Tag Archives: Preserve Our Islands

New watchdog group to focus on Puget shorelines

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.

Controversial Maury Island gravel project has been approved

Washington Department of Natural Resources has approved a 30-year lease to allow a dock in the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve. It was the last approval needed for construction of a gravel mine that has been the subject of intense opposition by environmental groups.

Robert McClure, environmental reporter for the Seattle PI, calls the approval the most controversial of Land Commissioner Doug Sutherland’s eight years in office. Sutherland has taken this action in his final weeks as head of the DNR, having lost in the November election to Peter Goldmark.

Goldmark issued a statement saying he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

“The timing of this decision, only one day after the Puget Sound Partnership brought forward their plan to clean up Puget Sound, is very troubling,” Goldmark was quoted as saying in the Seattle Times. “While I understand there is only one lands commissioner at a time, this decision does come after the voters of Washington sent a very clear message.”

Amy Carey, president of Preserve Our Islands, was not pleased with Sutherland’s decision. She told the Times, “It’s disappointing he felt he had to stick to Glacier’s needs and agenda. There’s absolutely no reason that this decision had to come out now other than that Glacier wanted it now. It’s a really pitiful legacy as his tenure ends.”

In a news release, Sutherland said, “This has been an extremely rigorous process, and our aquatics staff have examined every document submitted to us and to the permitting agencies to be sure that we have addressed the issues. I directed staff to add requirements to protect this aquatic ecosystem in the long-term—which they have. This lease agreement accomplishes the goal of environmental protection while allowing existing commercial activities.”

Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, had this to say in her blog:

One of the black clouds hanging over the Puget Sound Partnership’s celebration the other day was the bleak budgetary outlook. Optimism about the new plan is tempered by the knowledge that money will be hard to come by. Not to sound too naïve, but since it’s expensive to undo the harm that we’ve done to our Sound over the years, why would we proceed to do more? Saying “no” to a bad idea like the Maury Island gravel dock doesn’t restore the Sound to health, but at least it’s a pretty cost-effective way to avoid making things worse.

Maybe I’m also naïve to think that in a year when we lost seven more of our endangered orcas, most likely to starvation, responsible decision-makers would say no to a project that puts one of the whales’ favorite winter fishing grounds at risk. Perhaps the whales had heard what was up in Sutherland’s office on Tuesday, when they decided to spend that very day hanging out in the Vashon area—their first visit of the season.

Conditions of the lease include the following, according to the DNR:
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