The Joint Board Reaffirms the Planning Unit Authority, or did they?

Update:  At the last Whatcom County Council meeting (May 21, 2013) they introduced a resolution to formally reconvene the Planning Unit.  The June 4th, 2013 Whatcom County Council evening meeting, Council will vote to approve/disapprove this resolution.  Although it does not have the force of law that an ordinance does, if approved, it will provide clarity on the Planning Units role and their advisory status to the WRIA process.  Here is an image and link to the resolution:



At last Tuesdays meeting of the WRIA 1, Joint Board Management Team, those present and participating reached a concensus to contract with the County to fund four meetings of the Planning Unit.  The “Water Resource Inventory Allocation,” (WRIA) process was setup by the Washington State Legislature with a specific structure that would facilitate a bottom-up approach to water resource inventory and needs for each County.  The purpose to this structure was so that all of the stakeholders and purveyors of water would have a voice in the process.  Somewhere along the timeline this process went afoul of the Legislature’s intent and the Planning Unit was cut out of the process.  Not since 2009 has the Planning Unit met to fulfill its role to set the policies and direction for the WRIA 1 region.  It appears that this travesty is about to be fixed, the Planning Unit will be funded to reconvene once more and restart the process of water resource identification and needs for Whatcom County.  One can hope that the Joint Board is sincere from their actions taken at this meeting, but I did note that there were no happy faces in the room.

Present and sitting at the table with a voice at this meeting were; the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, Whatcom PUD #1, The Lummi Nation, Puget Sound Partnership, Deparment of Ecology, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Whatcom County Planning and Development Services.  (During the meeting it was noted that no representative from the Nooksack Tribe was present.)

Present in the audience to observe were; Farm Friends, Resources, other Non-Profits, some Citizens and this Citizen Journalist.

Chris Brueske, of Whatcom County Planning and Development, gave a report with an option to approve/fund four meetings of the Planning Unit.  Discussion was held as to what the Planning Unit might be able to accomplish in four meetings, including the following:

  1. Open the process to discuss decision process of the Caucuses
  2. What is the role of the Planning Unit and an implementation plan
  3. Develop the formal work plan and budget for the Planning Unit
  4. Final work plan and budget from the Planning Unit

Comments made during discussion at this meeting were:

Jon Hutchings, of the City of Bellingham Public Works;  “Earlier this year, the prosecuting attorney affirmed the Planning Unit’s autonomy under the state Wastershed Planning Act.  Due to this fact, in its capacity as the WRIA 1 Lead Agency, Whatcom County has asked the Joint Board to facilitate reconstitution and reformation of the WRIA 1 Planning Unit.  With the understanding that these meetings are organizational in nature, they may want to massage the language for the contract.  There will be ongoing consideration on how to transition from planning focus to implementation.  How does this occur?  The next agenda item needs to get us there.  This is all part and parcel to the same question…how we move the process forward.  Hope is that there will be recognition that the landscape has changed, what that ends up meaning to them, I don’t know.

Allen Chapman (Lummi Representative) asked;  “What is the role of the Planning Unit?”WRIA1_Homepage

Jon Hutchings (City of Bellingham Public Works) response;  “Yes, I beleive that I can.  They serve the role of a bottom-up group who have a direct interest in water resources, planning and implementation.  That was ultimately the Planning Unit’s role.  How that is ultimately setup, I am a little unsure of.  The mechanism of the caucus based system, I am unsure of.  The participation at the time was not fully formed and the numbers participating was getting fewer and fewer.  It was possibly due to the fact that a lot of the meetings and representatives had legal ramifications.”

Allen Chapman (Lummi Representative) asked;  “Is the Planning Unit advisory to the Joint Board?”

Jon Hutchings (City of Bellingham Public Works) response ;  “I’m not sure about that, but it could be that they are in charge.  Although it’s difficult to understand that five elected political governments would abrogate their authority to the Planning Unit; but I don’t have an answer to that question.  The Planning Unit has legitimacy and we’ve never answered what the Planning Unit’s authority is.  We need to define and co-ordinate this by providing the mechanism for that to happen.”

Jon Hutchings (City of Bellingham Public Works) continued response;  “How do the Government’s stand on this?  Are there any recommendations?”

All five governing bodies in attendance agreed that this needs to happen and will not oppose it at this time.

As I was observing this meeting, I again looked at who was represented at the table; City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, Whatcom Public Utility District #1, Lummi Tribe, State Department of Ecology, Deptartment of Fish and Wildlife, and the State agency Puget Sound Partnership.  It became foggy as to what the Joint Board was trying to accomplish.  Are they inventorying our water resources so that we can appropriately assign water rights?  Are they identifying water resource problems to be addressed here in Whatcom County, or regionally with King County?  Are they creating long-term or short-term water management plans?  Are they privately negotiating specific water rights with the local Tribes?  Or, is their only real function to funnel money/revenue/grants into Whatcom County from the Puget Sound Partnership?  After all these years of meetings and a very confusing organizational chart the only clarity was that everyone wants to be in charge and spend money.  It seemed the Joint Board Management Team was and is still in a muddle.   At one point the representative from the Lummi Tribe commented that they weren’t concerned about getting the money, their concern was; “When would they get an action plan and start to implement it? We’ve been talking and working for a long time and everyone is still asking, where are the fish?”

The meeting digressed from there to a clutterd discussion on the Whatcom Integration Team’s (WIT) recommendation on how to move forward when they sunset in June.  Since the Chairperson of the WIT group had to ask for clarity on what the Joint Board’s response to their recommendations were, from this Citizen Journalist’s perspective it would seem that as a community we should all work together to assure everyone that all of our water rights are addressed and protected.  Likely, the immediate reformation of the Planning Unit is needed to get any action plan in place.


~ Kris Halterman (co-authored with the participation of Chet Dow and Lorraine Newman)

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One comment

  1. The org chart looks a snake swallowing its tail – no beginning and no end…

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