Sunday, August 10, 2014

Next Time You're In The Ferry Line ...

"Is it just me, or are there a lot more tourists this summer?" That was the question I asked the ticket agent at the Anacortes ferry kiosk. 
"Oh, ever since Memorial Day, the numbers have been through the roof," said the ticket agent. "But I suppose that's good ... probably means the economy is doing better." 
"I'd rather have half the tourists and twice the number of year-round jobs," I said. 
"Yeah ... I guess that makes sense," said the agent.
It makes sense to me anyway.

No matter what island you live on, the tourist hordes seem to be overwhelming recently. In Friday Harbor, it's even harder to find parking spaces than previous summers, and the jets flying into the airport seem to be ... well ... just a bit much. The lines to leave Lopez for Anacortes on a Saturday are now as long as they used to be on Sunday afternoon.

When asked about the lines, one Lopez ferry worker (a long-time resident) voiced her frustration, "There are just too many people. There are just TOO MANY! We need to decide if we want to be Friday Harbor because this is just too much! It's busy all the time. No let-up."

In the midst of the onslaught, our little businesses can't find enough seasonal workers to handle the crush. In Friday Harbor, some restaurants are closed two days a week during the high season simply because they can't find enough workers. Same is true for Orcas, I hear. On Lopez, one restaurant has put out want-ads that amount to begging for seasonal help ... even willing to take people on for just a day or two during their visit to the islands.

Welcome to the economy of "protection" ... the economy of the National Monument ... the Scenic Byway ... tourist board ... the "one of the places to see before you die" economy. This is the Friends economy. It's the one they always wanted, but it's still just a transitional stage ... because there's more to do.

For the rest of this story, continue reading on the new Trojan Heron Blog

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

TH Changes

Below you will find the latest in our "Tales of Tyranny" series that we began some time ago. You will also find this post on our new site, which can be found at www.trojanheron.com. Please take the time to visit the new site, and you'll find that it also has a discussion forum associated with it ... in addition to blog commenting.

The need for the Trojan Heron is as strong as ever. We will continue to improve our tools and methods to provide all of you with a voice to speak out ... and there is a lot to speak about.

The Invasion -- Third in a Series

“Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens.” James Madison, The Federalist, November 22, 1787.

The “sphere” Madison writes about is a community of individuals. Lack of diversity of opinion in this island community has caused exactly what James Madison feared more than 200 years ago. Mob rule. This phenomenon exists here where a majority of people think it is acceptable to invade the rights of other citizens.

The invaders are green but they aren’t aliens. We know them as the “Friends of the San Juans” and they will invade your rights because they fundamentally believe they have more rights to your property than you do. This green elite mob seems to enjoy the fact that they can control your undeveloped shoreline, and they have contempt for anyone who has a dream to build near it or alter it in any way.

First the mob must be engaged. The truth won’t always do that, but exaggeration will. So willing accomplices in the media must blow the story out of proportion so that any suspected violation appears egregious. A villain is created to be the central focus of the mob’s wrath. Then the community will predictability react with horror and contribute to the cause. Over the years the “Friends of the San Juans” have learned to play this game for profit. This story is about their latest victims.

Dave and Nancy Honeywell dreamed of moving to the Washington coast when they retired. After winning a lottery jackpot their dream came true, but they never considered that an invasion of their rights was about to occur. That’s how the Honeywells’ dream turned into a nightmare.

The Honeywells purchased Mar Vista Resort on the west side of San Juan Island. They renamed the property “Orca Dreams” because they love these mammals and the whales are frequently seen from the property. Instead of expanding the use as a resort (with all associated negative impacts) they planned to turn it into a full time residence for themselves and their family.

The previous owners had let the property deteriorate, and weeds and scrub trees had taken over some of the shoreline area where previously rare wildflowers grew in abundance. They wanted to improve the landscape and provide more sunlight for the endangered golden paintbrush plants, but they didn’t intentionally want the majority of the vegetation in a section of the property removed. In their absence, a misunderstanding between the owner and their contractor caused the removal of much of the vegetation in one area near the shoreline. In a statement made to the planning enforcement department Dave Honeywell said, “The amount of clearing on the hillside was far greater than we had directed or anticipated.” When the “Friends” (acting like self appointed “earth police”) discovered the mistake, all hell broke loose and the green invasion and smear campaign began.

Led by an agenda-driven local press and an angry news blogger, the story began to unfold. The caretaker of the property witnessed several vehicles driving past the “no trespassing” signs onto the Honeywell’s property to take photographs of the area where brush and some trees had been cut down. He saw two women in a car that sped away but was unable to get the license plate number. He reported the incident to the Sheriff but was only able to identify one of the alleged trespassers.

The trespassers, the press, and the “Friends” accused the Honeywells of “clear cutting” the property even though several large fir trees remain along the short segment of the shoreline. Some trees were cut down and some brush was removed, but the activity hardly fits the definition of the “clear-cut” that was reported. There was no intent to do anything illegal, but that didn’t stop the press or the “Friends” from threatening to teach them a lesson.

“Stephanie Buffum, executive director of Friends of the San Juans, was irate when she saw photographs of the area. She believed the photographs showed dozens of trees had been removed and areas of native flowers and other vegetation removed.

"This will take decades to repair," Buffum said. "It's a great example of property owner irresponsibility. You do it right or you do it right, and Friends will make sure they do it right." Journal

Here we have an example of the “Friends” poisoning the public image of new residents who got caught up in a misunderstanding, paid a fine, and are committed to fixing the situation by replanting. It hasn’t stopped the vitriol. In fact the “Friends” mob have decided to ramp-up the campaign against them. How’s that for a warm Island welcome?

The “Friends” did not think the fine was sufficient and want to punish them even more. “We've heard from many that you feel this (fine) is insufficient. We encourage you to contact the San Juan County Council to ask for more meaningful code enforcement provisions for situations like this in the future. In fact, you could ask the Council to restore the stronger provisions cut from the County's enforcement ordinance just last year.” Friends Facebook

Those stronger “provisions” referred to by the Friends were for criminal penalties including imprisonment.

That’s not all. The Friends started a campaign by lobbying the Governor and a past Friends Executive Director (now in the State legislature) to use their power with state agencies like the Department of Ecology and Fish & Wildlife. Once again the charges seem to be exaggerated. The truth will eventually be known, but by that time the reputation of the Honeywell’s will have been trashed and the “Friends” mission of making an example of them will have been accomplished.

Is this how we, as a community, want to treat people? Is it an example of our “Friendly Island Spirit” or an example of mob rule?

Was the Friendly Island Spirit any part of the reason the Honeywell’s decided to move here? It certainly seems like they had a warm feeling about our community because they generously supported its institutions. They spread some of their good fortune among charities. They have given more than $4 million dollars to a community foundation. Locally they have completely funded the Food Bank’s fresh fruit and vegetable program, they pledged funds to make the Whale Museum accessible to the handicapped, they paid for the new 3-D map at the Historical Museum, gave $10K to Brickworks, and $10K to the Community Theatre. They built a 30-thousand KW solar array that provides power to people who could otherwise not afford it. The United Way Family Center and Island Rec have also received generous donations from the Honeywell’s.

In many “mob free” communities these generous and unpretentious people would be welcomed warmly, but not here. Here the “Friends” and some in the local press want to make an example of them as villains guilty of crimes against mother earth in order to raise money (link). They ignore the fact that the endangered wildflowers and the vegetation near the shoreline have made a dramatic comeback.

