The ongoing stalemate at our state Capitol over water rights has claimed a lot of state-funded projects as hostages, or collateral damage. One especially good project — both environmental and educational — is along Henderson Inlet north of Olympia and Lacey.
Failure to pass a two-year construction budget is to blame. And the Senate Republican coalition is to blame for taking the state’s $4 billion capital budget as a hostage. The Republicans did it after House Democrats refused to accept GOP proposals to reverse part of a state Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hirst water rights case.
We’ve said before that the capital budget hostages should be freed. We’ve also said that Democrats should must keep working on a water-rights measure that takes into account impacts of the Hirst court ruling on rural areas, while staying mindful of why the Supreme Court ruled as it did.
So far, there is little sign of progress on either negotiation front. Perhaps the loss of hundreds of projects — some like the “Inspiring Kids Preserve” along Henderson Inlet — can demonstrate some of the hidden cost of legislative inaction.
The Henderson Inlet project needs about $610,000 more to conserve another 50 acres of tideland not already under the control of nonprofit and nonpartisan Capitol Land Trust. The trust would leverage the approximately 50 acres it owns to create a an educational learning center open to students during the week. And in a move that reflects a big shift in the way the Capitol Land Trust sees its role, it would open this new area for the public to enjoy for educational and recreational purposes on weekends.
The land trust has a record of improvising to get things done. So we’re not counting out that group’s effort — even if lawmakers remain bull-headed and fail to settle squabbles over water law.
But odds are stacked against the project, which can’t wait forever to buy the land.
The project would enlist North Thurston Public Schools in a terrific public-private partnership. It is an echo of another Capitol Land Trust purchase of the Bayshore Preserve near Shelton in 2014. That project along Oakland Bay converted a former golf course property into a learning center that included restoration of a creek and estuary.
The Pacific Education Institute has partnered with the land trust to bring in students from Shelton public schools for hands-on learning in STEM fields (science-technology-engineering-math) at Bayshore.
Several groups have been lined up as partners for the first phase of the 100-acre “Inspiring Kids” project. These include the Squaxin Island Tribe, Taylor Shellfish Farms, the state Department of Ecology, state Recreation and Conservation Office, and The Trust for Public Land. The second phase involves other groups including schools once funding for the remaining land parcel is completed.
Losing the capital budget has slowed or stopped dozens of other worthy projects around the state. Among them are proposals for conservation of environmentally sensitive lands and emergency response projects like the new National Guard readiness center scheduled to replace outdated armories in Olympia and Puyallup.
Republicans have countered Democratic concerns about the economic impacts of the stalled construction budget. They say the water well ruling is stalling development in some rural areas of the state. The actual impacts of the ruling are in some dispute, but the Building Industry Association of Washington hired Bellevue-based consultant HR2 Research and Analytics to estimate those impacts.
The HR2 report painted a worst case scenario, estimating yearly economic costs of 9,300 jobs in rural areas, $4.59 billion in construction spending, and millions in lost tax revenue for state and local governments.
But two wrongs don’t make a right, as the saying goes. In this case, taking the capital budget hostage just robs the whole state of jobs, educational facilities, habitat conservation, and recreational opportunities all across the state.
The water well issue is truly complicated. To solve the challenges posed by the Hirst case, legislators and advocates must agree to account for the uncertainty that looms over water supply in Washington — in a way the courts will accept. That means accounting for how much water is really available for fish, agriculture, cities and rural homeowners in less wet parts of the state. The GOP’s legislative approach did not do enough.
Democrats need to provide a reasonable way for locals to determine the adequacy of water without putting all of the onus on individual property owners.
Obviously in the case of the Henderson Inlet project, the Senate didn’t make anything better by taking hostages.