Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, that bans lawn fertilizer with phosphorus in it.
The bill, HB 1489, is aimed at getting phosphorus out of waterways, where it results in algae blooms and causes water-quality problems. In Lake Whatcom, as you all know, it’s degrading the water quality and resulting in the need for more chemicals to help make the water drinkable.
“Lake Whatcom is under serious threat from algae blooms,” Morris stated in a press release. “This is a common-sense solution that keeps lawn care up, but also tackles a growing health and environmental threat.”
Whatcom County already bans the use of fertilizers containing the nutrient in the Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish watersheds, although the county allows them on newly established lawns in the first growing season.
The city of Bellingham also bans fertilizers with phosphorus in the watershed.
The bill still allows fertilizers with phosphorus when they’re being used to grow new or repair damaged turf. Also, they’re allow on farmland.
Rep. Kris Lytton, D-Anacortes, voted for it, and Reps. Vincent Buys, R-Everson, and Jason Overstreet, R-Blaine, voted against it.
In the Senate, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, voted for the bill, and Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, voted against it.Before signing the bill, Gregoire did a little line-item vetoing. She eliminated a section that would have prevented the state Department of Agriculture from levying civil penalties for violations.
“Without this tool, the Department would be unable to effectively implement the bill,” she wrote in her veto message.
She also said she was disappointed the bill didn’t exempt fertilizers made from biosolids, manure and other organic materials.
These products provide a valued and beneficial use of materials that would otherwise need to be managed as waste. Since the bill is not effective until January 2013, I would entertain legislation in 2012 to exempt these organic products from the limits established in the bill.
Click here to see my previous post on this bill.
In parts of this letter from the city of Bellingham criticizing a draft rural zoning proposal by the County Council, the city says that downzoning land in the watershed but then applying a new overlay to it will have the effect of allowing more development near the city’s drinking-water source.
A new analysis by Whatcom County staff refutes that.
Whatcom County Council’s plan would rezone 256 acres from zoning that allows either one house per acre or two houses per acre to zoning that allows only one house per five acres. It would also rezone 91 acres zoned to allow one house per two acres to zoning allowing one house per five acres. In all these cases, the council would also apply an “overlay.” With an overlay, landowners can still subdivide down to create new lots as small as the average of already existing home lots within 500 feet of it. Also, that can only happen if 70 percent of those lots are developed, and they don’t just exist on paper.
Here is what county planning GIS staff thinks the potential for new lots is:
Proposed plan (with overlay): 17
Simply rezoning everything to 1 house/5 ac. w/o overlay: 4
County Council member Sam Crawford sent out an e-mail to various parties (he used his council e-mail account) pointing out this staff analysis:
As you know, I’m clarifying this because of the prior information we (and citizens via emails, phone calls and post cards) received from agencies, community groups and constituents indicating that the proposed overlay would increase the number of potential new lots around Lake Whatcom. That does not appear to be the case.
This was just a tiny portion of the entire package of propose rural zoning and policy changes, and it was just a tiny part of the city’s letter. The city also says other aspects of the proposal in the watershed have the potential to cause harm to the lake. For example, the letter states there’s no basis to give areas of the watershed special LAMIRD designations.
What do you think?
The state Senate yesterday passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, that’s designed to prevent major oil spills in the Salish Sea and improve spill responses if there is a spill.
The legislation puts expanded and new responsibilities on oil companies operating in our waters, including the Salish Sea (this includes Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia), Columbia River and coastal waters, according to a Senate Democrats press release.
“They will need to take greater responsibility, at their own expense, for the safe travel of oil tankers, with updated contingency plans and proper equipment in place for a swift, effective response in the event of a spill,” the release states.
From the Senate Democrats:
Unlike the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound is a confined body of water, meaning an oil spill here cannot easily disperse into the open ocean. A large spill would stop marine traffic up and down the Sound. With the Puget Sound ports in Seattle and Tacoma forming the second-largest harbor in the country for container traffic, the economic ramifications could be severe.
