In some ways, the recession we are going through has been very good for Puget Sound, at least if we’re talking about ecosystem restoration.
In an effort to stimulate the economy and create jobs, Congress appropriated lots of money for projects that were ready or nearly ready to be built. The Puget Sound Partnership lists 614 projects with a price tag of $460 million since 2008. An estimated 15,640 jobs were created in the process, according to the PSP.
But the recession also helped another way. It turns out that when restoration and public-works projects were put out to bid, most of them came in well under their original estimates. Contractors apparently needed the work so badly that they were willing to cut their profit margins and compete hard for the available work. That freed up money for additional projects.
On Friday, Gov. Chris Gregoire led a media tour to some of the
projects being built with special federal and state appropriations.
One was the Belfair sewage treatment plant, designed to remove
nitrogen from Hood Canal to address the low-oxygen problem. Her
message was that Puget Sound restoration must not be placed on the
back burner until the recession is over.
I quoted her in a story I wrote for
Saturday’s Kitsap Sun:
“We are in the hardest economic problem since the deep depression, but we cannot take a recess; we cannot take time out.”
While more restoration projects are getting done, Gregoire is struggling with a state budget crisis unlike anything in our lifetimes. Normal separations between funds for capital construction and funds for general operations are beginning to erode. For example, shifts of money have been made from the Public Works Trust Fund and Model Toxics Control Account.
Gregoire is saying she must find a way to fund critical environmental efforts — even if that means moving some efforts to the back burner. So far, I have yet to hear anyone say which environmental programs will get to play freeze tag, but that may be coming.
On Oct. 6, Gregoire called together the heads of our state’s natural resource agencies as part of her ongoing initiative called Government Management Accountability and Performance, or GMAP. Each agency head was expected to discuss their goals and performance measurements with respect to Puget Sound restoration. (It was clear the governor was not satisfied with the level of detail provided by the Puget Sound Partnership. See YouTube video at 0:10:38)
At the end of the forum, Gregoire stressed that all agencies need to get out of their individual “silos” and coordinate together for the good of Puget Sound. For one thing, she said, they should rally to address stormwater as the top priority. See the YouTube video at 1:12:53:
“I come away from here with the understanding that — and I knew it beforehand, but I want to emphasize it — as we go into this stressed cycle of limited moneys, we’ve got to, for the moment, put the money where … the biggest results can be achieved. That means we cannot sprinkle.
“ We have got to take limited resources and put as much as we can where the greatest threat is. In my opinion right now … it is stormwater; it is runoff. If we don’t get a handle on that for Puget Sound, we are not going to make the progress that we have set out to achieve, so I’m asking you all to work very hard with that as a priority… If we could really emphasize that as we work through what are very troubled economic times we’ll come out making continued progress.
“Others are kind of giving up and saying you have to put everything on hold. I don’t buy that. You can’t put Puget Sound on hold. You can’t. It will just deteriorate. What you will have to make up by putting it on hold will eat too much human and financial resources and take too much time. But I do know that we have to do things differently. We don’t have a choice, so I’m asking you to put a greater emphasis in coordinating with all of you on stormwater as we move forward.”