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New group to challenge water rule

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by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette


This week about 2,800 Clallam County citizens will receive a postcard urging them to join an effort to amend the Dungeness Water Rule. The rule, which was debated for more than 20 years, has been in effect since Jan. 2.

 

The mailing was put together by the Olympic Resource Protection Council, with funding provided by the North Peninsula Building Association.

 

Greg McCarry, a local builder, said the cards represent the launch of the organization’s fundraising program.

 

McCarry serves on the council’s board, along with Port Angeles businessman Kaj Ahlburg and NPBA Executive Director FaLewana Wech.

 

The council has incorporated and is now seeking IRS approval as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

 

McCarry and his fellow board members had announced their plan to challenge the rule when it was first published, saying they were seeking $100,000 for a legal fund.

 

He said since that time they haven’t been actively seeking funding and have instead concentrated on creating the organization and establishing a “meeting of the minds” on the organization’s goals.

 

Among those goals, McCarry said, is an expansion of the board to from three to perhaps seven-to-nine members.

 

Ahlburg said the 501(c)(3) designation is suitable because the organization won’t “advocate for or against any candidate or legislative measure. We’re going to advocate for responsible stewardship of the environment.”

 

He said that begins with educating the public.

 

Ahlburg and McCarry agreed that in addition to education, the organization hopes to move Ecology to formulate a more reasonable rule — one with local control.

 

“The mechanics are really up to Ecology and how they choose to respond to our efforts,” McCarry said. “We actually hope that we can sit down at the table. If we have to go the ultimate — to litigation — we’ll do that. But we’re hoping they’ll come to the table and talk.”

 

McCarry said he’s confident that by providing further education to the public they will drum up the necessary support from Clallam County residents.

 

Either way, they should know soon. “We selected enough to give us a fairly good measure to determine what kind of response we’re going to get,” McCarry said.

 

“We’ll be able to gauge the momentum in 30-60 days.”

Amend, not delete

McCarry said they’re not seeking to see the rule tossed.

 

“We’re accepting the fact that there’s a rule,” he said. “Our primary purpose is to move this to local control. We want to see an elected body of officials who are responsible for the oversight of the whole program.”

 

McCarry said responsibility for the program will most likely fall to the county commissioners: “The fact that we can elect county commissioners means that people can make their feelings known to whoever is elected.”

 

McCarry added that while a lawsuit remains a possibility, “It is our least-preferred alternative. But it’s a strategy that we feel that we have to pursue if we can’t work out something reasonable to get local control, which is our primary goal.”

 

Ahlburg, who has been involved with the issue since he moved to the peninsula eight years ago, said Ecology has “proven completely unresponsive to any requests for changes from the public.”

 

He added that Ecology also failed to engage with local public officials who sought answers to their concerns.

 

“We feel that unless there is a threat that the rule might be overturned, which would have bad precedential effects for Ecology, they’re unlikely to sit down and discuss this in a good faith fashion.”

 

Ahlburg said details regarding the rule’s implementation continue to change. “It seems like every time we get a printed document that represents responses to questions, we get different information.”

 

He noted that at the Jan. 17 public meeting hosted by Ecology in Sequim, those present were told that a domestic water certificate would cover all of the use of water in a home. The amount used was largely immaterial.

 

More recently the Washington Water Trust, which will handle the processing of the certificates, has said they expect homeowners to sign a contract that limits water use to 65 gallons per day per person. “And,” Ahlberg added, “you’re required to report yourself to Ecology if you use more.”

 

“When you hear details, it seems it’s always worse than the last time.”

 

He added that in recent days he was surprised to learn that certificates for outdoor water won’t allow for watering livestock.

 

“You have to negotiate a separate agreement every time someone wants a pony.”

 

Ahlburg said he believes the rule is vulnerable because it “arguably exceeds Ecology’s authority, including setting as a minimum (river flow) levels that have never been achieved.”

 

“There have also been significant procedural problems, including problems with their cost-benefit analysis. They seem to be making up benefits and ignoring costs to make the scales work out. That’s not the way state law allows.”

 

He said filing suit in Thurston Superior Court, where Ecology’s headquarters are located, might be a first step. But any decision at that level would likely be appealed.

 

“If you attack the procedural elements of the rule, you have two years,” to file he said. “December 2014. But we have no intention of waiting that long.”

 

For more information, call McCarry at 509-0633 or see www.olympicresourcepc.org.


Reach Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.
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