Sunday, November 9, 2008

Better Fishing to Come?

Agency releases Puget Sound cleanup proposal

SEATTLE -- The Washington state agency charged with cleaning up Puget Sound released an ambitious list of fix-its Thursday that includes buying up critical land, restoring estuaries and promoting low-impact development.
The Puget Sound Partnership's draft action agenda outlines steps the state should take to meet the goal of restoring and protecting the sound by 2020.
David Dicks, the agency's executive director, said the total bill for improvements won't be known until the draft is adopted later this month and presented to lawmakers by Dec. 1.
The agency plans to ask for $200 million to $300 million in the state's 2009-11 biennium budget for initial projects. That's on top of $570 million the state now spends per biennium on cleanup efforts.
Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for Gov. Chris Gregoire, said cleaning up the sound is a top priority but "it's way too early to say" whether she'll include that amount in her budget.
The state is facing a projected $3.2 billion budget deficit.
Gregoire and lawmakers created the agency last year to figure out what threatens the sound and how to fix it.
One of the biggest threats is stormwater runoff. Two state Department of Ecology reports released Thursday blame people's everyday activities - not industrial pollution or municipal wastewater discharges - as the main sources of the 52 million pounds of toxic chemicals, such as oil, PCBs and heavy metals, that end up in the sound each year.
"We've got to stop the bleeding," Dicks said. "We've got to deal with the onslaught ... of toxic chemicals still getting into the sound."
He said the most pressing goals are to protect remaining ecologically sensitive lands and curb the stormwater pollution through low-impact development.
The draft agenda for cleaning Washington's inland marine waters and the surrounding land includes proposals to advocate for more wilderness designation, require conditional use permits for bulkheads and docks and set up no-discharge zones for vessel sewage.
Among the more immediate fixes, the agency plans to use one-fourth of the $12 million in federal money it already has secured to finish removing dikes and restoring 762 acres of the Nisqually River Estuary between Tacoma and Olympia. It also wants to find state money to speed up the removal of two dams on the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula to allow fish passage.
The agency will refine the plan and develop a list of priorities after taking public comments through Nov. 20, Dicks said.
"We know we need to control storm water, stop destroying habitat, restore dams, get toxics out of waters," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for the Puget Sound.
"What's been impeding progress over the years is lack of funding and accountability."
Dicks said his agency will look for ways to redirect existing resources. The agency is also considering creating an improvement district for Puget Sound to raise money.
On the Net:
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