WE have just discovered that Whatcom County Planning has moved ahead like a rocket to kick-start both of these mechanisms. How are they pulling this off?
Under the cover of “agricultural conservation,” proponents of central ecology control through the Natural Resources Marketplace and Ruckelshaus have steadily taken a very firm grip on the Whatcom County Agriculture Advisory Committee. Through an elaborate protracted process including a special public-private partnership with eco-activist group Farm Friends, this committee authored the Agricultural Strategic Plan (ASP – yes, like the snake). The ASP (read it) says Whatcom County government, working with the Natural Resources Marketplace group and others, should manipulate the tangible and intangible ecological resources of all property in the county. They're talking watersheds. And they're talking about public and private property. And all has been framed saying the ASP will enhance and protect agriculture "for future generations." A person would think this is nice, that it will assure that 100,000 acres of land will be actively farmed, but that's a figleaf. It's a ruse for convoluted growth management that will be in the hands of a tight cadre that we don't elect, and can't eject.
The complexity of what’s happening may seem hard to wrap your head around, but this is vitally important for the public to understand. What’s on this horizon will affect everyone.
The activists who helped prepare the ASP want not only tangible “resources” like water to be managed centrally (not so much to accommodate use as to establish fixed limits), but a host of other vague environmental "resources” and "services." They presume to deal in commodities like "density," and “carbon credits,” and “ecological uses” through acquisition and trades everywhere. Their interest is to control the effects of human activity. And in order to protect agriculture, a new level of central authority will weigh-in on all development and land use: urban, rural, agriculture, even forestry.
Although this talks about "ag" enhancement and preservation (conservation), the geographic interest of the ASP is not restricted to agriculturally zoned areas. The ASP intends to oversee and “balance” urban and rural density, uses, and activities everywhere. This is no exaggeration.
How did this massive scheme slither in, without broad public input and official public hearings? Committees, boards, and a lot of "technical" input from eco-obsessive staff from Bellingham and at PDS (Planning & Development Services). If you've never seen the oppressive level of control over farm activity already in place, take a moment and look here. The same people who have imposed this micromanagement will impose regulations quite like them everywhere. The staff involved is the same crew.
The ASP was passed by County Council on July 26 (see Resolution 2011-023 if you didn't read it above), without a public hearing. (That’s the way things happen lately, have you noticed?) Read through its 85 pages. It passed 7-0.
Then, by August 31 an RFP (request for proposal) was written by the Agricultural Advisory Committee to hire a “consultant” to nail down whatever processes (recommendations for ordinances and resolutions) and other “jurisdictional approaches” necessary to facilitate the “Ruckelshaus opt-in,” and start the “natural resources marketplace.” Understand, the NRM and Agricultural Advisory are heavily influenced by groups like Farm Friends, along with zealous staff from PDS and the City of Bellingham and others (cities? for ag?). [The NRM “work” was subsidized by the Washington Department of Ecology, too.] This feelin' local in the slightest? When you look at the RFP, note the make-up of "Team Structure" on Page 5. Check out the "other key stakeholders" -- state agencies and "environmental interest groups" and "farm interest groups" - not farmers, and certainly not affected citizens. And, note how this encourages the consultant to "make departures" from the scope.
On August 31 this consultant RFP was passed from the Planning Department, that rubber stamped it and moved it along to Administration (the Executive).
Then on September 13, the RFP was presented to County Council’s finance committee, who ok’d it.* Who was on the finance committee that day? Kathy Kershner, Ken Mann, and Tony Larson. But the rest of council was there too – Barbara Brenner, Carl Weimer, Bill Knutzen and Sam Crawford. With the exception of a minor change by Crawford, a gesture, this RFP was approved by everyone. See the committee minutes for yourself. This got a real "go for it." *[Editorial note 10/6: Those minutes say that staff reported that the RFP had already been advertised, before it was reviewed by County Council, at the Finance Committee meeting. That was bold!]
All this – from the passage of the ASP to the approval of the RFP -- has happened over a period of only 7 weeks. ("Ruckelshaus" was introduced two days after the ASP was accepted by council, on July 28th, supposedly as a separate issue. And yet here it is, already specified for "opt-in" within this RFP's scope of work.)
The RFP says the consultant should frame the situation and do whatever it takes to deliver a pre-determined outcome. Even a full schedule for this outcome is specified in the RFP, that says "to council," December 2012. All the exhaustive public input, all the pleadings from citizens on bended knee, the science arguments, and review loops through the Planning Commission -- they will basically be a farce. This is a contract meant to deliver.
This contrived RFP was blessed by the finance committee on September 13 and hustled through county Purchasing at breakneck speed, with an RFP due date of September 20th. Fellow dredgers, did you get that? After just one week, bids were due. Think about it. This RFP was complicated. WE can only guess that well informed “consultants” have been waiting in the wings ready to slap a price-tag on it, sign on the line, and crank up the machine.
Will Council automatically approve the contract for RFP 11-82 when it’s presented by the Administration buried among the usual customary "consent items" for funding? And what will it cost? Who cares? The real price the public will pay for this in the long haul is going to be immense. Through the ASP our lives, and our property use, will be managed and steered like never before. And the whole council has given this scheme “the nod.” How collegial.
Knowing what this RFP says, we wonder if our representatives even question whether or not the county should “opt-in” to Ruckelshaus, which will make the County kow-tow to appointed boards. Are they aware of where the “resources marketplace” is headed? Have they read it? They like it? They -- no, we the people of Whatcom County-- won't have any control over such a "marketplace" under Ruckelshaus.
The citizens of this county should be protected from the wholesale management of our property use and our property rights by unelected bureaucracy and appointees. But through these “moves,” our council seems to be handing everything over, lock stock and barrel. And, for all appearances, knowingly.
Could the plug be pulled? Yes, it's not too late. But the alarm bell is ringing. Don't fund the RFP. Repeal the ASP - pull the "natural resources marketplace" parts. Opt-out of Ruckelshaus. This is that serious.
If you haven't read it -- here’s a taste of the “Natural Resources Marketplace.” This illustrates how it will establish a system of “resource” and “ecosystem” credit trades:
"There are likely to be willing sellers of ecosystem credits i.e. people who will take actions on their land that will be sufficient to generate such credits, and this includes owners of agricultural, forestry, urban and conservation land. We will need to know where these willing sellers are, what potential ecosystem services and hence ecosystem credits could be generated from these sites, and how well these sites match broader priorities for watershed improvement, agricultural land protection, salmon recovery and conservation.
An intermediary function is likely to be needed to assist buyers, particularly larger buyers such as developers or public agencies, in finding suitable credits for purchase. In addition, since the individual sizes of privately owned land parcels in Whatcom County are not particularly large, there may be a need for an aggregation function through an intermediary who can find and aggregate a number of smaller credits into a single purchase for a larger buyer."
Feeling alarmed? You should be. WE are.