The PSP Interviews: Rep. Christine RolfesMarch 2nd, 2011 by cdunagan
When I wrote my recent progress report on the Puget Sound Partnership, my story included little more than brief quotes and snippits of information from a variety of informed people. It is somewhat rewarding to have a blog where I can bring you more complete impressions of the people I interviewed. Here is the fifth in a series of expanded reports from those interviews.
Puget Sound may be suffering ecologically at this point in history, but the Puget Sound Partnership would do best by explaining in a positive way how things can be improved, said state Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.
“Don’t spend your time trying to bum people out,” she told me when I asked her to offer some advice to the partnership. “Focus on bringing people together to make it better. We all want more fish, more birds, more parks. How do we engage people to make it happen? I would say to them, ‘stay creative, stay positive and think local.’”
One idea, Rolfes said, is to get people outdoors and visiting the relatively wild places close to home. Watching salmon spawning in local streams, such as Chico Creek in Central Kitsap, helps people to make a connection to the ecosystem.
Rolfes was elected to the Legislature in 2006. She was appointed to the Puget Sound Partnership’s Ecosystem Coordination Board the following year.
Christine grew up in New Jersey and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia and a master’s in public administration from the University of Washington. She worked for a time as a planner for the Kitsap County Department of Community Development. She then went to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development, including a stint in Russia. Before being elected to the House, she served two terms on the Bainbridge Island City Council.
While some people say the structure of the Puget Sound Partnership is too complicated, Christine believes that it takes a complicated system to coordinate the vast number of interests, scientific viewpoints and educational efforts.
“It’s not too complicated for me. Coordination is vital to those working on regulations and on restoration projects… We’re getting the agencies to talk to each other — up, down and across. That has been what the structure has provided.”
A good example of the coordination, she said, is the restoration of the Nisqually River delta with its important habitat improvements for waterfowl, salmon and marine mammals. Local jurisdictions throughout Puget Sound agreed to forgo smaller projects and pool the available money for the Nisqually project, she said.
“It benefits all of South Puget Sound. People were able to say, ‘We won’t do my small wetland this year because we’re going to do the big one instead.’”
In a recession, the structure of the partnership forces people to work together to bring the most cost-effective projects and efforts to the forefront, she said.
“It seems to me that this is the year when they’re going to be tested. We are asking them to do stuff, but we are not providing much funding. The limited money will have to be spent in a smarter way.”
When Rep. Rolfes started working on her oil-spill-response bill, she called on the partnership to convene a stakeholder group to identify the top issues that needed to be addressed, she said. That is the value of coordination.
This week, the bill she sponsored, HB 1186, passed the House on a 62-35 vote. For details, see reporter John Stang’s stories in the Kitsap Sun on Tuesday, Monday and Saturday as well as Water Ways from Jan. 13.
One thing that could be improved about the partnership, she said, is an infusion of younger voices and fresh ideas into the discussion. An effort could be made to appoint younger people to advisory positions, including the Ecosystem Coordination Board.
“As a member of the public, you look at the partnership as a government agency. But they are only as good as the people they represent and work for. The Puget Sound Partnership is not going to solve all the problems. We all have to do our part.”