The Washington Conservation Corps might get a more visible presence in the western part of the state under a bill heard in the Senate Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee on Monday.
Senate Bill 5230, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, would consolidate the conservation corps administration from several agencies into the Ecology Department, use those savings to create about 150 more paid corps positions by 2013 and set up a new branch of the corps centered around Puget Sound ecology.
“We know that we can’t clean up and recover the Sound without boots on the ground,” said Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, who helped develop the proposal. “This legislation will help that come to pass.”
The Washington Conservation Corps is a state-run program that hires and provides on-the-job training people ages 18 to 25 to work in environmental assessment, toxics cleanup, and air and water quality, among other programs. Members receive an hourly wage, and, after working for a year, they get a $5,350 award they can use to help pay for college.
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Currently, much of the work done by the Washington Conservation Corps focuses on Eastern Washington and mountainous regions, including trail maintenance, emergency response and salmon-recovery work, though there are also current corps projects in most western counties, said Bryan Flint, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Department.
The new Puget Sound Corps would help carry out the agenda of the Puget Sound Partnership, the Tacoma-based state agency charged with developing action plans for cleaning up the Sound.
Flint said this could involve removing derelict vessels and creosote-treated pilings and doing upstream cleanup to prevent polluted runoff from reaching the Sound.
“I’ve heard no opposition; I’ve got bipartisan support. I hope this bill sails through,” said Ranker, D-San Juan Islands.
Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester, a Republican co-sponsor of the bill, said he thought creating a Puget Sound Corps would help bring in federal funding for conservation efforts in the state.
“I think the Puget Sound component is brilliant and it will attract funds that might not come otherwise,” he said.
Goldmark agreed that the Environmental Protection Agency has been paying attention to Puget Sound Restoration, which could put the new corps in a good position to attract grant money.
According to the bill’s fiscal note, it would cost the Ecology Department about $5 million more per year, which will come from shifting appropriations to ecology from the Natural Resources Department and through an inter-agency agreement with the Natural Resources Department, which will be able to cut five full-time administrative positions.
A companion bill to SB 5230 was introduced by Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and is scheduled to have a hearing in the House Environment Committee on Thursday.