“Theodore Thomas, an ecologist with Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service, who has monitored paintbrush at Mar Vista since 1995, concluded that no damage was done either to golden paintbrush plants in the area or to the paintbrush habitat” (Journal). In fact, according to experts, since the sunlight has been let in, there is a 30% increase in the golden paintbrush plants (Journal). Since when is increasing habitat for endangered species a crime against nature?

We hope the Honeywells will accept the sincere apology of many fellow Islanders for the treatment they have received at the hands of the deceptively named “Friends.” The fact is our environment is healthy. Thanks to the “Friends” our community is not.

If you thought that this was the end of the persecution of the Honeywells, you would be wrong. Once on the “Friends’” radar, you can be their victim over and over again. In our next installment you will learn how the “Friends” treat the Honeywells who have had the temerity to apply to re-build an old dock.
After "clear cut" photo, with alder trunks already re-sprouting

Another after "clear cut" scene

Friends schadenfreude fundraising email

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Rosendorf Consensus

In my absence, Howie Rosenfeld and David Dehlendorf have expounded (and expounded ... and expounded) on their view of a liberal society. In a Rosendorf liberal society, a woman (or any citizen) would be allowed to join a union ... she would be allowed reproductive choice. Heaven forbid, though, if that same woman wanted a barn ... or if she wanted a large-ish multigenerational house on her own property to age in place ... or if she wanted to freely associate with some of her fellow community members while serving on the Planning Commission.

In the liberal society of Rosendorf, you can have only as much freedom as Rosendorf allows you ... but don't even think of having any more than that ... and don't dare disagree with Rosendorf. In a Rosendorf liberal society, consensus is the socially acceptable way of promoting intolerance. If there's a consensus, then dammit, Rosendorf doesn't want to hear any other opinions.

In a Rosendorf liberal society, people are urged to protect nesting habitat for birds, but ignore the fact that Rosenfeld governed during an era of unprecedented growth in local government spending that included major road construction and stormwater projects which unnecessarily removed hundreds of trees. In their brand of liberal society, Rosendorf express mock outrage (right around election filing time) about undue influence on the Planning Commission of today, while conveniently forgetting that a Friends' President was a Planning Commissioner during the guest house litigation.

In a Rosendorf liberal society, we only have a few problems ... local government isn't quite powerful enough yet ... our County budgets aren't quite big enough yet ... we don't have quite enough planners yet ... we aren't quite as protected as we should be yet ... we aren't listening to bureaucrats at Ecology enough yet ... we don't have quite enough grant money yet ... and we still don't have quite enough consensus yet.

And Rosendorf aren't quite preachy or hypocritical enough yet either.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

FOSJ Litters Beaches

Over the years, the Friends of the San Juans have gotten a lot of PR mileage out of their laudable beach cleanup activities. They have a whole webpage devoted to it.
Pollution of our oceans by marine debris is one of the fastest growing environmental problems.
On that same webpage, the Friends talk about their involvement in the San Juan Anti-Litter Initiative.
The San Juan Island Anti-Litter Initiative invites friends and neighbors to help keep our roadside and beaches litter-free. As founding members of the San Juan Island Anti-Litter Initiative ... 
So we were a little surprised a month ago when the Friends participated in the littering of county beaches for the purpose of collecting data on the currents affecting our county, ostensibly in the name of "science."
conservation groups launched about 650 ‘drift cards’ – biodegradable plywood cards, each with a unique serial number
It's hard to attribute any rational scientific justification to the Friends' actions. They could have simply looked up existing data about currents. There is a large amount of up-to-date research on the topic, as David Hyde has said:
The circulation models we now have available are mature, detailed, and tested physical science.
To us, the drift card gimmick looks like just another Friends' publicity stunt that probably has more to do with their funding than science. Friends' revenues have increased substantially since they took up the fight against coal and oil spills. Annual revenues have doubled since 2009 to over $800K, so who knows what kinds of strings are attached to that kind of money ... littering beaches may be part of the deal.

The Friends are announcing the findings on their Facebook page. We've never seen people so happy to find beach litter. Perhaps a couple of words of caution are in order though. First of all, Land Bank signs frequently say, "All collecting, including driftwood, is prohibited." Also, it's "Stuart" not "Stewart" Island. Like the currents around here, that's well documented too.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Potentially Actionable?!?

So now OPALCO is threatening to sue Bob Jarman?

We were going to move on from the OPALCO story, but the following letter just came to light. It seems that after Bob Jarman wrote a letter to the online news outlets raising questions about OPALCO, he received the letter below from OPALCO's legal counsel. We presume the current OPALCO Board authorized the letter ... but if they didn't, that's even worse.

It's a head scratcher. What is it about this place that causes everyone in an official position to view dissent as a crime?

For full disclosure, the Trojan Heron would like nothing better than to have high-speed broadband access for everyone in the islands. We feel it is a necessity for any participant in the modern economy, but holy smokes ... can we get some outfit to provide broadband service who doesn't behave like either OPALCO or Centurynolink?








Saturday, April 12, 2014

OPALCO -- Part Of A Pattern?

OPALCO elections are occurring. We haven't covered or researched OPALCO as much as other local happenings, but candidate Steve Hudson seems to be making good points ... points that have the ring of truth to anyone who has watched county events generally ... secrecy, grandiose plans, financial profligacy, and strong-arm tactics. What's not to believe?

Have a look at a letter Steve wrote on March 25.
To the editor,

I'm a candidate by petition for the Opalco board. I'm writing to state my concerns about what our co-op is doing, and especially how it is being done.

Opalco is owned by its 13000+ customer/members. We elect a board of 7 to represent the members best interest, and prudently run the co-op. The board is subordinate to the owners. If the lights stay on, most customer/member/owners, including me until recently, tend to assume our co-op is doing fine.

Opalco has a proud history as a stable well run electric co-op. Broadband is like the electricity business only in that it requires transmission, distribution, and delivery. The electric business is non-competitive and relatively stable technologically. Broadband is very competitive and rapidly evolving high technology. Co-ops are not for profit entities.

A year or two ago, Opalco proposed a $30+ million expansion of its broadband program, and polled its members to see how many would support their plan. 93% of us members said no by not saying yes. The board backed off this proposal, and seemed willing to grow at a slower pace. Then Centurylinks submarine cable failed last fall and things changed. The board decided to accelerate broadband expansion.

In the last couple months, I've spent many hours trying to understand what Opalco is doing in broadband. I've read the boards proposed by-law and policy changes. I've spoken at length with board members, former board members, employees, competitors, and people close to the situation with years of involvement and insight. It's puzzling and complex. I'm trying to be brief, but please consider the following:

1. By-law and policy changes listed as "action" items on the boards February agenda would have severely reduced the members ability to initiate changes. Under the guise of the board "speaking with one voice", board members who disagree are essentially gagged, and subject to being removed by other board members if they speak their minds publicly. At that February board meeting, several customer/owners spoke against these proposals because they reduced member rights and silenced the diverse thinking that is healthy. The proposals were "tabled", but their content and intent speak volumes about this boards transparency and respect for the members they work for. Tabling the proposals was a tactical move. Public debate about board transparency and reduced member rights just prior to the election of 2 directors wouldn't be helpful if you want to pack the board with people of the same mindset.

