses. A typical crop rotation schedule has a plant from the grass family (e.g. corn) followed by a legume (e.g., alfalfa). The grasses use nitrogen, and legumes put it back into the soil. Despite the fact that grasses are well-known consumers of nitrogen, our proposed County buffer calculator assumes lawn buffers are less effective than other vegetation at removing nitrogen. That is a peculiar conclusion since grasses are very good at withdrawing nitrogen from soil, and that is why people apply nitrogen fertilizer to lawns in the first place. Grass is so good at taking up nitrogen, it needs extra.

Is it possible that with fertilizer use or other behaviors that we might develop a nitrate problem somewhere in the county at some time? Sure, anything is possible. In fact, a 2008 Eastsound water supply report from the County Health Department suggests that nitrates may be slowly accumulating in the Eastsound aquifer, but levels are still quite low.  Further research (e.g., isotopic analysis of nitrogen and oxygen) may be needed to better define the source, and the situation is being monitored.

But it is fantasy to think that our county-wide pre-buffered ambient environmental concentrations of nitrate could be in the range of 30 to 40 mg/L (measured as nitrogen). Yet, by back-calculating, that appears to be the unspoken design criterion for all our buffers.

Even if we ignore all the other questions about the derivation of the buffer calculator, I still have to wonder why "they" sized buffers for 70% to 75% removal? Where is the justification for a problem so large and widespread that we all need buffers that robust? 

Why are our buffers so big? For the same reason "they" consider grass to be relatively ineffective at nitrogen removal. That is to say, for no reason at all apparently.

* - the MCL and aquatic life criterion express nitrate as nitrogen. Nitrate can be measured as nitrogen or as nitrate, the difference being the ratios of their molecular weights.  The same concentration of nitrate, measured as nitrate instead of nitrogen, is roughly 4.5 times higher than that same concentration of nitrate measured as nitrogen.  A 10 mg/L limit for nitrate as nitrogen is equivalent to a level of 45 mg/L for nitrate measured as nitrate.  If you click the link for the Salinas Valley data, they show nitrate measured as nitrate, so a 90 mg/L data point in their figures corresponds to a 20 mg/L level as compared to the MCL provided here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Taking Our Medicine

Imagine you sit on a citizen panel that is responsible for approving a new drug, a pill. This pill is an antidote for a poison. Actually, it's reported to be an effective antidote for an innumerable variety of poisons, and we are told by the finest scientists in the land that we are surrounded by undetectable but lethal poisons. This is surprising to us because we do not feel ill, but the scientists tell us that nearly everyone in the community must now take this antidote, in varying doses prescribed for us, or we will all die. We have to live with this pill for the rest of our lives, and by the way, this pill is very expensive and has crippling side effects. All the same, we must take it. We have no choice.

As a caring member of the community, you accept the imperative to protect. You are, however, very concerned about the side effects of the antidote.  As a member of the approval panel, you focus all your efforts towards reducing the pill's side effects, if only marginally.  If you make palliative modifications, you feel heroic since you have approved a vital community-saving measure while reducing negative consequences.

Based on recent conversations, many members of our Council and Planning Commission seem to feel this way. They have accepted that we are sick (eco-hypochondriacs?). They have accepted that we need to take the miracle pill despite the terrible side effects. They believe the (buffer) pill is the only solution that can save us: there is no alternative or combination of alternatives that might be a substitute remedy. There is only one final solution, and it is worth everything. Our officials feel embattled, but heroic. As such, they are focused only on forcing us to swallow the pill, and to that end, they are trying to gain our grudging cooperation by reassuring us that the side effects will not be as bad as they are reported to be.

But the surest way to prevent side effects is not to take the pill in the first place. That said, hardly any of our public officials are seriously scrutinizing whether the pill is needed to begin with. For its advocates, though the evidence is scant, the pill represents science. Although we have lived an apparently healthy life without the scientific pill, "they" insist that we cannot go on living without the new drug.

This is how most of our public officials think of the CAO, its buffers, and the diagnosis of Dr. Adamus and others. The fact that our officials can think this way is the most difficult pill to swallow of all.

Previous posts raised questions about our diagnosis, the remedy (i.e., pill), and the methodology used to compute our dose. Upcoming posts will ask whether the proposed remedy has any active ingredients at all? Or, is it just a placebo with crippling side effects?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Ignorance Of The Experts

If your pipes were to spring a leak, would you call an electrician? If you were needing heart surgery, would you make an appointment to see a wildlife biologist?

