Contentious board holds off on water rule memo

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — For the second time in as many weeks, Clallam County commissioners have postponed a vote on a memorandum of understanding with the state Department of Ecology over implementation of the Dungeness water rule.

Commissioner Mike Doherty initially voted against the memorandum, a four-page document that states that the county and Ecology will work together to establish a rule intended to protect existing water rights and water supplies for people and fish.

Doherty repeatedly said he is in favor of having a rule.

“It’s the details [that are missing from the rule],” he said.

Commissioner Mike Chapman balked at the chairman’s vote, stressing the need for a unified voice from the three-member panel on “the biggest issue facing our county right now.”

A divided vote “sets a really bad precedent” and sends mixed signals to Ecology and the public, Chapman said.

After an hourlong and occasionally heated discussion, the commissioners agreed to rescind and reconsider the memorandum in a future public meeting with Ecology officials.

That meeting had not been scheduled as of Wednesday afternoon.

Lack of details

A source of consternation for the county has been a lack of details on how the state rule will work in practice.

It is scheduled to take effect Jan. 2.

“I am hopeful — but not confident — that we can delay the effective date of the rule so that we can get all this stuff worked out,” said Commissioner Jim McEntire, board liaison for the complex issue.

“I think it’s bad policy in the extreme to have a rule go into effect that we’re still up in the air on exactly the rules in play, as it were, for our citizens to understand.”

The rule will set minimum in-stream flows and require the owner of a new well to mitigate domestic water use in ways that include the purchase of credits through a water exchange or water bank.

It affects a large swath of the East End of Clallam County from Bagley Creek to Sequim Bay.

McEntire, a Sequim Republican, worked with state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, to negotiate the memo with Ecology and to secure state funds to offset mitigation costs for future water users.

Commissioners Dec. 4 tabled a vote on the same memorandum after Sequim land-use attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross warned them about potential liability.

The existing version and earlier versions of the memo have been vetted by county lawyers.

Doherty, a Port Angeles Democrat, cast no votes on the memorandum and on a contract amendment with Ecology that added $100,000 to the water exchange. The 2-1 vote on the latter increased the grant amount from $350,068 to $450,068.

Doherty said he was concerned about asking for more money while “not seriously looking at demand and supply of water.

“I’m also concerned about the discussion that leads to multiple millions of dollars to subsidize types of development,” he said.

“That’s kind of the general concern. There’s lots of specifics, but also just the serious look at the supply of water from the mid-Olympic snowpack that is decreasing in the future.”

State struggles

Doherty noted that state lawmakers are struggling to pay for public safety, public health, education and other important services.

“The more we look at diverting money to other things, it’s an issue,” he said.

Chapman, an independent, was caught off guard by Doherty’s “no” vote on the memorandum.

He waited until the end of the business meeting to make a motion for reconsideration.

“In my history, I don’t think I ever remember a divided vote on a memorandum of agreement with a state agency,” Chapman said.

Doherty responded: “I just had this countervailing position.

“It has to do more with climate change and other large issues.

“We could have done a better job by looking at the fairly predictable water supply before we commit to a kind of subsidized mitigation of demand into a 20-year horizon.”

Chapman described Doherty’s vote as “unbelievable.”

“That’s just shocking to me, knowing you and knowing your relationship with the state of Washington, all the hard work you’ve done on this,” he told Doherty.

“You don’t want a unified vote because you want to play politics. You don’t want to sign an agreement that a Republican signs.

“Why would we own this?” Chapman continued.

“We don’t need to own this.”

Doherty said he would be “glad to go anywhere, anytime, to talk to the bureaucrats in [Ecology] about a slightly different opinion about the matters.

“I’ve mentioned five or six times today I’m in favor of the rule,” he said.

Doherty said he could support protection for a “mom and pop with a farm” looking to divide their lot but is unsure if he could support a subsidy for an out-of-town developer looking to buy 50 lots.

“There are too many unknowns,” he said.

Motion dies

Chapman’s original motion for reconsideration died for lack of a second.

McEntire said: “It would be very desirable [to have a unified vote], but if that’s not to be, then I don’t think it’s failed to have an appropriate implementation scheme for the rule, now that the rule is official, that balances the treatment of permit-exempt wells with people that are hooked up to a public water supply as defined in the rule,” McEntire said.

“That has been my desire: to arrive at a point where the rule as implemented would not fall in an unbalanced and heavy way on one particular segment of the population that lives within the geographic range of where the rule applies.”

Chapman persisted, saying he would sign a memorandum that included Doherty’s concerns.

“This will be the most distasteful piece of paper I will sign in my career because it was a trap,” Chapman said.

“I didn’t know you were going to vote no. That just isn’t fair, and then you say: ‘You know what, let’s not work together to get to yes.’”

He added: “Look, you guys are representing ideological spectrums that don’t always agree, but it’s our job to get this right and work with the state.”

Public workshop

After more discussion, McEntire seconded Chapman’s motion to reconsider the memorandum in a public workshop-type meeting with Ecology officials.

“It’s important for our citizens to see us, as a commission, in agreement with a scheme that’s going to greatly affect our citizens’ lives in many respects,” McEntire said.

“I just think we have to spend more time to get it done right.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 12. 2012 5:52PM
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