“Our lives and livelihoods are so intertwined with our agricultural lands, forests, rivers, Sound and ocean that it’s no wonder estimated impacts are so high,“ Ranker stated. “Estimated impact from a major spill exceeds $10 billion and could affect over 165,000 jobs. We cannot afford to leave our livelihood and our future so unprotected.”
Ranker and Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, both voted for the bill. It appears that Reps. Kris Lytton, D-Anacortes, and Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, both previously voted for a version of this bill. Reps. Vincent Buys, R-Everson, and Jason Overstreet, R-Blaine, both voted against it.
The House is expected to approve the bill, and the governor is expected to sign it, according to Senate Democrats.
Here is a summary of the bill, according to the fiscal note: Continue reading
The Washington Department of Ecology announces that the agency will keep the public comment period open awhile longer on changes to the Whatcom Waterway cleanup plan.
Among other things, the change involves deposit of some contaminated sediments in the old Georgia-Pacific Corp. wastewater lagoon, once the more highly-contaminated sediment inside that lagoon has been dug out for disposal in special landfills.
Those sediments would be covered with clean material while still leaving the water deep enough for eventual construction of the Port of Bellingham’s marina inside the lagoon, although the date for completion of the marina is receding deeper into the future. Under the current plan, the lagoon cleanup is not schedule to begin until 2017.
Here is the press release from Ecology:
OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) is extending the public comment period on proposed changes to cleanup plans for some areas of the Whatcom Waterway site on the Bellingham waterfront.
The changes are described in a proposed amendment to a 2007 legal settlement, called a consent decree, among Ecology, the Port of Bellingham and other parties. Ecology extended the end of the public comment period on the proposed changes from April 11, 2011, to April 27, 2011, because of a procedural error in publishing notice of the comment period.
Most of the Whatcom Waterway cleanup plan will remain unchanged from the 2007 consent decree, but changes are necessary to the cleanup action in a portion of the outer waterway. Ecology received new information that indicates that dioxin and furan levels in buried marine sediment in the outer waterway are likely too high to qualify for open-water disposal as originally planned.
In response to this new information, the Port of Bellingham and its consultants developed an alternative approach for managing these materials. This alternative approach also can be applied to some other areas of the site.
Ecology and port representatives held a public meeting on the proposal on March 15 at Bellingham Technical College.
Proposed changes involve moving material from portions of the outer waterway and other areas of the site into an old waterfront industrial waste treatment lagoon after the lagoon is cleaned up according to 2007 plans. Dredged material would be contained in the lagoon under a layer of clean sediment.
The clean layer would be designed to meet state cleanup standards based on the port’s plan to open the lagoon to Bellingham Bay and convert it into a marina.
Ecology evaluated the proposed changes and confirmed that the approach would meet state cleanup requirements.
Proposed changes also include adjusting the project sequencing.
Under the proposed amendment, the site would be cleaned up in two construction phases. The first phase would include cleanup of the inner waterway, consistent with the 2007 plan. Construction of the first phase of cleanup would begin in 2012. The second phase would include cleanup of the outer waterway and the treatment lagoon with construction beginning in 2017.
The Whatcom Waterway site is more than 200 acres. It includes underwater sediment and an industrial wastewater treatment lagoon.
Contamination at the site is the result of operations dating back to the 1960s at the former Georgia-Pacific pulp and paper plant. The port acquired property within the site in 2005.
Studies conducted as part of the cleanup process showed mercury and other contaminants at the site in concentrations that exceed requirements of the state’s cleanup law, the Model Toxics Control Act, and must be addressed.
The Whatcom Waterway cleanup is expected to cost about $90 million. Ecology will reimburse up to half the port’s costs through the state’s remedial action grant program, which helps pay to clean up publicly owned sites. The state Legislature funds the grant program with revenues from a tax on hazardous substances.
The site is one of 12 cleanup sites in the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot, a multi-agency collaborative effort to combine cleanup, control of pollution sources, habitat restoration and land use.
