Here are a few of the many “takeaways” from the Surface Water Work Session held at the Garden Room this morning. The title of these regular, monthly meetings is sometimes misleading, as they are essentially nothing but a regularly-scheduled Special Council Committee of the Whole meeting for the County Council, as are their “Health Board” meetings. Both are held on Tuesdays on dates when Council isn’t holding their regular twice-a-month meetings.
As anticipated, what to do about ESSB 6091, the “Hirst fix” was a key agenda item today. There was a large turnout of approximately 30 citizens. People of note in attendance were: Carl Weimer and RE Sources’ Karly Deathridge. There was a strong showing of public attendees from the county in the audience as well.
County Council Chair Rud Browne quickly moved the meeting to a point where County Executive Louws was invited to brief the Council on what he and his staff have been doing since passage of ESSB 6091 last Thursday evening. Yesterday, Exec. Louws held an internal, executive-branch meeting with some key members of his staff to discuss contents of the bill and to prepare recommendations for urgent action. His immediate plan is to present a draft “Emergency Ordinance” aimed at repealing Council’s permit moratorium ASAP to the Council for deliberation at their next meeting on Tuesday, January 30. Considerable discussion is likely to take place during committee meeting during the day. As of this writing, the Council Agenda has not yet been released. Watch for it by Wednesday afternoon, January 24 to find out what time the “Hirst fix” deliberations will take place.
A number of public observers appeared to be unsatisfied with County attorney Karen Frakes’ explanations for recommending the “Executive Session” process and why it may be needed when it comes to implementing provisions of the “Hirst fix” legislation. Many in the local general public believe the practice of holding “backroom meetings” at the drop of a hat has been overdone by our County Council which is still unbalanced in representation of viewpoints. Karen contends that reasons for doing this include situations where the County “might be sued.” If the County Council follows law and represents everyone in Whatcom County, does not buckle to appease urban interests or the agendas of special interest groups like Futurewise or RE Sources, they should have no concerns of more lawsuits.
In 2017, members of this Council appropriated $150,000 to pay legal fees to Cascadia Law, a Seattle law-firm headed up by Jay Manning, former head of the State Department of Ecology. These legal expenses are for preparing a report and recommendations to Council on how they can impose more onerous restrictions on our Cherry Point businesses and avoid being sued.
Today, both Councilmembers Barbara Brenner and Tyler Byrd spoke up in favor of greater transparency and an open process while conducting County business. Councilmembers Browne, Donovan, and Sidhu – did not appear to support this concept. Councilmember Ballew spent the bulk of his time as an observer, but did offer some general comments at the very beginning of the meeting. However, it may be worth noting that Councilmember Ballew was Chair of the Lummi Business Council in 2016 and participated in negotiating a very controversial Interlocal Agreement involving the Lummi’s and some major stakeholders in the local WRIA 1/Nooksack watershed water policy process. Councilmember Ballew is well-aware of the implications of what was discussed within these meetings and the opposing agendas and goals of the different governmental groups.
Councilmember Browne set off a open public meetings thread which highly-charged the meeting. He raised a “hypothetical question” about the Hirst fix, asking whether the legislation would allow counties the option to adopt stricter rules or restrictions? Say, a maximum draw of 2,000 gallons per day (GPD) from an exempt well as opposed to that offered by the state for 3,000 GPD? Councilmember Satpal Sidhu, attempted to show reasonableness when it comes to promoting increased regulation and appeared sympathetic to Rud Browne’s hypothetical query. Todd Donovan added to Browne’s thrust by inquiring similarly about whether it would be possible for County Council to impose well-metering on the WRIA 1 / Nooksack watershed despite the fact the Nooksack (WRIA 1) was not designated as a “pilot area” for metering under ESSB 6091. These inquires by Councilmembers were enough to send their County legal counsel, Ms. Frakes, to seek out and have a private conversation with the County Executive. Ms. Frakes appeared a bit concerned about the direction and things being said by the Council in public conversation. Thoughts and information flowed freely in front of an engaged and interested public.
There will be a Jan. 24th, 6:00 – 8:00 pm Planning Unit meeting, which promises to be interesting with the new ESSB 6091 and comments made at this mornings Surface Water meeting.
Chet Dow – Common Threads Northwest (CTNW)