Bill to overturn Whatcom water decision dead; oil safety bill still considered

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 28, 2014 

We are playing out a fast-paced game this season in Olympia that has not been much different than the Seattle Seahawk's Super Bowl win against the Denver Broncos. Like last year, we are heading up a relentless defense against over 100 bad bills. And, while we may not have gotten a safety on the first play, we have put together a strong offense on a number of bills.

As usual there are plenty of bills moving forward that either support or harm our efforts to create equitable sustainable communities. There are bills that would ensure access to transportation choices and affordable housing and there are bills that would enable sprawling development and threaten our farmlands and water resources. Here's a rundown of how some of the major issues playing out amidst the flurry of session activity.

Futurewise worked hard to kill HB 2288, which would have limited the Growth Management Hearings Board from reviewing whether there is adequate rural water supply for expanding rural land uses. This bill was directed at our recent win in Whatcom County. In 2013, the Growth Management Hearings Board determined that local governments are required to adopt regulations that protect the quantity and quality of the water in our rivers, lakes, and streams and in our aquifers. If HB 2288 had passed it would have removed the requirement that land use policies and regulations be in place to protect water quality, water for farmers, and water for fish and wildlife and humans.

Futurewise and our key environmental partners also worked to stop HB 2187, which would have delayed the date by which counties participating in the voluntary stewardship program must revise their critical areas ordinance on agricultural lands. After many years of negotiations, local governments, agricultural interests and the environmental community agreed to the creation of the Voluntary Stewardship Program to protect critical areas. This bill would have threatened the coalition of agriculture, environmental and county advocates that came together to develop the Voluntary Stewardship Program and it would have threatened further delay to protecting shellfish and salmon habitat and promoting a strong agricultural economy.

In addition to these bills, we are helping move forward SB 6060, which would require counties and cities to include water plans of certain water districts in their comprehensive plans, ensuring better coordination between land use planning and water resources.

And we are working with the Environmental Priorities Coalition to help pass HB 2347, the Oil Transportation Safety Act. This bill takes concrete steps towards protecting our communities and waterways by increasing penalties for reckless boat operators, and it increases transparency of oil moving by rail, pipeline and vessel. The bill if passed sets up a process to identify prevention and response gaps statewide, and it begins adapting our oil spill prevention system in Puget Sound, the outer coast and Columbia River to the new ways oil is now moved.

Unfortunately, we were not successful on a couple of key bills that would have been good for our communities. We worked on a vesting bill this session that made it out of committee but died on the house floor. Vesting is when a permit to build is applied for and the development laws "freeze" to what was in place at the time the permit was filed - regardless of whether the development law was valid or not. In Spokane County last year, over 600 lots were allowed to vest after the county passed an invalid urban growth expansion, allowing further sprawl into our rural and farm lands. This bill would have helped close this long-standing loophole and allowed communities to seek a stay on development vesting if there are concerns about the law's validity.

We also were unable to move HB 2349. HB 2349 would have added another tool in the local government funding toolbox to facilitate affordable and sustainable infill development by creating "value capture financing," which leverages the increased value of infrastructure investments. We will be bringing it back again next year.

It has been a busy session - with ups and downs - but progress is being made to make our communities stronger and healthier and our environment safer.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Kelsey Beck is a Futurewise state lobbyist, Hilary Franz is Futurewise executive director and Ryan Ericson is Whatcom Community deputy director. Futurewise is a statewide land-use advocacy organization with a chapter in Whatcom County. Futurewise, futurewise.org/Whatcom, works to promote healthy communities and cities while protecting working farms, working forests, and shorelines.

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