The wetland and shoreline buffers in San Juan County have been justified largely on the basis of their supposed ability to remove pollutants. Ecotoxicology is the study of the effects of chemicals on biological organisms. Fate and transport is the study of how chemicals move and degrade as they pass through the environment. 

How many ecotoxicologists or fate & transport specialists do you suppose produced the latest buffer proposal in our wetlands CAO draft?


The current proposed buffer system for San Juan County was developed by wetland scientists and planners, with further extensive input from a cellular biologist-cum-Board member of the Friends, who by her own admission, hadn't even used Excel "in years." These technical experts produced a buffer calculator that establishes buffer sizes based on surface runoff.  "They" assumed that pollution is directly proportional to surface runoff. That's a novel concept, and by that logic, the Amazon River, being the largest river in the world in terms of volume, should also be the most polluted river in the world.

A more well-reasoned approach to pollutant transport might have been to hypothesize that pollutant loading would be related to the proximity and strength of a genuine pollutant source. For example, there are many authentic sources of industrial pollution adjacent to China's Yellow River. Which river would you venture to guess is more polluted? Is it the Yellow River, whose total yearly discharge is less than 3 days of Amazon flow, or is it the Amazon, the river with 20% of the world's river flow?

Of course, the Yellow River is more polluted.  It's one of the most polluted rivers in the world, but our County's proposed buffer methodology would have you conclude that the Amazon is dirtier. That's the kind of nonsensical outcome that occurs when you have wetland scientists and planners doing ecotoxicology and fate & transport. The answers given by their analysis are meaningless when no effort has been made to identify authentic pollutant sources first.

Buffer science, to the extent that it exists as a science at all, is really ecotoxicology and fate & transport performed by wetland scientists. As such, it is like heart surgery done by wildlife biologists:  it's messy, full of mistakes, and you really don't want to end up as the patient.

Buffers impose high social and economic costs upon a community in return for little to no ecological risk reduction. The real question is how in the first place did buffers ever establish their credible, but undeserved, reputation as an effective remedy for pollution in the GMA/CAO world?  One can only speculate on an answer, but I suspect that buffers, which are mostly non-solutions to non-problems, have never been properly scrutinized, analyzed, or challenged using an ecotoxicology or fate & transport approach. At times, the entire field of wetland science seems to be an echo chamber of professionals whose customary habit is to deny the standing of anyone outside "their" field, so I believe a sense of ownership by wetland scientists has hidden "buffer science" from serious critique by "outsiders." State wetland scientists and their consultants, not ecotoxicologist "outsiders", are the ones that push buffers.  The authority of these State wetland scientists cannot be overlooked as a major reason why buffers are so commonplace and highly regarded at the local level. It seems that whenever San Juan County has entertained second thoughts about standard CAO approaches or its costs to our community, the successive verbal prods by the State wetland scientists have been:
  1. Please continue.
  2. The process requires that you continue.
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  4. You have no other choice, you must go on.
And if you've ever had an introductory psychology course, you might recognize those verbal prods and understand the influence that an authority figure can have over their subjects. When you combine an ideology of good (e.g., the appearance of protecting the environment) with an authoritative figure (e.g., the State) that puts pressure on a local government suffused with confederates (e.g., the Friends), an otherwise objective participant in our local system can become psychologically disconnected from the severity of the unintended consequences of "good" actions. In that environment, "good" can transform itself into thoughtless and heartless injustice directed at fellow citizens. Obedience to "good" can frequently transform itself into oppressive behavior.

The Nobel Prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman, used to say that "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts." When it comes to wetlands and the technical experts relied upon by the County, there is precious little skepticism of the "experts", and as a result, precious little science (or good) as well.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Problem - Fallacy, Bureaucratic Dreams, Compulsion

A few days ago, Sharon Kivisto wrote a brief article revealing "the problem" with our local environment. She's not the first one to do so. Back in February 2011, San Olson of the Friends wrote a letter to the Island Guardian where he concluded that the problem was "all around us." (Also, see previous post about Friends and (In)Credible Data).

Sharon's thesis relies in large part on the local 303d water quality reports done by the Department of Ecology. That, in itself, is not a problem, and in fact, I often advocate using the 303d and 305b reports (which are requirements of the Clean Water Act) as one line of evidence regarding our environmental quality.  It is true that the 303d reports identify some of our waters as impaired:  there are 11 instances, out of 378 database entries, showing that some of our waterways are "impaired." Of the 11 impairments, 7 are because of fecal coliform; we also have two of our marine waters listed for low dissolved oxygen levels; and lastly, we have two waterways listed for two different reasons: Mountain Lake in Moran State Park for PCBs and Horseshoe Lake on Blakely for phosporous.  Yes, you read that right. Mountain Lake in Moran State Park is identified as one of our nation's most impaired waterways because of PCBs. More on that in a moment. Let's examine these results by group.