2. A few years ago, one of 2 redundant submarine transmission cables from Lopez to San Juan was scheduled to be replace in the next 10 years or so at a cost of $3.3 million. The board president told me it is now scheduled for 2015 at a cost of $15 million. I asked how the cost could be so much higher. Was there other work contained in this budget item? No, he said. There's nothing else in it. The cost increase is from the rise in copper and permitting costs. Coincidentally this cable route does not now have fiber. It is Opalcos weakest broadband link. Is this enormous expense for the needs of the electric grid or to get that fiber in place?

3. The board has provided no financial prospectus to clarify what they are doing in broadband.There's no rate structure in place to project revenue. It's not clear what is being spent, and no way to tell if this massive commitment of your money will pay off, or if the electric ratepayer must foot the bill through more rate increases. The board president, however, insists that the cost of broadband infrastructure along transmission and distribution routes is used for the electric grid anyway, so broadband customers need only to be charged for what is built to connect them. This has at least two dubious consequences: electric ratepayers subsidize broadband ratepayers; and competitors like our local internet service providers are seriously, if not fatally, disadvantaged.

4. This board is not just changing policies, by-laws, and mission statements to justify and control its apparent broadband plans. It is using threats and intimidation to silence its critics and debate in general. You may have seen Randy Cornelius' letter criticizing Bob Jarman's concerns, stated in his letter withdrawing as a candidate. Bob was incorrect in assuming the board passed the policy change muzzling board members, but he was correct in the essence of his concern. As mentioned above, the policy was on the "action" items list of the boards February agenda, and tabled only after encountering opposition from members attending that meeting. This board has a growing reputation for using executive sessions and unannounced meetings to obscure its activities. In addition to Cornelius' public reply to Jarman, Bob also got a letter from Opalcos lawyers containing much identical language. This letter also contained the threat. Really? The board is using our money for lawyers to threaten suit to silence the debate the members need and richly deserve. it's probably safe to assume this unattractive tactic is used on others like employees, directors and former directors. Maybe I'm next.

5. Opalcos town hall meeting in Friday Harbor last week was a disappointment to say the least. Lots of slick graphics, positive slogans, and board charm. But on broadband there was very little of substance. The question of board transparency, which seems to arise only in relation to broadband, was brushed aside until the broadband item on their agenda, which came last. Meaningful debate was just emerging when time ran out. Got to catch that ferry. Board transparency was never discussed.

6. Opalco resources applied to advancing broadband are not available for electric operations. Not just money, but management and board time and attention, engineering, consultants, contractors, crew time and administrative help, all add to the unknown and growing cost. There are many, many miles of deteriorated buried electric cable to be replaced. The older design with exposed neutral conductor becomes unreliable. Electricity goes where it can. Safety and reliability are degraded.

There is more to indicate something is badly amiss. Large scale broadband expansion fundamentally redefines what our co-op is and does. It should be done only after rigorous evaluation and open debate; and only with solid approval by the members who must pay the bill.

I urge the press to do their readers the service of seriously examining this situation. I urge the members to do some homework and vote their ballots. I urge the board, and especially the individual board members, to rethink their respective positions. Your policies speak of high ethical standards. Are you in compliance with the spirit of those policies?

Opalco should use its surplus fiber capacity to haul broadband for other providers. I don't htink it should be in the retail internet or phone business. The people currently on the board are obviously intelligent, successful, and capable. Maybe they're a little blinded by the dazzling promise of broadband and pressure from "true believers", but that end has not been shown to be wise, and does not justify these means.

My candidates statement/bio as submitted to Opalco is attached FYI.

Sincerely,

Steve Hudson
Friday Harbor

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Mission of Tyranny -- Second in a Series

Tyranny is the cruel use of power. Oppressing and harassing neighbors for no good reason is not a "value" our community should have to tolerate, but it has become the specialty of the “Friends."

Originally, this article was going to tell the tales of two sets of victims of "Friends" tyranny, but one of our stories ended up being too painful for the victims to re-tell. It was deleted ... testimony to the personal toll taken by the stress of being in a battle with the "Friends" of the San Juans. The grief and anguish of the ordeal with the "Friends" literally made the victims ill, and they did not want to re-live the pain. They are not alone. The "Friends" have plagued our community for many years, and there are many stories to tell.

Causing trouble between neighbors has nothing to do with saving the environment. Nevertheless, in a recent newsletter, the "Friends" of the San Juans stated their mission as:
To protect the land, water, sea, and livability of the San Juan Islands through science, education and advocacy. [1]
This is their public face. This is what they want you to believe, but the truth is starkly different. The "Friends" mission statement belies their practice of simply using our legal system to oppress people they don’t like. Their tactic is to turn neighbor against neighbor in order to raise money using a false narrative of environmental protection. They often exploit disputes between neighbors, waging vendettas that have nothing to do with their stated mission. 

The story of Helen King is a case in point.

Helen King is in her 80’s and has been running a small Bed & Breakfast on the west side of San Juan Island for many years in harmony with her neighbors. Evenutally, Helen decided she wanted to sell her B&B and retire ... that is, until the "Friends" got involved. As Helen explains it,
I have the Highland Inn Bed and Breakfast on Hannah Road, San Juan Island. The B&B permit does not go with the land but after trying to sell it as a residence for many years, I had a buyer who only was interested in buying it with a B&B permit.
The “Friends” objected to the sale of Helen's property as a B&B, and in so doing, they ruined her chances of selling her property, stopping her retirement plans cold. According to Helen,
ONE neighbor, active with the ‘Friends of the San Juans,’ objected. All the other neighbors were in support and most wrote letters praising my establishment.  There was never a complaint from anyone in fifteen years of operation.[2]
Helen describes what happened when she tried to get permission to transfer her B&B permit to complete the sale.
The “Friends” attorney (Kyle Loring) was at my hearing.  One of my neighbors read the Friend’s mission statement out loud and said to him, ‘I really don’t know how this concerns your group. Why are you here!’  The audience applauded in agreement! As a result of the Friends interference I lost the sale, as the buyers were only interested in having the property as a B&B.  I am still trying to sell as a residence with a vacation rental permit, but this is two years later!  How sad, but for the Friends, I could now be retired and the couple from Tennessee could have had their dream bed and breakfast inn. 
Using tenuous logic, the "Friends" justified their involvement by alleging that a B&B has a greater impact on the environment than a single family residence because of higher occupancy. Ironically, however, Helen was granted a "vacation rental permit" that allows even greater occupancy than a B&B ... so the proposed sale stopped by the Friends represented a lower occupancy than Helen was allowed by law.

In a postscript Helen writes:
In the end I was granted a "vacation rental permit" for anyone buying it, which allows NINE guests, (currently I am allowed two couples with the B&B permit), and no supervision.  The B&B permit requires the owner live on the premises. Is a vacation rental better for the neighborhood?
Helen’s experience with the “Friends” is unfortunately typical. The "Friends" escalate minor disputes into costly land use battles having nothing to do with the environment. It has become their trademark ... and has nothing to do with either their mission or with friendship.
__________________________________________________

[1] 2013 Annual Report, Friends of the San Juans publication
[2] Freedom Foundation

Helen King -- another Friends victim

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

County Flush With Cash

No, not an April Fool's joke, just an elementary deduction based on the raises the County Council is handing out.

When the Charter Amendments were being contemplated, one of the questions asked was, "Should a small rural county pay its County Administrator more than the Governor gets paid?" With the passage of the Charter Amendments and the hiring of Mike Thomas, that problem was fixed ... we only paid our new County Manager about as much as the Washington State Treasurer instead of the Governor. But apparently that's not enough because three weeks ago our Council gave Mike Thomas a 7% raise, about half of it retroactive to the beginning of the year (see image at the bottom of this post). That now makes our County Manager more highly paid than anyone in State government except for the Attorney General and the Governor.

