Just Another Dull Day at Whatcom County Council

Last Tuesday’s County Council Committee meetings and on into the evening County Council Public meeting it was anything but dull.

The day started out in the Natural Resources Committee meeting with discussion on the County’s new Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) ordinance.  The Council heard from Assistant Director at Whatcom County Public Works, Chris Brueske on the how the AIS program is going.

Discussion regarding requested changes to Whatcom County Code 2.27A, Aquatic Invasive Species (AB2013-146A) AIS Education Card Program

Brueske Comment: The program is going well.  There have been no real issues as of yet except for one boater who got angry and ran over some cones.  Canadian boaters seem to be the customers who are not aware of the new program.

Council Comment:  We need to remember that the staff is being asked to educate, inspect, and sell the permit sticker in a short period of time.

Council Comment:  Most of the complaints are from boaters who only use Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish and do not understand why they should have to go through this process more than once.

Council Comment:  Do we know how much the program is going to cost and are we collecting enough funds to cover the costs?

Brueske Comment: Staff should have a clear idea on the costs and funds needed by the end of this season.

Council Comment: Have we found any AIS?

Brueske Comment: No, only some salt water mussels from a boat that came in from the bay. (Note to Reader; Salt water mussels would not survive in the fresh waters of Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish.)

The discussion then rambled on to talk about hydropower utilities and reports that have been done on Lake Mead in Havasu, Arizona.  The report showed a finding of 100 quagga mussels from 100,000 inspections (1%) and that most of the problems are not being found in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, or Montana.  The purpose of the Council’s discussion was to consider converting the AIS program to more of an education program that results in issuance of AIS permit sticker(s).  The goal is to educate and alleviate burdensome costs to the County and the Public; so that those who participate in water sports in Whatcom County will not be deterred from this popular recreation and the risk of AIS infestation to our local water bodies will have been addressed and greatly reduced.

The Natural Resources Committee next heard from Ed Block, the Ag-Advisory Chair and Samya Lutz from Whatcom County Planning.  The presentation dealt with a new proposal to allow the rural properties, zoned R10A and R5A areas, to obtain permits from Whatcom County using the Ag Parcel Reconfiguration tools.

Ed Block Comment: Water is going to be a big issue in creating large disadvantages to the area.  The water issue has caused downzone issues for the farmers.  The new powder plant has been a very good thing for the farming community.

Council Comment: Has the Ag subcommittee voted on the Ag Reconfiguration?

Samya Lutz Comment: Not specifically, they’ve only voted on the conceptual ideas within the “Rural Land Study Report,” and not on the actual plan proposed here.  The Grandview Area was added in the update and continued refinement, not a comparison of the previous data.

Council Comment: How much farmland is being added or taken away?

Samya Lutz Comment: Not sure of the total, but the report identifies 100,000 acres of Farmland; Active-Farmland, Fallow-Farmland, Homestead/Infrastructure-Farmland.

Council Comment: What’s the total to see trends now and in the future?

Samya Lutz Comment: USDA says there are approximately 120,000 acres of farmland in Whatcom County.

Council Comment: Had the powder plant been shut down, the financial impact to the County agriculture land would have been huge to the Ag land issue.  A lot of Canadians have been buying Whatcom County farmland for berry production at $20 – $30k per acre valuation.

Council Comment: Were commercial and rural forestry included in the report?

Samya Lutz Comment: They were not included in the report zone area.  The report used Assessor data and aerial photography for the analysis.

Council Comment: Can we get the Ag Advisory Committee report before tonight?

Resolution accepting the Whatcom County Agricultural Land Cover Analysis and revisions of the rural land study areas (discussion to include an Agricultural Advisory Committee report on activities) (AB2013-110) Ag Parcel Reconfiguration tool, Right to Farm Changes, Code Review and Ag-Watershed project progress.