Let's start with fecal coliform, which is one of the most widespread forms of pollution in the US. Contributing sources for fecal coliform pollution include humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife. Without knowing the relative contributions of each source, it is impossible to determine an appropriate remedy. For all we know, the source of the high fecal coliform levels may be wildlife sources. One way we could distinguish the sources from one another would be to perform genetic tests on the coliform bacteria. Even so, the 303d coliform data itself is somewhat suspect. The 303d listing was based primarily on data that is 10 years old or more, and the more recent data (2003) is accompanied by the admonition that these data "may not meet minimum data requirements of Ecology WQP 1-11." In other words, the data quality for coliform is questionable, and what doesn't explicitly fail state data quality standards, is old.

Moving on to dissolved oxygen (DO), low DO was measured in East Sound and San Juan Channel. It may have an anthropogenic cause, but then again, Ecology's notes for the 303d report do not clearly point the finger to humans. In 2004, the evaluation for East Sound even said:

These excursions beyond the criterion are a natural condition with no direct human-caused influence due to natural variations in the marine environment, based on the 11/03 judgment of Jan Newton (Dept. of Ecology).

However, by 2008, a different Ecology employee opined that human factors may be influencing the results and further analysis was warranted. Yes, further analysis is warranted, in my opinion, especially because the 303d DO screening level used for the San Juans is 40% higher (i.e., more strict) than the DO criterion used for saltwaters elsewhere, making "failure" here more likely.  In the San Juans, the criteria used was 7 mg/L of DO, which is 2 mg/L higher than the saltwater aquatic life criterion set by EPA in other places (e.g., Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras, 2000). And the sample sizes used in the DO analyses were very small. We don't know enough about the statistics of these small data sets (e.g., the mean, standard deviation) to properly evaluate the confidence limits of the data relative to any screening criterion. In short, it is impossible to say whether there is a DO problem, statistically speaking, and the data interpreters at Ecology do not seem to be able to point to a clear cause for any problem.

Now, let's look at the reports of contamination at Mountain and Horseshoe Lakes. Both of these lakes are situated in protected areas without any nearby development. The 303d note for Horseshoe Lake cites a study by Ecology (Welch, et al, 1992) from their "Lake Restoration Program." If you look up that report, you will notice that the Horseshoe Lake in that report is in Clark County. Based on that, it appears as if the 303d report for Horseshoe Lake in Clark County erroneously found its way into our 303d report for Horseshoe Lake on Blakley Island in San Juan County. It's very likely that there never has been a water quality issue at our Horseshoe Lake, and the 303d listing for us is just a case of bureaucratic confusion and mistaken identity.

As for the PCBs in Mountain Lake, the notes in the 303d report indicate that the sample was taken from the tissue of a kokanee salmon in 2004. PCBs are deposited atmospherically, like many pollutants, so it is possible that air-deposited PCBs are accumulating in the tissues of Mountain Lake kokanee. However, hatchery raised kokanee are stocked into both Cascade Lake and Mountain Lake, and hatchery fish have been known to carry PCBs into the ecosystem from the hatchery. I would not be surprised if the tested Mountain Lake kokanee was a hatchery-raised fish that had picked up PCB contamination at the hatchery, similar to what happened at Icicle Creek in Chelan County.

As for other arguments made by Sharon, she points out that the number of species of concern for the Salish Sea increased by 23 over the past two years. However, the term "Salish Sea" was only approved by the U.S. Geographic Board of Names in late 2009 and Canada didn't approve it until 2010.  It is, therefore, not surprising if data are still being compiled and correlated to this new geographic designation. The additional species listings may reflect circumstances related to the change in geographic nomenclature and categorization rather than species decline. The Salish Sea encompasses a huge area, from Desolation Sound to Oakland Bay, so re-categorization is likely to take a while to sort out.  Also, given a population of about 6 million people in this vast region, our 16,000-strong County represents 0.3% of the potential human contribution to Salish Sea anthropogenic issues.

