by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Approximately 300 Clallam residents, joined by a sizable contingent from Jefferson County, gathered in the sanctuary of Sequim Community Church on Thursday, June 28, to ask questions and to voice their opinions about the proposed Dungeness Water Management Rule.
A show of hands revealed perhaps 99 percent of those in attendance don’t like it.
Dan Partridge, a spokesman for the Department of Ecology, which hosted the open house, said the percentages weren’t unusual. “It would be unusual for people who support the rule to come out to something like this,” he said.
Ann Wessel, instream flow rule lead for the agency, said, “You take what you get.”
Ecology had originally planned to host the open house at the Guy Cole Center but moved it to the larger venue to handle the anticipated crowds.
The doors opened at 3:30 p.m. with a face-to-face session, providing local residents with an opportunity to buttonhole individual agency staffers. Partridge said the turnout was excellent. “They started getting here before we opened,” he said. “They’re engaged.”
As many as two dozen of those in attendance took the microphone during the two-hour formal question-and-answer period.
That was followed by the formal hearing, which began at 8 p.m. and lasted more than two hours.
Through the public sessions just one person, Hal Beecher, spoke in favor of the rule. Beecher, an instream flow specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said his agency supports the passage of the rule.
Others weren’t so supportive.
Sequim Realtor Dick Pilling said the rule’s “draconian limitations will result in economic damage and lawsuits.”
He said the rule, which seeks in part to ensure that private wells don’t result in any further deterioration of flows in area streams, is “a solution in desperate search of a problem.”
“If there are effects they would be minimal,” he said.
Diane Johnson, representing Chimacum Grange #681, said she attended the meeting to present “a voice of caution on behalf of agriculture in the Dungeness basin.”
She said a similar rule in the Chimacum valley “has killed the opportunity to develop new uses for old agricultural land and small, niche growing operations in the rural residential five-, ten- and 20-acre parcels.”
Wayne King, who serves on the Jefferson County Public Utilities District board, also testified about Jefferson County’s woes. “Congratulations, DOE, for destroying the Chimacum basin,” he said. King told the audience, “Don’t let up … they make it up as they go.”
Johnson said she and some of the other speakers from WRIA 17 were there “in part” to provide themselves with standing in any lawsuit that may arise from the Dungeness rule.
Sheila Miller, Clallam County Director of Community Development, also provided testimony on the rule, saying it should be reworked to make it more “user-friendly” for the common person.
She noted that those in several occupations would take an economic hit from the rule, including “lending institutions, Realtors, septic designers, well drillers and contractors, to name a few.”
She also asked Ecology to address the reduction in tax revenues that will result “due to the drop in assessment values.”
Under the new rule, those who now have a well and are putting the water to “beneficial use” will be unaffected by the rule unless they put their water to a new use. Realtor Margaret Glover asked if a new swimming pool would constitute a new use.
Wessel responded that it would be a new use, drawing groans from the audience.
Speaking on behalf of the Port Angeles Business Association, Kaj Ahlburg said the economic analyses accompanying the rule are incomplete. For example, he said, the analyses ignore the effect on “the local economy, jobs and tax revenues due to decreased demand for land, building, well drilling and landscaping.”
Ecology will continue taking comments on the rule through July 9. For more information on the rule, see http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/instream-flows/dungeness.html.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.