Freshmen U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck promised Tuesday that they’ll do their best to sustain former Congressman Norm Dicks’ drive to clean up Puget Sound.
“Together our feet aren’t big enough to fill the shoes of Norm Dicks and what he has done to improve the health of Puget Sound,” said Heck, D-Olympia, “but we’re here to see how we can advance our movements forward.”
At a field hearing held at Tacoma’s Center for Urban Waters, Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, called the restoration of Puget Sound “both a moral and an economic necessity.” Kilmer replaced Dicks, who retired in 2012 after representing the 6th Congressional District for nearly four decades.
In 2009, when Dicks was chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on the interior, environment and related agencies, he raised the budget for Puget Sound-related work to a high of $50 million — 100 times what it had been the previous decade.
During more than two hours of testimony Tuesday, the heads of federal and state environmental agencies and Indian tribes summarized achievements, which they said included the restoration of miles of wetlands and other shoreline habitat; improvements in the handling of stormwater runoff; and the removal of invasive species, creosoted docks and pilings, and derelict vessels.
But they told the congressmen that continued vigilance, and a continued flow of federal money, is critical for success.
“It’s not like putting out a fire,” said Bill Ruckelshaus, former administrator of the EPA and former chair of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council. “We’ve got to stay everlastingly at it.”
Several who testified said more money needs to be allocated for scientific monitoring. Getting money for restoration projects has been relatively easy lately, they said, but finding money for monitoring results has been nearly impossible.
Another consistent problem with the restoration effort, several who testified said, is that a sizeable portion of the public is still either unaware or unconvinced that a problem exists.
At the Center for Urban Waters, which overlooks the Thea Foss Waterway, a parade of pleasure boats headed back and forth from Commencement Bay.
“How can you say, looking out here, that everything is not hunky-dory?” said Randy Kinley, representing Lummi Nation. “The problem is below the sunny surface.”
Heck said he believes that is indeed a central issue.
“You have to convince the people,” Heck said, “and what you need to convince the people is a convincing message. Distilling the message is something we can make a lot of progress on.”Rob Carson: 253-597-8693 rob.carson@ thenewstribune.com