Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Know Your Government: WA Energy Facility Site Council

by February 24th, 2011

WHO, WHAT, WHY: The Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council was created by the legislature in 1970 to consolidate state agency reviews of proposals for new or expanded energy facilities, needed for deciding whether or not they will get official permits for construction and operation. The council issues or denies energy facility permits with authority from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under federal clean water and air laws. The council’s portfolio includes proposals for large natural gas and oil pipelines, larger electric plants, and new oil refineries. Alternative energy projects involving proposals for wind, solar, tidal, biomass or geothermal power facilities may opt for Council review of their plans. (Hydro-electric power facilities in Washington state are not regulated by the council; they are overseen by a separate federal agency called the Bonneville Power Agency.) The Council’s chairperson is appointed by the Governor, and the five members represent the Washington state departments of Commerce, Ecology, Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources, and the Utilities and Transportation Commission.

CURRENT WORK HIGHLIGHTS: The council has one proposal currently for which approval is being sought: the Whistling Ridge Energy Project, of up to 50 wind turbines on 1,152 acres of forested land on Saddleback Mountain in Skamania County.

Four more facilities it oversees are already licensed, permitted and operating. They are:

City Of Toppenish Agrees To $134,500 EPA Fine On Clean Water Act Citations For Wastewater Plant Outflows

by February 14th, 2011

SUMMARY: Under a proposed Consent Agreement and Final Order, the City of Toppenish, Wash. would pay the U.S. Treasury $134,500 to settle civil penalties for allegations by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency that outflows of ammonia, copper and zinc from its wastewater treatment plant exceeded its national permit standards under the Clean Water Act regulatory framework – 1,806 times from June, 2008 through May, 2010. The final order and proposed civil penalty would become effective after the public comment period closes on March 7, 2011 and if no changes in the order result from comments received. Toppenish in June 2010 completed the bulk of a $13 million upgrade to its treatment plant and city officials say they are now more than meeting the permit standards which had been at issue previously.

U.S. Oil To Pay $230,000 For Alleged Goofs In Benzene Waste Reporting At Tacoma Refinery

by February 4th, 2011

SUMMARY: Under a consent decree finalized this week in the U.S. District Court of Western Washington, U.S. Oil will pay a $230,000 fine split between the United States government and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, in response to a complaint alleging the company failed to properly report benzene waste production levels at its Tacoma, Wash. refinery. Under the agreement the company will also spend about $746,000 for four voluntary pollution control projects; and will have to follow strict guidelines for future measurements, calculations, reporting, and attempts to meet a standard of 10 mega-grams per year in total annual benzene content from wastes at the site.

Wildlife Refuge Locator: Online Guide To Washington, U.S.

by January 28th, 2011

SUMMARY: A U.S. government online compendium provides convenient access on a state-by-state basis to official Web pages of national wildlife refuges. The Web guide to these facilities may be used for day-trip and vacation planning, as background information for visitors, and a research resource. In Washington state, there are 23 national wildlife refuges featuring a wide range of habitats and species.

BACKGROUND: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge Locator is an online map-based interface allowing users to click on any of the 50 states for a map-based aggregation of links to official USFWS Web pages of national wildlife refuges in those state. We take a look here at what the database tells us about national wildlife refuges in Washington state.

KEY LINK: National Wildlife Refuge Locator, Washington State, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Drumheller Channels, Columbia National Wildlife Refuge

USER INSTRUCTIONS: From the National Wildlife Refuge Locator hub, which displays a map of all 50 states, click directly on Washington. That will take you to the Locator’s Washington state map page. There, click directly on the typed name of any refuge (not the nearby map dot). You will arrive at a page with an overview of the site, a description of its location and a shortcut to Google Maps for more precise location data and customized directions. Each overview page includes a link to the refuge’s full Web site, for further information.

KEY FINDINGS

Washington State has 23 National Wildlife Refuges. Most, though not all, have sections which are open to visitors for hiking and respectful observation of species and natural environments. Overviews of several follow.

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge on the Olympic Peninsula features a 5.5-mile long spit which can be hiked to the end, where a lighthouse and museum are open to visitors. The refuge gained protected status in 1915 at the behest of President Woodrow Wilson. It has been visited by some 250 recorded species of birds, 41 land mammal and eight marine mammal species. Black Brant geese proliferate in April, and harbor seals give birth to pups at the end of the spit. The refuge is especially popular with families, and is accessed by a short hike through a wooded area.

Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is considered an especially unspoiled estuary. It has more than 260 square miles of water surfaces and varied ecosystems such as salt marshes, tideflats, old growth forest, and coastal dunes and beaches. Brown pelicans, marbled murrelets, bald eagles and great blue herons are on view.

The Julia Butler Hansen Refuge For The Columbia White-Tailed Deer comprises 5,600 acres along the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon. It includes pastures, forested tidal swamps and marshes. In addition to the namesake deer, it is home to wintering birds, elk, river otter, painted turtles, red-legged frogs, nesting eagles and osprey.

Columbia National Wildlife Refuge features cliffs, canyons, lakes and sagebrush grasslands. It was carved out by long-ago fires, ice, floods and volcanic activity, and sits amidst the Drumheller Channelled Scablands, which include the dramatically eroded Drumheller Channels, named a National Natural Landmark. Among bird species prevalent are mallard ducks, Canada geese and tundra swans.