And speaking of fiscal responsibility, wouldn't it be nice if someone ... anyone ... involved in the financial chaos of our county public institutions finally spoke up and admitted the faults that are so plain to outsiders?

Meet Bill Evans of Lopez who has been serving as the Lopez/Decatur Superintendent of Schools. Last year, the Lopez School District tried to get voter approval for a $15.5 million bond measure to renovate the Lopez school campus. The bond measure got crushed at the polls, and during the election campaign, the school board received howls of criticism for being financially irresponsible. At the next election, a slate of financial reform candidates ran for office ... but paradoxically, they lost. The "bond board" stayed in office.

In the past few days, the Lopez School Board announced the resignation of Bill Evans. Below is the text of Bill Evans' resignation letter. It's a doozy, but I hope it inspires other public servants to be honest with the public. 

Thanks, Bill, for doing the right thing.
The District has suffered some unfortunate shortcomings of late in our human resources and financial oversight functions, involving potentially significant negative impact upon financial, management, and other resources. IRS reports and required fund deposits were not made in a timely manner, employee records have not been kept accurate, and payroll and benefits calculations have not been consistently accurate. The late IRS reports and deposits have resulted in potentially serious fines and penalties. The inaccuracy of personnel records has resulted in significant inconvenience and financial impact to individual employees. We have incurred significant consultant costs in attending to the problems we have discovered.

We have diligently and conscientiously attended to each negative issue as immediately as possible upon discovery. I am very impressed with the efforts of our current District Office staff and consultants in these efforts. We are moving forward with appropriate interventions and strategies to mitigate the negative effects of all of this, including aggressively appealing to the IRS for possible abatement of the fines and penalties.

Throughout my career as an educational leader I have tried to lead with integrity and an allegiance to an ethic of service. A cornerstone of that ethic of service is the conviction that I am ultimately responsible to the organization for its sustainability and continued growth. The buck does, indeed, stop with me. I am deeply sorry that these shortcomings have happened to the District on my watch and I accept responsibilities for them.

It is clear that the part-time model for the District Office that we have tried hard to implement, is not working as effectively as we have needed. We need to look at other options. We are currently aggressively exploring the idea of outsourcing appropriate elements of our financial requirements to experienced personnel and resources at one of the several ESD’s that have such technical services to provide. We are also looking at a different model of District leadership. In the face of ever-increasing demands of bureaucratic accountability and state and federal mandates, some serious decisions will need to be made about how to efficiently provide the management support this organization absolutely needs, while also striving to maximize resources to focus upon the academic side of the equation. It is clear that we must find the right service model for our District Office, to avoid future issues such as this.

To support full consideration of multiple options for a new model of leadership, and to provide flexibility to implement appropriate options, I have adjusted my long-term retirement plans and I am recommending to the Board that you accept my resignation from the District, as soon into SY 2014-15 as it takes to successfully hire and transition to a new Superintendent. It is the right thing to do for the District. By my stepping aside, the District will have an opportunity to seek new leadership, with a different skill set than I have to offer. We need a Superintendent whose skills include a high degree of financial savvy, to complement the outsourcing of financial services and provide the necessary oversight of that outsourcing. I pledge my full energies, for as many months as it takes into SY 2014-15, toward assisting in the transition and the restructuring and rebuilding of the District Office. It is my strong recommendation that we initiate posting for a new Superintendent/Finance Director position as soon as possible within the next few weeks.

I take responsibility for the current shortcomings and very much regret their happening on my watch. I believe my recommendations represent a positive action plan toward a preferred future. I recommend serious consideration of these recommendations and I hold great optimism for the opportunities afforded the District by these recommendations.

Thank you.
…....BILL


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ah, Have Scott Call Me ...

We'd like to know what's going on too, Jessica.

Back on February 9, we covered a story about Orcas Island Fire & Rescue (OIFR), which drew the ire of some usually supportive TH readers. They'll probably be mad at us again because of this post. As we reported back on February 9, many Orcasites have questions about the management of OIFR. There is no doubt that Orcas firefighters have behaved heroically in battling some very dangerous blazes, especially of late. But for many Orcasites, that heroism exists alongside questionable management decisions and behavior ... it exists alongside the alleged cover-up of a suspected DUI involving one of their own, Jack Delisle ... and it also seems to exist alongside a deepening siege mentality that lashes out at any critique.

Orcas Issues recently carried an editorial about the OIFR DUI controversy, which (along with other OIFR questions) is being brought into greater focus because of an upcoming vote about an OIFR levy. The old propane tank at the Country Corner, which serves as a makeshift Orcas community painting board for events, currently says "Vote no on the fire levy ... government accountability starts at home!"

Lord knows that Orcas has suffered more than its fair share of failed government accountability over the past few years ... the Charles Dalton situation, the Eastsound mosquito hatchery, floods in Eastsound, the Mt. Baker Road project, the Deer Harbor bridge ... and representation by electeds who seem hell bent on throwing us all under the CAO bus. If people are getting fed up, is it any wonder why?

Below is a recording of the report of the Delisle accident by OIFR Deputy Chief Mik Preysz (pronounced "price" for you non-Orcasites) to the San Juan County Sheriff's Office. The recording was obtained via a public records request. It's been making the rounds on Orcas ... people playing it for one another on their cell phones ... and passing it around via email too.

The call was logged at 3 a.m. on March 9, 2013. For context, you can refer to our original blog post from February 9, which includes the police report of the incident along with inserted questions of a commenter from Orcas. Note too that the police report doesn't seem to be entirely accurate with respect to the phone call from Preysz either.

Maybe the whole thing is no big deal, but would you have been treated this way? Does it sound like normal procedure to you? Can we have Sgt. Brennan call us the next time we get in a scrape?





Propane Tank -- some readers questioned the tank message aspect of the story, so here is a photo.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Buh Bye To Another Island Way Of Life

Editor's Note - the "Broken Dreams" series begun with the last post will be interspersed among other TH stories. Until the next one (probably in a couple of weeks), we now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Below is a plea from a Lopezian to help save another endangered way of life under threat from a governmental agency's senseless desire for control and pointless regulation. It's just one more straw on the camel's back of rural character and independence.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Broken Dreams - First In A Series

As anyone who has watched County events over the past few years would know, our local government is in the business of crushing dreams, not making them come true. If you've watched with anger and disappointment as our elected Council heaps abusive laws on us, you might have come to the conclusion that we should just let the Department of Ecology appoint our Councilmen so we can at least save money on elections. It couldn't be any worse. The abusive laws allow the Friends of the San Juans to harass us. The process has become the punishment. Tonight we start the first of a series telling the stories of islanders.


The Lopez Islander Resort

“Friends” and Neighbors in the San Juans

The ability to run a small lodging business in San Juan County is at risk as long as the “Friends” (of the San Juans) are your neighbors. They may say that they support tourism and small business but that is disingenuous and here’s why.

The Lopez Islander Resort has been a landmark in Fisherman’s Bay for almost 70 years. It was first established in 1945 when Nan and Otto Perkins moved to Lopez Island after the war. On a cold stormy night a few years later the resort burned to the ground. Neighbors held a party at Woodman Hall where they donated enough money to help rebuild the restaurant and a few guest rooms. That was back in the days when “friends” meant something entirely different than it does today.

