Partnership hopes to jump-start recovery efforts

For the past 20 years, efforts to clean up and protect Puget Sound have been directed by the state, resulting in a mixed bag filled with as much failure as success.

A new approach is in the works to help Puget Sound water quality and marine life recover from the vagaries of habitat loss, pollution and population growth.

The Puget Sound Partnership, a 17-member, public and private work group appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in December 2005 to rejuvenate Puget Sound cleanup efforts, has among its tasks figuring out how to govern the cleanup and hold government agencies, volunteer groups and the private sector accountable for their actions.

"We need accountability - a place where people's heads roll if we don't get action," said Kathy Fletcher, a member of the partnership and executive director of the conservation group People for Puget Sound.

Fletcher is no stranger to the issue. From 1985 to 1990, she chaired the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, the first government body charged with managing the Puget Sound cleanup.

But as with its successor, the Puget Sound Action Team, another state effort that's been housed in the governor's office since 1996, the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority never had any authority. It and the action team made recommendations without enforcement tools and were limited to dealing with state agencies.

In whatever emerges in the months ahead, Gregoire has made it clear it needs to be more than state agencies driving the Puget Sound cleanup bus.

"The Puget Sound Water Quality Authority and Puget Sound Action Team have no authority over anybody - state or local," the governor said. "And I don't think state government should be directing the cleanup."

If not state government, who should be in charge?

One possibility would be for the governor to appoint an independent group akin to a university board of regents, representing a wide range of Puget Sound interests, including citizens, business, government, tribes and others.

The group would need to be high-powered and insulated from the day-to-day activities of the cleanup, suggested Brad Ack, executive director of the Puget Sound Action Team.

Deciding what cleanup and restoration projects get funded could be the work of a funding board akin to the state's Salmon Recovery Funding Board, which also would represent a wide range of Puget Sound interests.

Projects would have to meet measurable goals to receive funding, Ack said.

There also is emerging interest in locally based committees or groups that work on the cleanup plan inlet by inlet, similar to the watershed-based approach used for Puget Sound chinook recovery.

The watershed approach has worked for salmon recovery, and it's a good model for bringing back Puget Sound, said Jeff Koenings, state Department of Fish and Wildlife director. "It's how we do this that will get acceptance from people," Koenings said. "There has to be a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach to get people to buy in."

"We need to break Puget Sound into smaller pieces," agreed state Department of Ecology Director Jay Manning. "If you work on it inlet by inlet, it's easier to tackle the problem."

"When you localize the cleanup effort, you get more support," added Bill Taylor, a South Sound commercial shellfish grower and member of the Puget Sound Partnership.

Local government needs to be a major player in the new government structure, said Doug Mah, an Olympia city councilman who also serves on the Puget Sound Council, which directs the Puget Sound Action Team.

"Each inlet has its own unique problems and priorities," Mah said. "Local government is better positioned for inlet-based solutions."

But somebody has to knit all the inlet work together and hold people's feet to the fire, Fletcher said in favor of some sort of regional authority. At the same time, Taylor and other members of the partnership are fearful of negative public reaction if the Puget Sound cleanup authority is viewed as just another layer of bureaucracy.

When asked who should control the Puget Sound cleanup effort, responses from The Olympian's electronic Reader Network were all over the map.

"We don't need another government agency created to spend the money that could be used to get something done," said Tenino resident Walter H. Olsen.

"We don't need more governing structure, we need more involvement in the efforts under way and more dollars appropriated to the task," said Randy McIntosh, who lives on a sailboat moored in Budd Inlet.

Others are willing to try something new. "We probably need a Regional Authority that will bring together, state, tribal, county and municipal governments in a democratic structure," said Paul Pickett, an environmental engineer and Thurston Public Utility District commissioner. "It should be given taxation powers, eminent domain and specific authority to ensure coordination and consistency of state and federal environmental and land use laws."

"A citizen group whose pockets are not full of lobbyist dollars," offered South Sound resident Ann Stewart.

It would be folly to create a new governing structure that doesn't have state government playing a major role, said James Romero of Lacey.

"The smartest move that the governor could make is to structure the team that will oversee the project from start to finish," he said. "It's an opportunity for the governor to become the nation's heroine by rescuing Puget Sound from habitat loss and pollution with her state government leading the way."

The Puget Sound Partnership is expected to offer a recommen dation on how to govern Puget Sound recovery in its November report to Gregoire.

Sound work

For more information about the Puget Sound Action Team, visit www.psat.wa.gov.

To learn about Gov. Chris Gregoire's Puget Sound Partnership, visit www.pugetsoundpartnership.org.