Monthly Archives: March 2017

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    Lawmakers, Inslee honor Red Devils’ athleticism, academics

Lawmakers, Inslee honor Red Devils’ athleticism, academics

March 29th, 2017|

Gov. Jay Inslee joined Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, and Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, in honoring the Neah Bay Red Devils today for their unparalleled excellence on the athletic field and in the classroom.

Van De Wege’s Senate Resolution 8636 recognizes Neah Bay High School on two fronts: The Red Devils repeated as state football champions this season, notching their third state title in three years, and the school boasts a 100 percent graduation and athletic eligibility rate.

“What makes these championships even more impressive is to know that these student athletes’ excellence on the field is matched by excellence in the classroom,” Van De Wege said. “They stand as an example to student athletes in communities across our state and across our nation.”

More than 60 town leaders and residents of Neah Bay came to Olympia to be on hand as the lawmakers and governor presented Red Devils’ team members with the resolution in the Capitol Reception Room. Many postponed work on their halibut boats to attend the affair and sing ceremonial songs in honor of the occasion. Also in attendance was Dept. of Ecology Director Maia Bellon, whose nephew plays on the team.

“More than anything, I’m impressed by how this team achieved both academic and athletic success,” Tharinger said. “That takes a commitment not only from the students, but their families, teachers and the community. They’ve earned the title of champion in more than a football sense—the entire community is a champion.”

A number of players are multiple champions; one, Cameron Buzzell, has played on five state title teams including other sports in addition to football.

“It’s tough to become state champion once, so to win three years in a row demonstrates the dedication and hard work of these young men,” Chapman said. “It was a pleasure to follow their success throughout the season and I’m so happy they could come to the state capitol to celebrate.”

Overall, the team has won four state titles in football over the past six years.

“Nothing gives us greater honor than when you come to celebrate the great success of the Neah Bay community in education,” Inslee said. “I know this has not happened by accident. This happened by commitment and great leadership.”

You can see more photos from this event at this link.

We want a seven-day season for halibut fishing

March 3rd, 2017|

Two years ago, our regional halibut fishing season was reduced to just three days, with brutal consequences. The competition to harvest halibut in such a short window pushed businesses and employees to their limits and raised serious safety concerns. It was the kind of “accident waiting to happen” that we just can’t afford to repeat, and we know folks out there remain wary.

In that light, I’d like to share what I know from a meeting this morning with legislative staff and staff from the state Dept. of Fish & Wildlife. Though our halibut fishing season is determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission and implemented by the National Marine Fisheries, our state officials have significant input and have requested a seven-day season for this year.

Fish & Wildlife staff say approval of their request is likely and that the final determination will be announced later this month. So I think prospects for this season look good. If the commission approves Fish & Wildlife’s request, this year’s halibut fishing season will take place on May 4, 6, 11, 21 and 25 and on June 1 and 4. In addition, if the halibut quota has not been exhausted on those dates, the season could be extended; if so, the additional dates would be posted on the Fish & Wildlife website at

If you would like to voice your priorities for future halibut seasons, including even specific dates you believe might be best, Fish & Wildlife holds a public comment period every November. To receive notification of when that comment period will take place, you can sign up for Fish & Wildlife’s email listserv by emailing a request to Michele Culver at

Hirst ruling needs urgent clarification by Legislature

March 1st, 2017|

Last night I voted against Senate Bill 5239, a bill that would eliminate the role of local governments in determining whether water is legally available before a building permit for a home is issued. This change to the state’s arcane water regulations would essentially make it possible for someone to install a well even if the well reduces the water available to others, redirects water to which someone else has prior rights, or illegally reduces stream flows critical to fish habitat.

Though the bill passed the Senate on a 28-21 vote, I do not expect it to pass the House in this form. This is an issue that needs to be solved, and it will be solved — but not by the approach in SB 5239, which would eliminate the key component of the landmark Hirst decision that helped resolve critical questions over water rights.

The battle over water rights is an old one, and it is contentious and complex. On one side are landowners who want to develop their property, and on the other is the reality that our natural resources are finite and that new wells can divert water from other users. At the core of it all is Washington’s longstanding “first in time, first in right” law that gives senior water users priority over new applicants.

Some background: How We Got to Hirst

In 1990, the Legislature passed the Growth Management Act (GMA) to prevent sprawl and to focus growth in urban areas while preserving agricultural and resource lands. Among other things, the GMA requires counties to incorporate plans and development regulations to protect ground and surface water supplies; it also amended Subdivision Code to require that, in order to receive a building permit, the applicant must identify an available water supply to serve the uses of the building.

In 2016, the state Supreme Court held in the Hirst decision that Whatcom County did not comply with these GMA requirements. The court said the county must require building permit applicants to demonstrate water is legally available, not just physically available. Since groundwater in much of the Nooksack basin is in hydraulic continuity with surface waters, new well withdrawals have the potential to disrupt minimum flow standards adopted by regulation in 1985. Under the Water Code, such minimum flow is treated like a water right: “first in time, first in right.”

In the Hirst case, Whatcom County and the state Ecology Department argued that the 1985 rule expressly excluded smaller-use wells (such as for homes) from prohibitions on new withdrawals. The court, however, rejected this argument and found the rule did not address these “exempt” wells and that the county could not rely on the rule in determining if a well might impair minimum flow standards.

That left the question of whether or not counties have the information and capacity to determine the legal availability of water. Hydraulic continuity has not been mapped or assessed, and is costly and time consuming to perform. SB 5239 would eliminate any oversight of new, small wells that could impact other users.

This is an important issue that the Legislature must address in this session to enable property owners to build in rural areas but in ways that do not deprive other water users of their water rights. When I worked with other legislators to develop a Dungeness Water Program in 2014, we created a mechanism to fully mitigate the impact of new water well withdrawals by using old water rights that are no longer being used. This is an example of the type of mitigation approaches that might be employed elsewhere in the state to allow new development.

Though I am confident we will resolve this issue in this legislative session, I have to admit I don’t think it will happen before we first resolve the need to adequately fund our public schools.