In the following years the resort went through a series of owners. Mr. Wally Trace purchased the property in 1992 as Lopez Islander Inc. and immediately applied for and received approval of a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit for further expansion of the resort and marina. At that time none of the neighbors opposed the project. However, the resort went bankrupt after completing their improvements. It’s not easy to run a business like this in San Juan County, even with community support.

In 1997 Diller Associates purchased the resort. The place was a bit run down and had been for sale for about 3 years. Bill Diller made it very clear from the beginning that he would be “sprucing up” the resort. He had been a frequent visitor to the islands and was excited about the possibility of owning a small business that served his community and employed more than 25 local islanders during tourist season.

After fixing up the resort and getting it back into business, the Dillers saw the potential to do more with their investment. In 2010, Diller Associates applied for a permit to expand the marina to accommodate an additional 50 moorage slips. They ran into some roadblocks because of a small patch of eelgrass. At this point they didn’t feel like fighting for the permit, but two years later they needed to grow their business.

There were campsites on the property for families on a budget and the owners saw the need to add a few more as well as several RV campsites. They wanted to tear down and replace some of the older cabins and add a new building with 7 guest rooms, which was allowed outright under the zoning code. They also applied for a shoreline permit to build a small structure for a kayak rental business. They didn’t expect a fight over this modest expansion but they got one from the “Friends” of the San Juans.

The “Friends” were called into action by a small group of neighbors who for whatever reason wanted the project stopped[1]. The neighbors solicited by email, “tax deductible contributions to the Friends of the San Juans ... that will be applied directly to fund Laura’s work.” [2] (Former Planning Director Laura Arnold).

The “Friends” stepped in with their team of litigators and organized against the Dillers, even though the project was perfectly legal under the County’s land use codes.[3] This is an example of the “Friends” tactic of turning neighbor against neighbor. All of the surrounding neighbors purchased property next to an existing resort. Why would they all of a sudden object to the resort?

The Friends hired Laura Arnold to help them fight the project. In an email message Ms. Arnold said,
“It appears to me that the County Code anticipates this type and intensity of use in this land-use district and would, I expect, find it difficult to deny the proposal . . .”[4]
The Dillers held a public meeting in August 2012 to listen and respond to the concerns of their neighbors. They made concessions and changed the site plan in an effort to mitigate concerns.

This did not deter this group of activists and attorneys from going ahead and appealing the permit and arguing before the Hearing Examiner. It was a “change of use” they declared and therefore subject to mitigation. The Dillers persevered, and the “Friends” succeeded in adding substantial costs to the small business.

This time the Diller’s were determined to fight their way through the process. After hiring engineers and consultants to do all types of studies demanded by the “Friends,” and hiring land use experts and attorneys, they had invested more than six figures to get a permit that without the intervention of the “Friends” would have been routinely approved.

While this battle was being fought the “Friends” published a county-wide mailer entitled, “Shorelines: Where We Live, Work, & Play.” In it they say,
"Protecting our shorelines is good for our economy and our environment. Our visitors contributed over $158.5 million to our local economy last year,” said Stephanie Buffum, Executive Director of “FRIENDS” of the San Juans.
If the “Friends” acknowledge the importance of tourism to our local economy then why did they take up a fight to cripple a small scale lodging business by challenging permits for a modest expansion? The local lodging industry is the basic driving force for low impact island tourism and contributes millions each year to the community through lodging taxes. It is a fact that small-scale island resorts benefit the local economy in many ways, not the least of which is attracting customers who spend money and support other island businesses. The evidence suggests that the “Friends” don’t really want people to “Live, Work, & Play” anywhere near the shoreline.

The ability to run a small business is at risk as long as the “Friends” are your neighbors. For a business investor, risking capital to hire attorneys and other professionals to face endless challenges by the “Friends” for a simple permit reduces potential profitability and discourages investment. Who is it that makes a community thrive? Is it people who invest in it and work hard or the people who organize neighbor against neighbor to restrict the very things that create economic vitality? Perhaps the “Friends” need to find the answer to that question before they focus their special interest litigation machine against other island neighbors.
____________________________________________________________
[1] Email from Mr. Rick Strachan, 5/20/13, “It may well be true that this application will be decided on strict issues enumerated in the application, but it seems that all our concerns stem from Mr. Diller himself, not from the proposal itself.” 
[2] Email 5/11/13 from Peter Cavanagh to neighbors. 
[3] A hotel/motel is allowed outright in the Village Commercial Zone.  Campgrounds (RV and tent camping) require a conditional use permit approval. This information is found in Table 3.1 of the Unified Development Code. 
[4] Email 5/11/13 from Peter Cavanagh to neighbors.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

The County Council passed an even more restrictive CAO than the previous dysfunctional 6-member Council did. Jamie Stephens and Rick "we can fix it" Hughes voted in favor, Jarman opposed. Someone live-blogged the proceedings and left them as comments on the previous post. We copy them here for your reading pleasure:
____________________________________________________________________


Live blogging:

Candace, ARC member, notes concern about Council caving to newly CDP restrictions on agriculture. She is in despair of impact of conditional use requirements. Wants council to take step back and allow ag reps to consider this to prevent the death of ag by a thousand cuts.

Hughes argues that AS APPLIED it won't be a problem. Candace points out concrete problems. Jamie asks via telephone (where IS Jamie??) whether she's happy with existing rules.

Peggy Bill of ARC says ARC worked really hard and made comments and had their work thrown out by CDP (and Council). Ag activity will now have to be treated like all development, which is going backwards. Condition and provisional use permits will be required for lots of activity.
March 5, 2014 at 9:53 AM
Peggy Bill--CAO goes to far and ag people are very angry. Says that Land Bank is merely trying to fence off streams to protect water but are being told that fences are development.

Hughes is "clarifying for record" that ag expansion in critical area is not ideal. Hughes is being schooled on the difference between what the rule says and what HE thinks it says.
Jamie claims that existing rules will continue unchanged for ag. [Neither Hughes nor Stephens seem to understand the difference between what staff told them the language means and what the language MEANS. We all read it to burden ag, but council doesn't. I guess council will be there to argue on each issue that arises.]

Where is Jamie? Anyone know why he can't show up for arguably the most important council meeting this year.
March 5, 2014 at 10:02 AM

Jane Cable points out the obvious: no one understands the proposed CAO. No one can read and know. Everything is going to be decided by the director. Jane doesn't understand what they are trying to do; she doesn;t think that COuncil knows what they are trying to do. Hughes takes umbrage.
March 5, 2014 at 10:05 AM

Stephanie Buffum: she thinks that Council understands what it is doing. COmmends staff for their work. Stephanie thinks that CUPs and PUPs are "opportunities" for farmers to do what they need to do. [Stephanie has a full-time lawyer that someone else pays for. Farmers, not so much.]
March 5, 2014 at 10:08 AM

Kyle Loring: the aforesaid paid for lawyer loves the changes. Surprise. even he thinks that there are still problems. Kyle predicts what his buddies at the Growth Board will do. [wait--if KYLE thinks there are still problems with this new CAO, why are we launching forward?]

Kyle again goes over time because the Friends are allowed to go over time--they are SPECIAL.
March 5, 2014 at 10:11 AM

Hughes and Stephens seem to be saying what Shireene Hale said from the very beginning--you can keep doing what you're doing. If so, why is the language changed?

