Long-sought rules to prevent Lake Whatcom pollution face opposition

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 21, 2013 

If approved on Tuesday, July 23, new rules for containing phosphorus pollution around Lake Whatcom would signal the end of an eight-year moratorium on small lots in that watershed. But the rules, which would require all newly developed lots to be "phosphorus neutral," are being resisted by some Whatcom County Council and community members.

Council member Sam Crawford said the burden of reducing phosphorus in the lake should not fall exclusively on home builders. The rules call for stormwater controls that reduce phosphorus levels to the amount that would have come from the same lot had it remained forested.

Bellingham's water diversion system, which runs into the lake from the middle fork Nooksack River, is responsible for about 10 percent of the phosphorus pollution in Lake Whatcom, Crawford said on July 9 at a council committee meeting.

"That is a huge chunk of it," Crawford said, adding he agreed with council member Barbara Brenner, who said the proposed rules unduly micromanage property owners without necessarily meeting pollution reduction requirements anyhow.

"Something's messed up here," Crawford said. "There's a sense that (the state Department of) Ecology's looking at development as an evil thing and just has blinders on about the rest of it."

County planner Peter Gill pushed for the regulations on new development because council had said in 2010 that it wanted stormwater rules that were more effective.

"The diversion doesn't change that issue," Gill said.

Council also heard on July 9 from Perry Eskridge of the Whatcom County Association of Realtors. He said a stormwater system on a $20,000 lot in Sudden Valley could cost about $30,000. By his math, that amounts to a government "taking" of private property.

"If you're going to impose regulations that take property value to zero, I think it's time for the government to just pony up and buy it," Eskridge said.

Council will meet in committee to discuss the Lake Whatcom stormwater rules at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the courthouse, 311 Grand Ave. A vote on the rules is scheduled for the 7 p.m. meeting on Tuesday.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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