The pilot program is a major step toward restoring Puget Sound, and it is a model for other large-scale cleanup initiatives.
Submit public comments to:
Lucy McInerney, site manager
Washington Department of Ecology
3190 160th Ave. SE
Bellevue, WA 98008-5452
The county administration last night asked the County Council to approve spending $136,000 to reimburse the state for getting a proposed land-transfer ready.
The council declined.
The money was meant to reimburse the state Department of Natural Resources for costs it incurred in ‘moving around’ different trust lands in the Lake Whatcom watershed. The county and DNR have signed a deal to move around a specific type of trust land. It’s the type that can be transferred to county control for parks purposes.
The DNR was supposed to create large blocks on both sides of the lake of this type of trust land. Then, the county could formally asked for those large blocks to be transferred for use as parkland. In all, we’re talking about 8,700 acres.
The request to spend money was included in a budget amendment last night. The council decided to remove that request before approving the amendment.
The council didn’t do an up or down vote on the request, but it appears it would have been a 3-3 vote. Council member Kathy Kershner was absent.
Barbara Brenner, Bill Knutzen and Tony Larson spoke against the transfer of watershed land. Sam Crawford, Carl Weimer and Ken Mann have supported it.
Knutzen said they’ve had multiple opportunities to stop the process, but it keeps costing more because of the failure to stop it the last time. The DNR is nearly done getting the lands ready for transfer.
“The sooner we shut this down, the less money it costs the taxpayers of Whatcom County,” he said.
But Mann said the county has an obligation through its deal with DNR to reimburse the state.
“We’ve already received some of these services, so we owe money on some of this,” he said. He said this isn’t the way to go about killing the land-transfer proposal. He called it a “back-door scuttle.” Continue reading
The New York Times reports that corporate giant GE managed to avoid any payment of U.S. taxes for 2010, despite a very good year for profits.
Among the tax breaks that benefit GE are “green energy credits” for production of wind turbines.
On my drive to Indiana last summer, I was amazed at the proliferation of wind turbines across the county.
President Obama recently named GE’s CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, as his liaison to the business community.
Remember the plan to transfer thousands of acres of forestland in the Lake Whatcom watershed from state control to Whatcom County control for use as a park?
It’s been quiet for about a year, since an appeals court dismissed a lawsuit challenging the signing of a deal between the county and state Department of Natural Resources.
But now it appears they’re getting close to done.
Here’s what happened:
• The county and DNR signed a deal governing how the transfer would work. The DNR would move into large blocks land that can legally be transferred to the county. When I say “move,” I mean “re designate on maps.” Different lands benefit different trusts, but only some of them can be transferred for parks purposes. They’re currently in a bit of a checkerboard arrangement throughout the watershed. Through the deal, the county agreed to pay for DNR staffing time to do appraisals and switch out lands of equal value, creating large blocks.
• The Board of Natural Resources would be asked to approve the final “blocking up” of trust lands. DNR would prepare a resolution that would then request that those be transferred to the county. The Board would have final say, but it wouldn’t have wide discretion (if it appears the land will be used as parkland in accordance with state law, the Board doesn’t really have the ability to say no just because it doesn’t like it, for example.)
Right now, the DNR is currently in the final stages of “blocking up” those lands, according to a county report. Whatcom County staff expect that the resolution will be brought to the County Council for approval sometime from April through June of this year. Continue reading
If you stay in this business long enough, everything old becomes new, and vice versa.
It’s worth noting that back in 1981, port and railroad people made no mention of any existing right-of-way across the county on an east-west alignment to Cherry Point. They concluded that obtaining that right-of-way would be too difficult.
One might wonder: Why wasn’t such a seemingly logical link between the two parallel rail lines built decades ago? The answer seems to be that these two lines (Blaine-Bellingham-Everett via the coast, and Sumas-Burlington, via the South Fork-Highway 9 trajectory) were not built to form a coherent rail network. They were competing lines.