Do you trust the CDPD to help and guide you and the Friends not to interfere? If so, this CAO is no problem.
March 5, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Council calls time out [to consult with staff?] and comes back to have Thomas recite all the answers. Thomas believes that it all comes down to implementation--relying on staff to work with citizens. That works so well, doesn't it?
March 5, 2014 at 10:28 AM
Jamie says something but can't be heard well. Where IS he?

Bob points out the basic issues that remain--the new rule still makes it very difficult to use their property. No problem identified and so burdensome solutions aren't related to any problem. Going to make it difficult and expensive for ordinary citizens to use their property.
Too complicated to understand. Too much discretion in Director. Why do we even have "tree protection"? [Good question--ask Shireene.]
March 5, 2014 at 10:37 AM

Hughes now claims that they have no obligation to clean up the new CAO but just to respond to the Growth Board. He seems not to understand that the Council response to the Growth Board must be coherent and logical.

Hughes seems to think that council must DO something today. Why? What can happen? Why didn't council appeal from the Growth Board demands?

Oh good, let's go back into the weeds.

WHAT? Council is planning to come back later to FIX this mess? Are they crazy??
March 5, 2014 at 10:46 AM
Anonymous
Well Rick really wants to do something today but he says he isn't sure quite what. Right.

Anyway, where is Jamie? Is this a little irregular, his big televised face staring down like Big Brother. What if the other council critters decided they wanted to phone it in as well. Is that a quorum is it even legal? This is truly wierd.
March 5, 2014 at 10:47 AM
Anonymous
Talking about ag limitations again, how the farm plan will become the "key to the door that will open many ag exemptions." Assuming an voluntary steward program is in place with more money of course to administrate it.

Now what one little fiefdom have we here that holds those fun filled farm plan keys to your "right to plant stuff"?

The Conservation District of course. Remember them? Sure you do. Bwahahaha
March 5, 2014 at 11:08 AM
Jamie is at some friends house and plans to raid their refrigerator. So that is good to know.

Rick is the chair so he likes to play the role and believes he has an agenda to get done. He also gets to decide when to call a one hour lunch break because he needs to go off and think things through. Since he already said he does not not know what to do, he needs some time now (one hour) to go touch base with the folks who will tell him what to do.

When he returns, will he be Mr. Decision Man?
March 5, 2014 at 11:39 AM
Staff trying to mollify Bob, Bob is pushing back. Rick is frustrated, he really wants 'concensus.' Jaime glowering down from a big screen.
Staff basically comes out and says oh you poor thing, you must be so confused, it is true these regulations are so complex only planners who live and breathe this stuff 24/7 believe they understand them. And, hey, its pretty easy, come on over we'll give you a slice of Shirene's famous Marionberry pie and a cuppa and we'll just skip through this. 
But you must pass this today blah mumble burble ..."Bob. 
Bob: Just Say No. The Hairball from Hell.

Bob just said he would not vote for this, at least I think so ...
March 5, 2014 at 1:07 PM
Bob votes 'Nay'

Good for Bob.

As a gesture, Bob actually made the motion for this thing knowing it would pass anyway, but he did it in a humorous way saying he didn't want Rick to have a heart attack.

Chuckles all around.

Now, Rick wants the council to draft a resolution to lay out the road-map for the "fix-it job" he wants to press on next.

End of session.

Want something in this resolution? This might be fun. The Friends may entertain a modest proposal or two.

My brain hurts.
AP Seattle: March 5 2014

"San Juan County today passed what will widely be considered the most restrictive and onerous land use regulations in the United States. The Special UN Envoy for Human Habitation praised the County Council for its foresight and perseverance in advancing the goals of Agenda21. He said, "San Juan County has shown the world that the evils of private property need never again hinder the quest for climate justice and whirled peas!"
When the County passed the first dysfunctional CAOs we posted these photos and joked  that these were photos of the actual moment the CAO passed. We repeat them again for emphasis. Stephens and "Mr. Fix It" Hughes just burned this County.


Monday, March 3, 2014

It's Development-Specific Stupid

On March 5, this Council will approve yet another CAO. Like all the other CAO messes, this latest snafu will buffer wetlands and other critical areas instead of buffering/mitigating the development effects that purportedly threaten critical areas. Instead of basing mitigation on the scale of proposed development effects, CAO restrictions will be based on a subjective ranking of your undeveloped areas.

It's backwards. It always has been backwards, and as long as critical areas themselves, rather than development effects, are the stuff of buffers and restrictions, there will never be nexus and proportionality. In the last CAO, the County took great pride in claiming that they had derived "site-specific buffers." The fatal defect, however, was that they did not derive "development-specific buffers." All the factors necessary to derive a County-specified buffer are present on any piece of property whether one builds a garden shed, a lead smelter, the Empire State Building ... or nothing at all. Buffer imposition is triggered by development, but not related to its effects in any way.

Nothing has changed. In the March 5 CAO, once again buffers are triggered by development, but not related to development impacts.

And this strange fact leads Councilman Hughes on the same search as that of his predecessor, Councilman Fralick ... looking for any weasely way to find some justifiable paradox that will allow Eastsound (and other urban growth areas, but mainly Eastsound) to have smaller buffers. Hughes wants the critical areas of more developed areas to be buffered less than rural areas ... and he lives quite comfortably with this desire even though it would undermine the "buffer protection" logic of someone more perspicacious.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Uncertainty In the Department of Stone-Age Ecology

About a month ago, Hiroo Onoda died at the age of 91. He was a Japanese WW II holdout soldier who didn't surrender until long after the war was over. For 29 years, he lived on an island in the Philippines with other holdouts, dismissing all evidence (including messages sent to them) that the war was over. They lived by eating what they could find in the jungle or steal from local Filipino farmers. After losing all his fellow holdouts to various circumstances, Onoda was finally persuaded to give up in 1974.

Also, we occasionally still hear press reports about Stone-Age tribes that hold out against the modern world ... in the Amazon ... Papua New Guinea ... or some remote island. In these days of iPads, space stations, and genetic engineering, some of these Stone-Age tribes don't even know how to make fire ... and have never heard of the wheel.

Which brings us to the Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program within the Department of Ecology. These are the regulators who advise local governments about shorelines and wetlands because of the Shoreline Management Act (SMA) and the Growth Management Act (GMA). In reality, the responsibilities of Ecology are very different under these two Acts, but they don't want you to know that. Under the SMA, Ecology is directly authorized to oversee, and take charge if necessary, of land use planning for shoreline zones. Under the GMA, they have no authority. No one says this better than Gordon White, the Head of the Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program:
"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.)
Let's be clear about this. Under the SMA, Ecology is authorized to carry out the limited objectives of the SMA only, which is a planning law, not an environmental protection law per se. Under the GMA, Ecology is not authorized for anything, except to advise the Department of Commerce about Critical Areas. That bears repeating ... they are authorized to advise the Department of Commerce (not local Counties) about critical areas (not about the 14 goals or any other aspect of the GMA). Ecology would like you to believe that they are in charge of habitat and endangered species and wetland delineation and saving the planet and the whole GMA. They would like you to believe they are authorized to mainline their biased GMA advice directly into the veins of buffer-addicts in every County Planning Departments ... but they are not.

Altogether different from the SMA and GMA, Ecology is separately authorized under the Clean Water Act (CWA) to regulate discharges to waters of the State/US, but their authority under the CWA is about discharges. They regulate pollution, not non-pollution. They regulate effluent, not waters. Nowhere, outside of the specific planning purposes of the SMA, is Ecology given authority to identify or delineate streams, wetlands, shorelines, or any other waters of the State/US. They have proclaimed themselves as the expert authorities in this area, but they are not.