Sharon's article also contains several fallacious arguments. For example, she quotes Gaydos as saying, "nearly 60% of the bird species and 30% of the mammals that need the Salish Sea also require terrestrial resources to survive, illustrating the intimate link between the land and sea and the need to conserve both." In saying this, Sharon is implying a post hoc fallacy in reverse: that avoiding further conservation measures here will prevent Salish Sea species from obtaining the terrestrial resources they need to survive. That's a flawed argument based on false premises, and it's like saying that if we prevent the rooster from crowing, we will stop the sun from rising.

In sum, the discussion of "here is the problem", whether it has been advanced by Sharon Kivisto, the Friends, consultants, or various government representatives, has been mostly kettle logic: using multiple inconsistent arguments to defend a position.

The problem isn't the environment. It is flawed logic and the deceptive exploitation of environmental claims to advance bureaucratic dreams, self interest, and compulsion. It's the unjustifiable smugness of people who feel they know more than you do, giving them the right to tell you how to live.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dancing Like Marionettes

The Sackett Case before the Supreme Court was decided today. The Sackett's won in a unanimous decision. There is a great deal of mainstream reporting on this case, so I won't go into much detail on this blog. However, I want to relay a quote from the prevailing counsel, Damien Schiff:

It is a great day for all Americans, for all property owners, and for the rule of law. The justices have made it clear that EPA bureaucrats are answerable to the law and the courts just like the rest of us. EPA can’t try to micromanage people and their property — it can’t order property owners to dance like marionettes — while denying them any meaningful right to appeal to the courts. It can’t threaten property owners with financial ruin and not have to justify its threats to a judge. And it can’t issue lazy, drive-by ‘wetlands’ edicts about private property. It will have to put in some honest work and use credible science, because the regulators must be able to justify their wetlands orders in a court of law.

While not directly related to our CAOs, there are quite a few notable similarities. The notions of financial ruin, of drive-by wetlands edicts, and having property owners dance like marionettes seem familiar to many islanders. Below is the lot owned by the Sackett's that was declared a wetland by EPA. The Sackett's faced fines of up to $75,000 per day for their alleged violation, for a lot they paid $23,000 for.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fallacy Bingo

Today there was a County Council meeting on Lopez.  In previous posts, I have mentioned the numerous fallacious arguments made by the Council, consultants, and staff regarding the CAOs. We saw a perfect example of that during the public comment period today. Dan Post commented that the CAO buffer calculator for wetlands was confusing and difficult, so Patty Miller responded by asking Dan if he would prefer to have a simpler method even if it resulted in a larger buffer?

Can you spot the fallacy advanced by Patty with that question? Patty is posing a false dilemma, sometimes called a false choice. It happens when two alternatives are postulated to be the only possible choices when in reality there are more. For the CAO buffers, there are more choices besides complicated large buffers and simple gigantic buffers, which are the only two eventualities contemplated by Patty.

Probably without even realizing it, Patty, like others involved in the CAOs, makes many other fallacious arguments. After a while, it becomes a bit like a bingo game to spot them. One of the biggest fallacy generators is associated with the answer to the question of "Where is the problem?" More on that in a coming post.

And Patty refused to let the crowd show their support for any of the public commenters today, except by raising hands or by standing mutely. At one point, after one speaker received a well-deserved round of applause, Patty threatened to shut down further public comment if the crowd continued to be disorderly. Disorderly? Applause is disorderly? Since when are legislative meetings supposed to be run like libraries or courtrooms? I guess Patty has never heard of question time. I favor letting people express themselves. It can be done without being disorderly.

Monday, March 19, 2012

No Way To Treat A Nationally Recognized Expert

Goodness!  This is an email from Shireene to update the County's CAO Implementation Team. The title of this post refers to the fact that Dr. Adamus has often been touted as a nationally recognized wetland scientist, but look how Shireene talks about him. Amidst mention of crises and bayonets, it certainly looks as if Dr. Adamus is being elbowed out of the way in favor of what Shireene calls "my alternative wetlands buffer approach" which was subsequently refined by Dr. Adamus into the current Abacus Kadabra. This email certainly suggests that the whole approach is Shireene's to begin with, and everyone else involved, including Dr. Adamus, is just along for the ride.

How is it that our buffers are supposed to be scientific when they've apparently been designed quick and dirty as part of a CAO rescue mission by a planner and then justified after the fact by Dr. Adamus? The email also suggests that the addressees have known for quite some time that the buffer approach is Shireene's, not Dr. Adamus', but that hasn't stopped them from claiming that the latest wetland CAO is based on BAS. Increasingly, the record appears to show that Dr. Adamus is being used like a front man for the ideas of CDPD and Ecology, who appear to be desperate to ram home the CAOs at all costs and despite all opposition.