I’m going to oversimplify a bit here and get true rail history scholars a bit agitated, but it basically went like this: The coastal line originated as the Fairhaven & Southern, which was absorbed by Great Northern and later became part of the BNSF system. The Sumas route, a portion of it at least, was built by the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia Railroad, which eventually joined the Milwaukee Road.
This BB&BC RR had tracks extending from Bellingham northeast through such places as Van Wyck and Goshen before joining up with the north-south line that linked Sumas to Sedro-Woolley and Burlington. The existence of that connection enabled Bellingham people to take the train to the first Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden in 2010.
But that link was abandoned when Milwaukee Road shut down. That leaves the Bellingham coastal route as the most direct rail connection to Cherry Point.
While we watch and read about Japan’s natural disasters, the U.S.’s most deadly weather phenomena, claiming an average of 100 people per year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA released its outlook for spring flooding this year, and many areas have a high percentage change of flooding. Almost half the county has a risk of flooding in coming weeks, although the Pacific Northwest may dodge the bullet.
Again and again the notice states that the Midwest is expected to see major flooding.
Here’s we’re expected to see below-average temperatures. Click here to see an interactive map showing river level gauge stations in Western Washington, including the two we have along the Nooksack River.
From NOAA: Continue reading
In the past 48 hours it has become clear that the biggest problem at the reeling Japanese nuclear plant is the accumulation of depleted fuel rods that must be kept under water to prevent them from heating up and emitting large amounts of radiation.
The New York Times reports that some countries, such as China and Japan, have more elaborate strategies for storing those old fuel rods, but U.S. plants use the Japanese method.
Kathy Berg from Birch Bay sent this out on her e-mail list. It’s from Barry Wenger at the state Department of Ecology, which measures water levels with automatic gauges. The following graphic shows the levels from Padilla Bay, in Skagit County. Note the effects of the tsunami.
As part of our national monitoring program we maintain 4 water quality stations in the Bay, operating 24/7 and sampling every 30 minutes with automated data feeds to the NOAA network. We also maintain one of these with a water level recorder tied to NOAA elevation datum.
Attached is the water level data for last week showing our nice, normal tides (two highs and two lows per day) on March 8th-10th. Note the change shortly after the Japan tsunami…some of these “bounces” are well over a foot, and then they continue for nearly 3 days with rebound from land masses.
Click here for a clearer version of the image posted above.
The New York Times reports that the safety of Mark I reactors like those at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan has long been questioned. Specifically, doubts have been raised for decades about the containment vessel’s ability to do its job in a serious accident.
The Times also notes that similar reactors are in place at 16 plants in the United States, although they have been modified to address some of the perceived safety issues.
In the wake of the ongoing crisis at aging Japanese nuclear plants, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced an indefinite shutdown of seven nuclear power plants that date from before 1980, Reuters reports.
Industrialists quoted in the story express fears that this move is politically motivated and could harm the German economy, which gets about one-fourth of its power supply from nukes. Merkel’s action caused power prices to rise in Germany.
We’re seeing numerous news reports indicating that the Obama administration is trying to hold the line on reviving nuclear energy in the U.S., as part of a strategy for reducing carbon emissions.
Here’s a report from the Wall Street Journal, which also notes that enthusiasm for nukes is waning significantly in Congress, at least for the moment.
If you’re losing track of what happened when at the runaway nuclear plants in Japan, don’t feel bad. The International Atomic Energy Agency has the same problem. In its recent news updates, the IAEA observes that it its “seeking clarification” and “continues to seek details” on events in Japan.
Here’s a five-page, minute-by-minute timeline compiled by Reuters.
Both Dick Conoboy and regular commenter AFY have called our attention to this post from Dr. Josef Oehmen of MIT, who discusses Japan’s troubled nuclear power plants in a very clear and precise way. He argues that even the worst-case scenario at these plants would fall far short of catastrophe, except for the company that owns the plants.
I thought it was worth highlighting and reposting.
Let’s hope Oehmen is as smart as he sounds.