This brings us back to our Stone-Age lead-in. The Ecology folks who aren't authorized for much of anything produce Best Available Science (BAS) about everything. However, like the Stone-Age tribes who haven't heard of the wheel, the Cro-Magnons at the Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program seem to be entirely ignorant of concepts accepted everywhere else in environmental science. As we repeatedly mention, they know nothing about risk assessment, but they also know nothing about environmental chemistry ... or geology ... or habitat ... or hydrology ... or physics ... or bio-statistics ... system dynamics ... or science generally. They say revealingly stupid things like (from the Hruby report), "The recent research has also increased our understanding of the many different factors that control the effectiveness of a buffer at trapping pollutants" such as type of pollutant, concentration of pollutant etc.

Increased "our" understanding? How could you not know this? This is in every elementary textbook (and there are thousands) dealing with risk assessment, fate and transport, and environmental chemistry. These principles are at work daily in Ecology's own Toxics Program. This is like a Stone-Age tribesman in the 21st century saying that "we" just discovered fire, and then bombastically posturing as if they are on the cutting edge of discovery. Somehow, and I don't know how, the Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program has been able to survive like a lost Stone-Age tribe, surrounded by modern technology, but unaware of it. Along with them are fellow holdouts comprised of planners, consultants, attorneys, and non-profits who profit from believing the earth is flat.

We have to contend with their ignorance and bias in maddening ways, one of which was mentioned by some commenters to the previous post ... namely scientific uncertainty and the application of the precautionary principle. One of the ways Ecology projects their power and Stone-Age ignorance is by practicing data sophistry. For instance, we actually have quite a bit of data in these islands that show that we have no problem. Cleverly, though, that gets twisted by Ecology and the County into an opportunity to apply the precautionary principle. Let's discuss an example for the sake of illustration. If I were to sample a stream for pollutants, and if the results were to come back as non-detects, that is positive evidence of no problem. We have lots of data like that here in the islands ... after taking into account data quality, we have positive evidence of no problem. The evidence for "no problem" is in the form of zeros (non-detects) but that's not "no data" and it isn't "uncertainty." It's just that we found nothing because nothing is there.

Finding positive evidence of nothing, however, gets transmogrified into "we have no data" or "we don't know" or "it's pristine" or "the results are inconclusive" or "we're uncertain" ... and before you know it, the precautionary principle gets invoked, and we get 300-foot buffers in rural areas and 50-foot buffers in urban ones. That's how that happens. The absence of a problem and lots of "zero data" gets manufactured into uncertainty requiring the greatest amount of precaution and the toughest land use restrictions. The cleanest areas get "protected" in the most severe way when any rational analysis would have deployed greater "protection" for the riskier exposure scenario. We have to put a stop to that BAS ackwards outcome by pointing out what the data are really saying.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Even A Blind Squirrel

We have written about the Department of Ecology's Tom Hruby before. Whenever Erik Stockdale of Ecology requires heavy-duty science backup, he calls in Dr. Hruby, and the results are usually farcical. Some of their collaborations are masterpieces of ignorance, like when they wrote a letter to our Council in February 2011 about "risk." Eventually, they had to back away entirely from that letter because of copious criticism, including from Dr. Tim Verslcyke, a highly-qualified and well-published ecological risk assessment professional on the faculty of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

So it was with some trepidation and amusement that I began to read Hruby's latest publication, Update on Wetland Buffers: The State of the Science, Final Report. Relative to genuinely professional work about risk assessment and/or fate and transport, it's still amateurish ... but nevertheless ... it isn't completely wrong. Let's review a couple of the good things about this mediocre report.
  1. For water quality, Huby admits that the effectiveness of buffers depends on site-specific factors. He says that recent research has increased our understanding of the many different factors that control the effectiveness of a buffer at trapping pollutants, and then he names width, slope, type of vegetation, type of pollutant, geochemical and physical properties of the soil, infiltration rates of the soils, sources of pollutants, concentration of pollutants, path of surface water through the buffer, and for phosphorus, the amount of phosphorous already trapped by the soil.
  2. For habitat, Hruby admits that studies do not show minimum buffer distances needed to protect species, but only show how far species roam from wetlands. He also says that there is very little research correlating plant diversity in wetlands with buffer width.
Please note that this document specifically mentions, for the first time, some very key points that side with the persistent criticisms of our CAOs. Our CAOs have never considered type of pollutant, concentration of pollutant, source of pollutant, or the geochemical and physical properties of the soil. This is what we mean when we talk about an "exposure scenario." Dr. Hruby is ignorant of standard risk assessment terminology, so he doesn't use the customary term, but that's what he is referring to.

Furthermore, we have all heard the Department of Ecology and Dr. Adamus proclaim that amphibians can be found hundreds of feet away from a wetland; therefore, buffers should be hundreds of feet wide to accommodate their roaming. Hruby admits that this "roaming data" is not related to buffer width. Stated another way, there is no science that explains how the distribution of wetland dependent species varies with buffer width. Amphibians may roam hundreds of feet away from a wetland regardless whether the buffer is hundreds of feet, tens of feet, or nonexistent. We do not know how, or even whether, changing buffer width affects species distribution. Anyone who has found tree frogs in their window boxes, for example, knows that tree frog wandering does not seem to depend on buffer size.

There are other good admissions in this report. Key Point #4 on page 30 says "Several researchers have recommended a more flexible approach that allows buffer widths to be varied depending on site-specific conditions." On page 10, the report says, "Site-specific factors (vegetation density and spacing, initial soil water content, saturated hydraulic conductivity, and sediment characteristics) are so important in determining the effectiveness of a buffer that simple designs that do not account for these factors can fail to perform their protective functions."

And lastly, this report discusses the Meyer and Zhang papers, both of which have been the topic of intense discussion at various Planning Commission and County Council meetings over the past two years.

We'll save our substantial criticisms of the report for the next post, but for now, take some heart in the fact that even a blind Department of Ecology can find a nut once in a while.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Buried Report

The Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) ruled on our proposed CAOs on September 6, 2013. In October, the Department of Ecology came out with a new Best Available Science (BAS) document titled, Update on Wetland Buffers: The State of the Science, Final Report. It was authored by none other than Tom Hruby, the go-to wetlands science guru at the Department of Ecology.

This 2013 document updates Ecology's 2005 guidance on wetland buffers in some substantial ways. Over the next few postings, we will delve into the new document, but for now, suffice to say that while the new document still has some significant problems, it makes some surprising admissions too. In answer to the question of how large buffers should be, the new 47-page document essentially says, "It depends."

Yes ... it depends on a myriad of site-specific factors ... so it is impossible to prescribe fixed buffer widths ahead of time. Wow!

County staff have known about this report since it was issued. This fact came to light during CAO public comment last week. CD&P knew about it. County Manager Mike Thomas knew about it. Nevertheless, all during the effort to "fix" the latest version of the CAOs after the GMHB ruling, those who have been "in the know" did not inform the Planning Commission about the new document. Those "in the know" did not inform the Council about it either. Interestingly, even Ecology's official correspondence with the County doesn't mention their own new science document.