-----Original Message-----
From: Shireene Hale []
Sent: Friday, November 18, 2011 11:53 AM
To: Richard Fralick; Patty Miller; Lovel Pratt; Pete Rose; Randall Gaylord; Jon Cain; Janice Biletnikoff; Colin Maycock; Rene Beliveau
Subject: CAO/ SMP meeting Wednesday?

So are we meeting Wednesday? If so just let us know what time.

At this point, if you all can give me the go ahead to vet my alternative wetland buffer approach with our local citizen scientists and perhaps the Public Works engineers (or at least Rachel) that will allow us to move forward on the next draft of the Wetland regulations. It would not be an open ended, start from scratch discussion, nor a situation where they all have to agree, but rather me looking for input on my proposal.

If it makes you more comfortable I can discuss issues with them separately - though I think there is value in a focused group discussion. My recommendation is to send them the proposal (with a little more fleshing out) via e-mail, ask for comments (either verbal or via e-mail), rework it based on those comments, and then have one conference call to discuss where I ended up after incorporating pertinent suggestions. Even if not everyone agrees, as least the technical people will understand how this alternative approach would work. The biologists, hydrologists, engineers and wetland specialists I propose to include are: Steve Belluomini, Ed Kilduff, Scott Rozenbaum, Janet Alderton, Dr. Adamus, Dan Nickel, and Rachel Dietzman.

On the Voluntary Stewardship Program, Janice will be sending the Council an update, but basically we are proceeding with meeting the requirements of the law, which include conferring with Ag, tribal and environmental interests (meeting scheduled for Dec. 9) and preparing to do SEPA review/ notice and providing broad notice to the public (notice scheduled to be published November 30). I understand the Council will be considering the draft resolution and taking testimony on whether to opt in on December 13. Janice is putting the finishing touches on the draft resolution today and will give it to Randy for his review/ signature.
She will also put together a staff report on the program and the resolution (which will be headed for Pete's approval within the next week or so).

On the SMP update, Colin could use some guidance on whether the council wants to approve the shoreline inventory and characterization before he and the consultants begin working on draft goals and policies. We understand that some property owners are gathering information about their property and may wish to have some discussions with us once the draft shoreline designations are released, but I think that can be worked into the process. As long as their existing land use is not radically different than the properties surrounding them, the designations should recognize the built environment that currently exists.

For CAO at some point we should probably discuss if we are going to change the way we have been involving our citizen scientists in the review of technical issues. What we and the consultants have been doing is having direct conversations with them (either phone or e-mail) so that we understand their points of view and they understand our thinking. Steve Belluomini, Ed Kilduff, Scott Rozenbaum, Jim Johannessen, Russel Barsh and Janet Alderton have all been involved in this manner throughout the process including during the drafting of the BAS Synthesis (I am sure there are others as well given all the various disciplines we are dealing with). We do need to remain vigilant about separating personal comments that are outside the scientists' respective areas of expertise, from comments relating to their areas of expertise. Anyway, this approach has been working well and I would continue it (being mindful to include all who have expertise and would like to be involved).

At some point soon we do need to discuss Dr. Adamus' role moving forward. While he can be quite helpful, it is a problem if he doesn't have time to attend hearings (which we have not asked him to do but which would help him understand the comments we receive), review materials, and participate in problem solving in a constructive manner. His lack of attention and input into the last wetland draft resulted in a significant waste of both our time, and the public's time. If we had known he did not review the materials carefully and did not have time to do so we could have postponed the hearing until he did have adequate time to devote to the project.

Pete mentioned establishing some sort of field procedures for dealing with unexpected crises (e.g. last Thursday). If we learn from our mistakes, that crisis won't be repeated, and the next one will be something different. Some guiding principles might be helpful. Now that we are no longer faced with an impending Planning Commission hearing (which was to occur today) we can take a breath and think about how to navigate the difficult situations we will continue to face. I would suggest that bayonetting the wounded after the battle is probably not a good approach.

So, please keep us posted on whether the implementation committee is meeting next Wednesday and have a nice weekend!

Shireene Hale, EHS 
Planning Coordinator/ Deputy Director 
San Juan County Community Development & Planning 
PO Box 947 
135 Rhone Street 
Friday Harbor, WA 98250 

Lovel 9000? Thank You Again For Your Email!

Compare the replies below that were received by Deborah Strasser, whose comments to the Council were posted here a few days ago. Also, bear in mind that Lovel was reportedly very pleased with the Planning Commission's relatively minor changes to the much criticized wetlands CAO draft.

