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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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New watchdog group to focus on Puget shorelines

April 11th, 2013 by cdunagan

It’s not often that we get to talk about a new environmental group in the Puget Sound region. We have a lot of existing groups, to be sure, but I can’t recall when the last one came into existence.

Whether Sound Action is actually a new group can be debated, since its core leaders come from Preserve Our Islands, the organization that battled the gravel mining operation on Maury Island. But I consider it a new group, because Sound Action has a new, clearly defined mission, not focused on a single development but on protecting shoreline habitats throughout Puget Sound.

The group will begin by keeping its eye on hydraulic project approvals issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The group’s audit of 290 past HPAs (PDF 3.3 mb) purports to show that adequate restrictions were not imposed in many cases where shoreline habitats and species needed to be protected.

Randi Thurston of WDFW disputes the report’s methods and conclusions, as I mention in my story published in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Those overall findings and statistics may make little difference in the long run, however. More interesting will be the deficiencies the group discovers as it goes about reviewing every permit issued by WDFW — the express goal of Amy Carey, the group’s executive director.

“Our intent here isn’t to be adversarial,” she told me yesterday. “We want to be supportive of DFW and help them fix the problem. … Reasonably good laws have been on the books for decades, but we have agencies that just don’t say no.”

When it comes to specific permits, it will be easier to discuss what conditions exist at a specific site, what data are available about the particular shoreline, what permit conditions are mandatory and what conditions would be advisable to add some measure of protection.

I can’t see how another set of eyes or even a differing opinion can hurt if the goal is to protect the environment, and maybe this effort will make a big difference in restoring Puget Sound to health. Of course, if the goal is to approve shoreline developments as quickly as possible, then regulations and oversight just get in the way.

Here are the goals, as described by Sound Action:

  • In our new work, Sound Action will be reviewing each Puget Sound-based HPA as it comes under the consideration of WDFW to ensure that all applicable environmental regulations are applied.
  • In the event that science-based information is missing or overlooked by WDFW, we will present detailed documentation on species and habitats present as well as impacts of the proposal.
  • If a permit is approved which does not contain appropriate provisions or is approved in violation of state law, Sound Action will pursue appeal and legal action.
  • Sound Action will expand its watchdog role to other regulatory areas in Puget Sound, but its first task is to focus on the state HPA program to make sure each permit does what the law requires and that the program is functioning and providing habitat protection. Not only is this required by law, it also supports the state mandate to restore Puget Sound by 2020.

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2 Responses to “New watchdog group to focus on Puget shorelines”

  1. Roger Gay Says:

    So how does one review official State paperwork? Can any random individual or group ask to review the paperwork submitted by Washington citizens and business’s? Are the HPA’s on-line and this group just does a review of the electronic document that WDWF puts on-line?

    The article leaves many questions. Washington has numerous environmental groups. An article on the relationship of each and the commonalities would be informative. How many members hold position in a multitude of organizations. It may seem they have larger support, but if the leadership is the same, then a very few are the driving force behind the groups.

    It also leads to how they review State paperwork. My guess is they review electronically public documents posted on State websites. The method of review could be interesting and how they go about interacting with State offices. How much is this costing the taxpayers to support these reviews?

  2. Sound Action Says:

    Hi Roger,

    I work as the director of Sound Action, the group referred to in the post and wanted to check in with some answers to your questions.

    Under the State Public Records Act (RCW 42.56) individuals and/or groups can request and receive copies of agency documents. While there has been some agency discussion – unrelated to our work – about putting HPAs online,they are not yet available in that format. We received the records we reviewed under the Public Records Act and anticipate that process will continue for future review. The state agencies all have staff in place to process document requests and our upcoming work does not result in any increased taxpayer expenses.

    There are indeed many good environmental organizations working throughout the region. They all have individual leadership, staff and governing boards, and while there may be a shared goal of Puget Sound protection, each organization typically covers a different body of work be it in location, target or approach i.e some are education groups, some focus on restoration and some work in direct advocacy or policy.

    Hope that answers your questions – please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have more or have some follow up thoughts.

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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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