Approved 5-0 (Kremen & Crawford absent from room) Resolution 2013-019

Then the real fun began as the Council had a briefing from our local Department of Ecology representatives on Low Impact Development. This issue is huge and I hope that all residents of Whatcom County get engaged and pay attention to the potential ramifications of the looming National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems (NPDES) Municipal Stormwater Planning.

These are the notes I took from this presentation:

  • Low Impact Development (LID) is coming
    • It will be a 4 – 5 year process in training and permitting
    • It will need to be integrated into local codes and standards
    • The steps needed to accomplish the code integration
  • Why are We Here?
    • This has been a 3 to 5 year process in changes to how stormwater is managed in Western Washington
    • All development and additional impervious surface addition to properties will require an LID permit to alleviate water quality impairment
    • The purpose of this is to achieve water flow control and quality
    • These permits, once issued, are good for 5 years at this time and until technological advances change what’s deemed practicable, unless infeasible
    • Things that require the development of public awareness and education
    • What is an LID?  Define it.
    • What is infeasible?  Feasibility to what applicability?
    • There are a variety of ways to manage stormwater
      • Traditional practices
      • Stormwater and land use management strategy that strives to mimic pre-disturbance hydrologic processes of infiltration; filtration, storage, evaporation and transpiration by emphasizing conservation, use of on-site, natural features and site planning
  • There will be a need to review and amend local codes and standards for LIB best management practices (BMP)
  • What are the required and optional BMP’s?
    • Bio-retention will be required
    • There will be challenges such as
      • Large facilities placing impacts on lot use
      • Groundwater recharges – results not known?
      • Maintenance and operations are required.
      • Costs are unknown as comparison to traditional stormwater maintenance
      • Sometimes they are less costly???
      • Clustering could be a fire department issue needing PUD code provisions
      • Permeable pavement will be required unless infeasible in driveways and parking lots
      • Rain gardens can be used for small projects only and are non-engineered
      • Perforated stub-out connections that are used for treating stormwater runoff that is located on soils not conducive to water dispersion
      • Rainwater harvesting may be allowed or required; no water permit is required for up to 5000 gallons per day; the same as an exempt well
      • Rooftop gardens may be allowed or required
  • What are the goals?
    • To reduce impervious surface and preserve vegetation
  • Ways to accomplish this
    • Reduced road with (road diets)
    • Change in road layout and orientation
    • Clustering
    • Encouraging structural height to limit and reduce impervious surface areas
    • Existing parking regulations will need to be examined
  • The directive is to be prescriptive and DOE suggests to include flexibility
  • This program is only as good as the early input into the design
  • Will need to be a layered application in design of projects
  • Integrating bio-retention into parking areas will be required; such as
    • Landscaping Islands and barriers around them that are concaved to accept and retain stormwater
  • The deadline is December 31, 2016; with the exception of:
    • Cowlitz County (6/30/2017),
    • Aberdeen (6/30/2018)
    • Lynden (12/31/2017)
  • Timing is to be coordinated with the major 10 year Growth Management Act
  • All Counties should start now by:
    • Assembling a team
    • Understand LID topics to be addressed
    • Review existing codes and standards
    • Fill-in the gaps
    • Review and adopt
    • Implement

Okay I may have missed some things, but you get the drift, big things are headed this way and everybody needs to get engaged and involved to demand that DOE answers all of our questions before dumping this plan onto an unsuspecting public.  Some of my questions I’ve listed here, of which, some were answered by local DOE representative Christine McGinnis.  A lot of these questions have no answer and should be before the Council adopts the new codes and standards into Whatcom County.