One of the readers of this blog mentioned to me that corresponding with Ecology, the Council, County staff, and the Planning Commission seems like a conversation with HAL, the primary antagonist in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When hardly anyone in government really seems to "get it" regarding the good points raised by citizens, the comparison doesn't seem far off. Sometimes, I almost expect to hear, "I'm sorry, Dave.  I'm afraid I can't do that. This mission is far too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it. This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye."

Judge for yourself. Are we all stuck in the pod? Or, maybe we should take a stress pill and think things over.

Hi Debbie,
Thank you for your email to the Council on the CAO update – and thank you for taking the time to attend and watch meetings and read the comments and letters.

I will give you my responses to your concerns and I would also be happy to meet and talk further with you about this.

1.       Dr. Adamus is a highly qualified wetland scientist and wildlife biologist.  He was hired by SJC – at the urging of citizens and groups such as the Common Sense Alliance – to prepare a new countywide wetlands map using recent aerial imagery, LiDAR topographic imagery, the new soils map and the earlier wetland maps.  Dr. Adamus has not conducted any nitrogen studies or other studies in SJC.  I think you may be referring to studies that are included in the Best Available Science Synthesis (adopted in May 2011).
2.       It was actually Councilmember Miller who identified language in the January 24, 2012 draft of the General Section of the CAO update included language that could be interpreted to require review of even small excavation and vegetation removal projects.  The Council unanimously clarified on February 28th that prior to the CAO update adoption the Council will review and revise this section to ensure that it does not impose unnecessary requirements for activities that do not otherwise require a permit or review.

Agricultural activities in critical areas are being addressed in both the CAO update and through the Voluntary Stewardship Program.  I would be happy to answer any questions and/or talk with you more about this component of the CAO update process.

FYI here is a link to the FAQs:

I think it is important to understand the state laws that required the adoption of the current CAO in 1991 and that require the current update process.  I know that the CAO update is extremely difficult and frustrating for all involved and I hope that we can work through the update process with open and civil communications.  We are all – whether county residents or planning commissioners or councilmembers or county staff or property owners or property owner rights advocates or environmental rights advocates – engaged in this process with the best interests of our community as our focus.  With open and civil communication we can better understand the differences in our perspectives and better work towards the adoption of the CAO update.  I am doing my best to find a balance that makes sense for our community within the state’s CAO requirements.

I really appreciate the perspective and insights you bring to this process as a life-long resident of SJI.  I am especially interested in any of your specific suggestions for changes to the draft Wetlands Section as the Council will soon be considering that.

Thank you again for your email!

Lovel Pratt
San Juan County Council, District 1
Office: 55 Second St. N., 1st floor
Phone: 360-370-7473
Mail: 350 Court Street, No. 1, Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Dear Ms. Strasser:
Thank you for your email regarding the CAO update.  It's good to have responses from you and all of the other citizens who have become very involved in this process.  I share many of the concerns you expressed and hope that before we are through with this effort that we will revisit the main task before us which is to review our existing regulations and, if there is compelling reason to modify any of them, to proceed accordingly.  We will need to keep in mind the Growth Management Act Planning Goals and those from our Comprehensive Plan which should provide guidance and balance to the ultimate outcome.
I, too, have become concerned about the accuracy and conclusions drawn from the Best Available Science (BAS), that would be the basis for the major changes recommended to our existing regulations.  I also believe that some of the recommended changes have nothing to do with BAS, and are, rather, policy decisions that could become very destructive to our local economy and well-being. 
While I believe that all of the parties involved are making a sincere effort, so far the results, in my mind, have been excessive, very complicated, and unnecessarily restrictive.  I hope, as this process proceeds, that you will stay involved and provide your views on the individual elements that we will be discussing as we near the final stage of this process.
I would be happy to talk with you about any of your concerns about the CAO update.
Rich Peterson, 2nd District County Council Member

50 States And No Winners

This site makes liberal use of information obtained through Public Records Act requests. That Act eloquently states its purpose:

“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.’’

There is a new ranking of State integrity, and Washington ends up with a B-. The best score in the nation was a B+ (New Jersey), and overall, Washington ends up third. Yes, we're worse than New Jersey, and in fact, everyone is worse than New Jersey.  It shows we have a long way to go. The linked article to this post ends with this admonition.

"Despite constraints, Washington in many ways is still a progressive model for other states. The mechanisms for accountability are in place. But more and more, experts here say, it's up to citizens to exercise them, in part because the mainstream press is shrinking. Some three dozen reporters covered state government during a legislative session 20 years ago, but today the total is just 6-8 fulltime journalists. "It's up to the people to monitor their government," said Nixon.