Among other things, the 2013 Final Report talks about the Meyer paper, and it talks about the Zhang paper. When deliberating about potential revisions to the CAOs back in November, Planning Commissioner Brian Erhmantraut tried to get the Planning Commission to consider buffers based on the Zhang paper, but the other Commissioners shot down the idea because (they thought) the Zhang paper wasn't supported by Ecology BAS. So, the Planning Commission and CD&P pressed forward in making revisions to the CAO based on 2005 BAS, not 2013 BAS. That's where we are at the moment. We have CAO revisions based on outdated BAS.

The 2013 BAS document is very inconvenient to anyone who just wants to get 'er done because it raises serious questions about the basic validity of Ecology's historical approach to buffers ... and our County's approach as well. The new BAS document is not perfect by any means, but at least it is nudging closer to the truth. Considering it was issued by the Kremlin of buffer science, it makes some astonishing admissions.

But "they" buried it so no one would be the wiser.


New BAS report issued after the San Juan County GMHB ruling and at about the same time as the SCOTUS Koontz decision.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Exposure Is Everything

There is a parable about a man walking down a road and repeatedly falling in a hole. He tries to avoid the hole, but his efforts are fruitless. He tries to patch the hole ... he tries to put up barricades to avoid the hole ... he tries to put planks over the hole so he can safely cross ... nothing works ... he falls in every time. In his frustration, he pleads to a friend, "What can I do to stop falling in the hole?!?"

His friend tells him, "Take another road without a hole."

This could be a parable about the CAOs. The County continues to fall in the same hole every time. The latest 78-page draft of the CAOs is no different from any previous approach. Like all previous Councils, this Council just doesn't get it. They don't understand "protection." They don't understand "risk." They are trying to follow what they believe are State mandates. They timidly react to every letter from the Department of Ecology as if they were in the presence of the burning bush.

Protection is inextricably linked to an exposure scenario. Football helmets provide protection during a football game, but they offer no protection if you wear them at a cocktail party. The risk of getting bonked on the head at a cocktail party is de minimis anyway, so the extra cost of wearing a football helmet is wasted. For the same reason, you would be foolish to undergo chemo therapy just because you might be afraid of cancer ... or just because you might have been exposed to de minimis levels of carcinogens. The cost and side effects are high whereas the benefits are non-existent.

We have a 78-page CAO that explains in great detail how to wear a football helmet at a cocktail party. It tells us what color the helmet should be ... how thick it should be ... what the internal padding should be ... how the chinstrap should be worn ... and on and on. It references Best Available Science (BAS) by experts who proclaim that football helmets prevent concussions. The Friends and their allies at the State say that, without the biggest football helmets in the universe, our risk of dying from a concussion is extremely high.

No. The absence of a "protective" measure (i.e., a helmet) does not create risk. Risk arises from our behavior and ambient factors (i.e., cocktail party versus football game). The absence of a remedy may fail to mitigate risk, but the absence of a remedy does not "create" risk.

Regarding the CAOs, we occasionally hear public officials say, "Tell us what needs to be fixed and we will fix it." To those officials, listen carefully ... it is unfixable because you have chosen the wrong path. If you do not first evaluate exposure scenarios, it is pointless to prescribe a remedy.

The perennial complaints about the CAOs fall in the following general categories:
  1. The County is imposing protective measures without providing county-specific evidence of an exposure scenario justifying those measures.
  2. The State and County habitually (and erroneously) say we are in a high-risk situation only because of the absence of their favorite purported "protections," not because there is any evidence that our behavior is creating an exposure scenario with excess risk.
  3. The "protections" being foisted upon us, land use restrictions, would not be protective anyway. If we did find ourselves in a high-risk exposure scenario, land use restrictions would be the least effective way of mitigating the risk. Other, less-costly remedies would likely be vastly more effective.
If there is a fix, our CAOs should simply say, "We will develop and implement site-specific remedies to mitigate excess risk related to critical areas, commensurate with our ability to measure such risk and directly link site-specific development activities as the cause."

Unless our public officials can get some simple concepts through their thick heads, we will always find ourselves in the same hole.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again

Tomorrow morning (February 11, 2014) at 9:15, the County Council will take public comment on the latest draft of the CAOs. This Council has decided to go forward by going backwards ... in all senses of that word. This Council has decided to proceed with yet another new CAO despite still-pending litigation on the last version.

This Council's CAO work has been so unoriginal that they haven't even mustered the creativity to make their own mistakes. They are recycling a CAO framework first thought up, and then rejected, by Shireene Hale and the previous Council years ago. It's not simpler. It's not better. It's not newer.

The new old version is currently planned for enactment by the end of March.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Story No One Covers

There is a culture of government corruption in these islands, and its meme carries with it a narrative that says, "Give us money or else we'll all die." We've seen this meme at work when it comes to phony environmental "protection." It also seems to be at play with some of our police, safety, and fire departments on occasion. They're willing to save us, as long as they get lots of cash up front.

While attention has been focused on the San Juan Christmas hayride, some strange incidents also are being talked about on Orcas, where the nephew of Randy Gaylord, Kevin O'Brien, is Chief of the Orcas Fire Department. Orcasites approved a controversial levy several years ago that was advertised as necessary for capital infrastructure (another new firehouse and new fire-fighting equipment), only to have Chief O'Brien recently reallocate those funds to payroll, including creating new paid positions, including a new, highly-paid deputy. Now the "temporary" levy is up for renewal, and the Chief is claiming that if it is not renewed, services will have to be cut. These events have occurred against a backdrop of many rumors of bad behavior by the Orcas Fire Department ... everything from having dinner flown in from Bellingham ... to staff using the Fire Department washing machines as their personal publicly funded laundromat.

New questions have arisen about the Orcas Fire Department sparked by an accident involving Jack Delisle, one of those hired by O'Brien. In short, Delisle got into a single-car accident at about 2am back in March 9, 2013. He ran a car off the road and into a ditch. The car was owned by another member of the Fire Department, Nick Kiniski. Yet another member of the Fire Department, Seth Ybarra, came to Delisle's aid after the crash, pulled the car out of the ditch, and towed it to Fire Station 21, where Kininski was on duty that night as a paramedic.

As some Orcasites tell it, the gist of the concern is this: a member of the Orcas Fire Department (Ybarra) allegedly removed evidence of a crash involving a drunken driver member of the Fire Department, did not properly notify the police, and let the injured driver disappear from the scene. Earlier that night, the driver had been attending a party at the Chief's house to celebrate his (Delisle's) hiring. The Chief had served food and alcohol at the party.

A detailed report of what happened is provided in the scanned pages shown below, and it includes some commentary and questions inserted by a concerned citizen on Orcas. This story has not been reported anywhere, so perhaps Orcasites can shed some further light on these events. With the "temporary" levy up for renewal, issues of Departmental integrity and responsibility are on the minds of many on Orcas.

In other news, the latest draft of the CAOs is undergoing public comment this week. As bad as the last Council was regarding the CAOs, the new Council has been worse. Their public participation record is awful. Their ability to think through the issues is abysmal, and their "fixes" to the CAOs have done nothing to correct its fundamental flaws. In its latest CAO version, the Council has decided to abandon the last Council's system for buffers and replace it with another one that is equally flawed. For more information, please visit the CSA website. This Council is just as much in the pocket of the Friends as the last one.

In addition, Councilman Jamie Stephens was seen in Olympia this past week. He attended hearings put on by the House Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee regarding Ecology's practice of sending out threatening letters. Stephens didn't testify, but he sat in the last row near the door next to the Sierra Club representatives ... being very Friendly.