  • What is this going to accomplish and at what cost?
  • Will it affect aquifer water quality?
  • What are we improving?
    • Lake Whatcom?
    • Streams?
    • Bellingham Bay?
    • Puget Sound?
  • What’s the long term goal and how will communities afford this?
  • If not affordable; how will communities attract and retain residents, business, manufacturing and production?
  • Will Department of Ecology grants be needed?
    • Where is all the money needed to accomplish this going to come from?
  • Will the use of infiltration require that the soils be dug-up and removed as part of maintenance?  They will need to be tested and yes there is a possibility that the soil will be classified as toxic.
  • Will these soils be tested for pollutants and toxicity? Yes
  • Will the ground water table be affected by infiltration? Unknown
  • Has there been a study of this for potential damage to aquifers?  The effect to Well Systems is unknown
  • The goal is to develop flow control and retention.  Will engineering be required? Depends on the size and type of stormwater infiltration needed for the project.
  • What is the trigger to require an LID permit and NPDES stormwater management plan?  Any development over 2000 sq. ft. of impervious surface, and this does not take lot size into consideration.
  • Will this be required of properties pre-sale? No

You can find more on this topic at Association of Washington Cities website (AWC).

Below I have posted the same briefing that is posted on the Whatcom County Council Agenda update for June 18, 2013:

Special Meeting – Low Impact Development Briefing

Washington State Department of Ecology to host a regional briefing on the role that low impact development (LID) practices will have in reissued NPDES Municipal Stormwater Permits (AB2013-189)

Planned topics for this briefing include:

  • Impetus behind the new permit requirements
  • Changes in the newly reissued NPDES stormwater permits related to LID
  • Timeline for various actions by permittees
  • What the new changes will mean for new development, and actions that can be taken to prepare
  • Training and other resources that are currently available or that Ecology intends to offer

Local and regional elected officials, appointed officials and management staff (e.g., council members, planning commissioners, city/county administrators, public works directors, etc.) are encouraged to attend.

The last item to report on from a long Tuesday is the results of the evenings public hearing on;

Public Hearing: Ordinance amending the Whatcom County Zoning Code Title 20 to create Chapter 20.51, Lake Whatcom Watershed Overlay District, and related Comprehensive Plan amendments (AB2013-102A) Referred to Natural Resources Committee 6-1, Weimer opposed

Due to the Council’s decision to send this ordinance back to the Natural Resources Committee and the previous decision to adopt the Ag-Land Overlay revisions, the local Futurewise Board and Members weighed in to the Council with their displeasure.  The following videos exemplifies what We the People of Whatcom County are having to push back in order to protect and preserve our property rights.  This video is but a snippet of the constant push by Futurewise and their litigants to force Whatcom County back into the 1990’s and downzone almost all of the Guide Meridian properties outside the City of Bellingham.  Maybe Futurewise was just having a bad day because the Army Corp of Engineers had ruled against the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Gateway Pacific Terminal project to be given a global scoping, rather than the normal EIS study which restricts the process to the immediately affected area that is Whatcom County.  When it comes to fear mongering and promotion of the public taking of private property rights, Futurewise has shown itself to be front and center of all the nonprofits in Whatcom County.  Under the skillful guidance of Kate Blystone (Director Whatcom County Chapter of Futurewise), Jean Melious (Futurewise Member, former Whatcom County Planning Commission and Environmental Law Professor of Huxley University at WWU) and David Stalheim (Futurewise Member, former Head of Whatcom County Planning and current Block Grant Program Manager for the City of Bellingham’s Low Income Housing Tax Levy approved last Fall 2012), I do detect a theme of elitist attitude to do whatever it takes to regulate the masses out of the rural areas.  The Planning Unit needs to be restarted so that the true stakeholders of land and water needs are at the table, assessing water needs and resources, before we implement new code and new standards that forces the average private citizen to walk away from their property due to government taking of their rights to use their land productively.

~ Kris Halterman



If you ever doubted that there is an agenda to move people off the rural landscape and into the urban cities, I trust these videos shine a light upon what our public officials are up against every day.  There were moments of clarity and reason from the public.  I’ve included the video of Lorraine Newman’s comment to the Council not because she’s my friend, but because it so full of good old common sense and sage advice. There are more videos from the evenings public comments.  All of them are worth a moment of your time to fully grasp the complexity and seriousness of how our Constitutional right to water is being used to control land use and potentially ownership.  He who controls the water…controls everything.

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