Perhaps never more so than today."

Corruption isn't something that just happens somewhere else. It's an everyday occurrence in everyday places ... like here in our own community. You are needed to stop it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Et Tu, Planning Commission?

On March 6, citizens packed the Planning Commission (PC) and voiced their objections to the wetlands CAO draft. I have heard that some of the Friends felt the public were disrespectful, but that isn't evident from Eric Fullerton's eloquent comments.

Despite the overwhelmingly negative public comments on March 6, the Commissioners made mostly minor changes to the draft during yesterday's PC deliberations. Today, a concerned islander sent me the note below. If accurate, it speaks for itself as a sad commentary on the state of our community.

I wonder if the back-slapping, self-congratulatory crowd has ever heard of the word schadenfreude because their reported behavior would appear to be a living definition of that word.


At the CRC meeting today at lunch a group gathered to pat each other on the backs about getting their way on the planning commission. Lovel was all smiles standing with Bob Gamble, Barbra Thomas, Sara Osborn? (forget last name), Tom Munsey, and others. I overheard them say how nice it was that Carlson was not there.

The truth is that this is no victory. This is really a big loss for our community and the people who live here. I just got the feeling of sadness. I really believe that at the end they will not be so happy. I'm not sure why.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Another Letter to the Council

Here's one more example of a citizen speaking out.  The question is whether anyone is listening. It doesn't seem so.

The Planning Commission deliberated on the wetlands CAO today. They put off their final vote until March 30, but preliminary feedback from the meeting suggests that the Planning Commission reviewed, and amended only marginally, the language of the wetlands CAO. It survived intact and is still largely the same document that attracted overwhelming criticism on March 6.

Dear Council Members,

     I have been following w/great interest the controversy concerning all the different aspects of the new CAO rules being considered.  I've not spoken up but now feel compelled to do so..

     I have watched videos of meetings and have attended two and am voraciously devouring all the letters and opinions concerning this.  A couple of things I've noticed. 

1.  Mr. (Dr.?) Adamus is vague and unable to support his opinions about the "best available science" concerning wetlands he has been using to make his recommendations.  And that is despite the time he has put into this and the money he has been paid.  He also seems very detached about any outcome and does not seem engaged in his research enough to do any extra work investigating w/out financial reward.  Is he a slow reader?  Is this a new area of study for him?  I was particularly surprised and unimpressed by the fact that nitrogen has been the entire subject of his studies and he didn't seem to have any controls, ie;  naturally occurring nitrogen via wild bird excrement, nitrogen producing trees, etc....  Very poorly done!  Oh my.  In a nutshell, his "studies" don't begin to support the extreme controls being considered.  Not by a long shot.  I was just SO unimpressed. 

2.  I have read and listened to opinions and statements by Stephanie Buffum and Janet Alderton concerning the wetlands and find they word things in a way that needs careful listening to decipher.  Janet's letter in the Journal last week included an oddly patronizing complement to John Evans thanking him for his careful investigations and then reassuring him that the shovel of dirt issue was indeed being looked at due to his observations.  Thanks to John you will consider "allowing" us to turn some dirt w/out permission.  I also hear Stephanie saying "existing agriculture" will be allowed to continue.  She avoids the subject of "new agriculture" if possible.  Or it seems that way to me. 

      The rules for development being considered for individual lots are not practical.  Self-sustaining and productive properties need to become the rule, not the exception.  People are becoming aware that they need to grow some of their own food, buy locally, and on and on.  To import what can be easily grown here because the permitting is too expensive and rigourous is just ludicrous.  Talk about pollution!  The freedom to garden is not the freedom that will pollute the earth.  The geese and ducks that live in the wetlands are more numerous than the chickens in the coops.  Your target is mis-placed. 

      I cannot in any way support the proposed rules and in fact the strength of argument and rational thought being exressed by the majority of the people against these potential rules far overpower the wishy washy "science" and fear based empty arguments expressed by the people wanting this.  That seems so obvious.  They have not proven to me the necessity and in fact begin to look foolish.

     There is no one who loves the islands more than I do.  It has been my home for my entire life and I have seen many changes.  I don't want the environment destroyed in any way.  But while the intent may be good the method is not.  Museum is the word that comes to my mind.

      I am sorry to sound harsh but listening to Adamus convinced me this is less than half baked.   I have gone from questioning this to being entirely against it. 

