The Washington Conservation Corps could be headed in a new direction - straight to Puget Sound - if several key legislators and state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark have their way.
Bills introduced in House and Senate committees call for a consolidation of corps administration from several agencies into the state Department of Ecology, with additional federal money to create about 150 new corps positions.
In turn, a new branch of the Washington Conservation Corps would focus solely on cleanup and habitat restoration projects in troubled Puget Sound.
The proposal would help focus much-needed attention on Puget Sound health at a time when natural resource agencies are being asked to absorb major budget and program cuts.
There are no additional state costs tied to the move. All the costs are federal funds that the state Department of Natural Resources will seek to hire the Puget Sound Corps housed at Ecology.
The WCC is a state program that hires young adults ages 18 to 25 to work on a variety of natural resource projects, everything from trail maintenance to salmon habitat restoration projects to response to natural disasters. Members receive a minimum hourly wage — and if they complete a year of duty they receive a $5,350 award they can use to help pay for college.
The program has been around since 1983 and is patterned after the original Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s.
“We know that we can’t clean up and recover the Sound without boots on the ground,” Goldmark said at a Senate Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee earlier this week.
The bill is drawing bipartisan support, according to its prime sponsor, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Islands. For instance, Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, has sang the praises of the legislation, noting that directing more WCC resources to Puget Sound cleanup could attract increased federal funding for the effort.
The newly created Puget Sound Corps would take its cue from cleanup action plans developed by the Puget Sound Partnership. Projects could include removing derelict vessels and creosote pilings from marine waters and reducing polluted runoff from rivers and streams that empty into Puget Sound.
It’s a creative idea that deserves support in the 2011 state Legislature.