South Kirkland Transit-Oriented Mixed-Use Project Advancing; But Fate Still Uncertain

by January 18th, 2011

SUMMARY: The cities of Kirkland and Bellevue have approved an agreement outlining principles to guide the development of the South Kirkland Park and Ride into a regional transit, commercial and housing hub intended to boost transit usage and model the benefits of transit-oriented development. Following upcoming public hearings and final amendments to the development plan, a $6.25 million federal grant could be released and would help cover some of the costs of adding 250 new parking spaces to the current 600 spaces which are at capacity now. 200 housing multifamily housing units are also planned, and 12,500 square feet of commercial space. If private and perhaps non-profit investors can partner on the housing, then the expanded parking component of the development plan can be fully funded; otherwise, not. Demand for commuter parking at the transit hub is likely to increase as tolling begins this spring on the nearby State Route 520 bridge, and then reconstruction of the bridge follows.

Expert Review Panel To WA State: Aggressive Finance Plan Needed For 1-405/State Route 167 Mega-Project

by January 17th, 2011

SUMMARY: The 40-mile-plus Interstate 405/State Route 167 is already badly congested and will get worse as population grows over the next 20 years unless a planned $1.95 billion tolling and demand management mega-project is funded and completed. Even under tolling of the full corridor, there will be a funding gap of $685 million to $1.2 billion which policymakers must address. New taxes and/or borrowing or private investment would be needed as well.

The project would add electronic-only express toll lanes and manage peak-hour traffic demand. Aggressive tolling strategies are needed to help the project succeed – including few or limited toll exemptions for private vehicles unless they are carrying three or more passengers.

A new more pervasive approach to tolling technology is recommended, with photo enforcement to deter payment evasion and a requirement that all in-region drivers have “Good To Go” electronic tolling accounts and dashboard-mounted “transponders” which are read by overhead highway panels.

Well Water Around Ephrata Landfill Poses “Low To Very Low” Added Risk Of Cancer; Vinyl Chloride Still A Concern

by January 10th, 2011

SUMMARY: In the nearly 70 years since it opened, management of potential environmental risks at and from the Ephrata landfill in Central Washington state has gradually improved. In recent years, public health authorities have been addressing the aftermath of the officially-sanctioned dumping in 1975 by Grant County there of about 2,300 barrels of industrial waste. A recent health consultation report from the Washington Department of Health finds concentrations at levels of concern in private well water within a mile of the site, of benzene, dicloroethane and especially vinyl chloride. DOH says there is a low to very low added risk of cancer for users of private wells within a mile of the landfill, but warns little is known about the combined effects of such chemicals. They recommend further monitoring and public education.

6,000 New Homes Mean Six New Schools In Black Diamond

by January 4th, 2011

SUMMARY: The Black Diamond City Council is poised to approve an agenda bill Jan. 6 granting final authorization to the mayor to sign a comprehensive school mitigation agreement between the city, the Enumclaw School District, and the developer of two new master planned communities which will result in 6,000 new dwelling units and require construction of six new schools, three elementary, two middle, and one high school. The developer will provide land for the schools in exchange for mitigation fee credits, but taxpayers will have to approve the issuance of public debt to pay for construction.

BACKGROUND: Following legally-required environmental analysis and public hearing, the Black Diamond City Council City in September 2010 approved two master planned developments which will result in construction of 6,000 new residential units, The Villages and Lawson Hills. Public schools in Black Diamond, a city in southeastern King County, are operated by the Enumclaw School District, which covers several municipalities in a large suburban-rural area. Under a Comprehensive School Mitigation Agreement approved by the city of Black Diamond and the Enumclaw School District, the developer, Yarrow Bay, will ensure properties are secured within the new communities for new schools that will be required to serve the new population. Yarrow Bay is ready to sign the agreement following final revisions.

KEY LINK: Agenda Bill Authorizing Mayor To Sign Comprehensive School Mitigation Agreement with Enumclaw School District and Yarrow Bay developers; Black Diamond City Council, 1/6/11.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • The two new master planned developments called The Villages and Lawson Hills will generate a substantial new population of school-age children who cannot be served at existing schools in the Black Diamond area.
  • Based on formulas predicting the number of students in various age groups who will reside in the 3,430 single-family homes and 920 apartments/town homes, there will need to be built: three new elementary schools with 450 students each; two middle schools with 550 students each; and one high school with 1,200 students.
  • To serve the new students, neighborhood schools are preferred so they can walk or bike to school and reduce transportation service needs and associated environmental impacts. Initial locations have been identified for the new schools, but may shift somewhat depending on various factors.
  • The developer Yarrow Bay will convey properties to the Enumclaw School District for construction of the needed new schools in exchange for credits against the so-called “mitigation fees” which are typically assessed in monetary form by cities on developers to compensate for the local government fiscal impacts resulting from new residential communities or units.
  • Paying for construction of the new schools will fall to taxpayers, who will be asked to support passage of school construction bond issues (the issuance of public debt to individual and institutional lenders). The city, school district and developer will “support and encourage” passage of necessary construction bond issues in the near and long-term. (Public entities cannot advocate a “yes” or “no’ vote on any ballot measure, but may provide objective information for the public, and public officials when they are “off the clock” may campaign directly).