Sincerely,  Deborah Strasser

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Is The State Copied On Everything?

See the email below.  It looks like at least one Council member thinks Tim Blanchard has to be refuted.  Is that why Lovel copies her email to both Linda Lyshall from the Puget Sound Partnership and Erik Stockdale of Ecology? Are they going to learn Tim some of their best available truth?

For those of you who may not know who Tim Blanchard is, he is an Orcasite and Common Sense Alliance Vice President who has donated enormous amounts of effort and time to shed a little light on the CAO process. It doesn't look like his efforts are much appreciated by Lovel.

And despite the appearance of Erik Stockdale being well integrated into many aspects of the County CAO process, I have to wonder about (yes, here it is again) the recent quote by Ecology that says:

"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, February 14, 2012.)

From: Lovel Pratt []
Sent: Monday, February 01, 2010 12:16 PM
To: Pete Rose
Cc: Richard Fralick; Shireene Hale;
Linda Lyshall; Erik C. Stockdale (
Subject: Feb 2nd CAPR mtg

Hi Pete,
I read on the Island Guardian that Tim Blanchard is the guest speaker at tomorrow night’s CAPR meeting (at the Grange).  Prior to last Tuesday’s meeting, Richard met with Tim and told me that he was hopeful that Tim is interested in working productively – and expeditiously – on the CAO update.  I am not convinced of that given the communications I received from him last week (attached - and for some of those copied here FYI the Council’s identified next steps for the CAO update process).

Tim has some wrong assumptions about the CAO adoption process.  During public testimony last week (where he outlined what is included in the attached documents) there were no responses from the Council or staff to refute his wrong assumptions regarding the CAO update process.  While he was present to hear the Council’s later discussion (with the PA there answering questions) about the CAO update process, I’m not sure that he now has and will be presenting accurate information at the CAPR meeting.

My bottom line question is: How do we best get accurate information about the CAO update process to the public?

I would appreciate any insight and ideas you have!

Thank you!

Lovel Pratt
San Juan County Council, District 1
Office: 55 Second St. N., 1st Floor
Mail: 350 Court St. #1, Friday Harbor, WA 98250

Everyone is welcome to join me for a community meeting and brown bag lunch on the 4th Monday of every month at noon in the legislative building's large conference room (55 Second St.).

Confidentiality Notice:  This e-mail message, including any attachments, is subject to the Washington State Public Records Act, RCW Chapter 42.56 et al.  This e-mail and attachments is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and/or privileged information.  Any review, use, disclosure, or distribution by unintended recipients is prohibited.  If you are not the intended recipient, please contact the sender by reply e-mail and destroy all copies of the original message.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

We'll Leave The Light On For Ya!

One concern many locals have about the CAO process is that State officials seem to have too close a relationship with our County staff and our consultants. Some citizens go so far as to suggest that County staff appear to have de facto accountability to the State rather than to us and our Council. After all, many public records reveal an apparently all-too-cozy relationship with State staff. In the email below, Erik Stockdale, a State employee, responds to a kind offer from Shireene Hale, a County Planner. Erik also mentions Paul, which either refers to Paul Adamus, a wetlands consultant hired by the County, or Paul Anderson, an Ecology employee who reports to Erik.

As you consider the email below, bear in mind what has been stated in earlier posts regarding the State's involvement in the CAOs.  Remember that one of Erik Stockdale's superiors recently said:

"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, February 14, 2012.)

Be that as it may, it would seem that when it comes to the State and our "turf", mi casa es su casa.

Or should that be mi CAO es su CAO?

From: "Stockdale, Erik (ECY)" <ESTO461@ECY.WA.GOV>
Date: September 8, 2011 11:26:06 AM PDT
To: Shireene Hale <>
Subject: voicemail

My bad... I was looking at the Monday Sept 12 agenda. Can you confirm that the planning commission hearing is for Friday the 16th and not Wed the 14th? The agenda says it is Wed the 16th.

I have a family commitment on Thursday (dropping my younger son off at Western Washington University) and hope to catch up with Paul later that afternoon or early evening in Mount Vernon before we get on the ferry together.

We greatly appreciate your offer to have us stay with you, yet it seems like quite an imposition for both of us to parachute in on you.

Paul has checked with Friday Harbor Labs about space in their dorms. If we come up short we may feel like we are less of an imposition!

That said, would you like to meet Thursday evening if you have questions to go over?

Thanks, Erik
Erik Stockdale|Wetlands/401 Unit Supervisor|Department of Ecology| 425-649-7061|  <>