San Juan County is a near neighbor with islands in the same chain as ours. With a small population, they're only now facing the adoption of their first CAO, which means "critical areas ordinance."
Whatcom County has had a CAO since 2005, revised in 2007. Ours - WCC 16.16 "Critical Areas" (WCC means Whatcom County Code) - has always been plagued by lack of definition, and it's loaded with obtuse terminology and descriptions of "values" that are impossible to measure. Of course, those weaknesses didn't stop its being adopted.
We share the pain of our San Juan neighbors who find themselves caught in the same web of pseudo-science and fog, often spun deliberately to achieve undefined ends for "reasons" that make no scientific sense at all. The following post (one of a series) offers more than a little insight into a situation we face together in the constant struggle against the eco-activist spin machine.
Countdown to CAOmageddon
Flaw #9 – Gamesmanship
from The Trojan Heron
August 11, 2011
Will you please tie my shoes? That was the question posed to several people during a research experiment on the "art" of persuasion. Here's what they found:
You start by asking for something outrageous; when that's turned down, you then ask for something reasonable. A boss may ask an employee to work weekends for a whole year, for example, and when that request gets turned down, the manager might ask for a report to be turned in by Friday. The outrageous request reframes the real request to make it sound reasonable.
And so it goes with buffers in the San Juan County CAO. During various forums, there has been talk of buffers as large as 800 feet. Then, the Planning Commission draft of the CAOs had buffers up to 260 feet. These "outrageous" requests were tweaked to something more "reasonable"... 230 feet. Nevertheless, we still hear the Friends wanting more from buffers. Janet Alderton ended her most recent CAO paean with the un-paean-like punchline:
But the numerous activities permitted in buffers by the proposed Critical Area Ordinance update interfere with buffer function and fail to protect our valuable Critical Areas.
In other words, consider yourselves lucky, peasants, that you're getting any use of your land at all. You should feel grateful! Never mind that no one can seem to adequately quantity or explain what "buffer function" actually means anyway.
The difficulty with all this reasonableness is that the purpose of buffers has been completely lost amidst the bazaar haggling over their size. We don't even know what we're haggling over anymore. What are buffers for? To reduce pollution? What pollution? Paraphrasing Jerry Maguire, show me the pollution. Show me the pollution!
Without de manifestis levels of pollution, there is no need for a remedy. Without a need for a remedy, there is no need for pollution-removing buffers, assuming buffers work as a primary pollutant remedy at all, and it's not clear that they do. It turns out that our own consultant, Dr. Adamus, wasn't even able to describe how buffers work exactly. He declined to explain, for example, the statistics in the Mayer paper, which formed the pollutant-removal basis for the buffer calculator he developed.
We can land a plutonium-powered rover on Mars using a crazy sky-crane contraption and nail the landing within a couple of miles of the target, but we can't get our highly-compensated wetland consultant to explain buffer statistics in the paper he used for our buffer design.
Does that sound reasonable?