Journal of the San Juan Islands


Faults aplenty in CAO, 'weak' isn't one | Guest Column

November 23, 2012 · Updated 9:05 AM

By Peg Manning

The Friends' letter describing the proposed critical areas ordinance as the “weakest” among those that have been passed follows their typical approach to such issues, (“Of coal ships and critical areas”, Nov. 16, sanjuanjournal.com).  For example, lack of context.  Our proposed CAO may be seen as "weak" by the Friends because it allows any homes to be built at all; that is their preferred outcome — no homes. (Farms seem to be just fine. There's a puzzle, given the fecal coliform, fertilizer and pesticides that are documented there.)

What is the comparison? Of the limited number of counties that have passed revised CAOs, several have simply rolled over in the face of unreasonable, one-size-fits all demands by the bureaucratically bloated Department of Ecology, and not one is an island county described by NOAA experts and others as pristine and spectacular, with no industrial activity and fewer than 16,000 people.  The proposed CAO is not “weak” — ineffectual, perhaps, while having the added feature of being burdensome and expensive. But not “weak.”  The Friends’ letter compares the potential environmental impact of the coal shipping proposals to building a small number of shoreline homes. It wistfully references conditions in the mid-1800s, as if that is the baseline to which we must return. And yes, we are tired of hearing about Westcott Bay, because repeated and ongoing scientific studies have failed to identify any of the Friends' favorite bogeymen (homes, docks, shoreline "armoring") as the culprit for the apparently cyclical changes in eelgrass there. Nor has any real science shown our streams, lakes and ponds to be brimming with pesticides or pollutants traceable to homes; real science—not “citizen” science or schoolchildren’s science or “grey science” (the continuing, self-referential, but never peer-reviewed government and interest group publications).

Finally, the notion that the proposed new CAO will permit 40 percent of all pollution to enter protected areas is flat-out nonsense: the proposed revision to our CAO begins by assuming the presence of gross amounts of pollution here, goes through a convoluted process of applying buffers and other limits on land use, and ends with a "risk" analysis reminiscent of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey to conclude that the new, complicated, expensive regime still poses a "medium" risk to critical areas.

If you plan to comment at the hearing (County Council, Nov. 27), take the time to read what the council proposes to impose. Ask questions about what it means and how it applies to your own situation. Ask the council what problem this regulatory juggernaut is needed to solve, and how much it will cost our county and its citizens.

You might even ask why, in light of the recent local election, which unseated our most enthusiastic new-CAO supporters, the council seems insistent on driving this train over the cliff.

— Editor’s note: Orcas Island’s Peg Manning supports the Common Sense Alliance in its criticism of and opposition to the county critical areas ordinance, as proposed.


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