Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Salish Sea News Highlights

2012 is a wrap and here’s to looking forward to what the year to come will bring to the shared waters of the Salish Sea. But before we jump, take a look back at some top news items of the past year:

Coal takes lumps. Thousands came to stand up and speak out their concerns at scoping meetings about the negative environmental impacts the coal export facility proposed for the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve will have on the local, regional and international land and waters— while outnumbered project proponents chanted their one-note mantra of ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’

No ‘smoking gun.’ It cost $26 million and 150 witnesses to lead Judge Bruce Cohen to report in three volumes that the precipitous decline in Fraser River sockeye was due to a multiplicity of causes and to recommend 75 actions that should be taken to remedy the decline.

‘People’ sunk. A little over a year after founder and executive director retired from People For Puget Sound, new management laid off staff, failed to fundraise, blew through cash reserves and unilaterally closed down the 21-year old environmental group.

Sound declines. Former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Tony “Embrace-The-Porcupine” Wright took over the helm of the Puget Sound Partnership and reported that most indicators show the Sound still in decline but that things could be much worse.

Elwha love. With most of the Glines Canyon Dam blasted away, the Elwha River again runs free and begins unloading tons of silt down to the Strait.

Bag bans. Following the city of Edmonds’ earlier example of banning plastic shopping bags, the cities of Bellingham, Seattle, Issaquah, Port Townsend, Mukilteo and Bainbridge followed suit.

Victoria flushes. Despite protests from misguided academics, opportunistic pols and some recalcitrant municipalities, the Capital Regional District moved forward with financing and planning to build (finally) secondary sewage treatment for Victoria

Big drink. Tethys Enterprises acquired 30 acres within the Anacortes city limits which allows the city to provide the bottling company’s proposed one million-square foot plant with up to 5 million gallons of Skagit River water per day.

Ocean acid. The threat of ocean acidification to the shellfish industry and the marine food web was elevated by a state panel’s report with several recommendations, including the recommendation that the
state must advocate for regional, national and international policies to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

Alive and well. Springer, the orphan killer whale found near Vashon in 2002, nursed back to health and jetted back to her Northern resident family, was feted with a 10th anniversary celebration and again declared an ongoing success story of international cooperation.

Tribal power. Tribes and First Nations began campaigns against social and environmental damages anticipated from major oil and coal export projects north of the Salish Sea by Enbridge near Kitimat, by Kinder Morgan in Vancouver, and by SSA Marine at Cherry Point, Washington.

Estuary revival.
4,000 acres of tidelands at the northern end of Port Susan Bay in Snohomish County were finally connected to Puget Sound by The Nature Conservancy of Washington in partnership with state and federal agencies and the Tulalip Tribes.

(Details on the above news stories are found in 12 months of Salish Sea News and Weather postings)

Looking to 2013:

Tim and Tom game. Despite Democratic Party victories in Washington state, turncoat Democrats Tim Sheldon and Rod Tom joined Republicans to allow Republicans to seize control of the State Senate. We’ll have to see how that affects how environmental legislation comes before the Senate and how that affects the budgets for environmental programs, including those of the Puget Sound Partnership. Traitors like Tim and Tom give credence to the adage of not trusting men with two first names.

Fuel futures. Not much action on the Gateway Pacific Cherry Point facility proposal until the draft Environmental Impact Statement is issued but watch what the coal export market is doing and the jockeying for first position among multiple Northwest port proposals. Also watch the growing future of exporting liquified natural gas (LNG) and how the Puget Sound refineries bring more crude oil in by rail.

Acid trip. The state’s taken the first step in saying what needs to be done about slowing ocean acidification. Now what?

-- Mike Sato

Monday, December 24, 2012

Aloha, Senator Dan

First Lt. Daniel Inouye (Wikimedia)
Dan Inouye visited Iolani School in Honolulu sometime soon after becoming one of Hawaii’s first U.S. Senators in 1963. He exhorted our high school class of boys to become men our families, our state and our nation could be proud of.

Senator Dan, who serve in the Senate for nearly 50 years, died last week and received many accolades for his service to the country as soldier and senator. He had lost his right arm in the Second World War and I recall how firmly he shook my hand using his left hand.

I don’t know if I’d have passed muster and become the kind of man to make my state and nation proud. I think about sitting before the Selective Service draft board whose members all looked like the served alongside Senator Dan and even looked like him, telling them the Vietnam War was immoral and how I couldn’t in good conscience go to their war.

But I admired Senator Dan and I cheered when he impassively grilled President Nixon’s Watergate conspirators and I got mad when one of them called him “that fat Jap” not knowing the microphone was live.

He become more and more “senatorial” and demonstrated that kind of majestic dignity in chairing the Iran-Contra Senate hearings. Go, Senator Dan; we got close but just couldn’t get Reagan, the true Teflon president.

Senator Dan got older and I guess I did, too. I got disgusted when he threw his seniority around and supported Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska on oil drilling and oil tankers, putting the environment I love at risk and calling Senator Stevens, “my good friend Ted Stevens.” I had never thought of Alaska and Hawaii as sharing political interests simply because we’d entered the United States as its 49th and 50th states.

I think 50 years is too long to be in office but that’s the way the Senate rules work and that’s what the voters in Hawaii wanted. Senator Dan’s passing made me reflect on who else I’ve been traveling with from back in the early ‘60s. For me, I guess that’d be limited in longevity to Bob Dylan.

So, now it’s me and Dylan. Aloha, Senator Dan.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus

December 18, 2012

Contact: Asha Lela, Islanders for a San Juan Islands National Monument 360-468-2838


(San Juan Islands, Washington)  Santa added his name to the list of supporters seeking a presidential proclamation to protect 1000 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands in Washington State’s San Juan Islands.

“We wrote to Santa asking his help in protecting these lands in perpetuity as a national monument,” said group leader Asha Lela of Islanders for the San Juan Islands National Conservation Area. Elected officials, hundreds of businesses, and thousands of individuals have asked the President to proclaim the BLM lands in the islands as the San Juan Islands National Monument.

Santa took time out of his busy schedule to reply to the group’s note:

“My elves aren’t equipped to handle national monuments. President Obama is the person for this. I sent him a note. Here’s a copy. Good luck!”

(Note attached.)

Check out updates on the campaign for the San Juan Islands National Monument here.

# # #

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pay-To-Read —What?

The McClatchy-owned newspapers in Puget Sound (The News Tribune of Tacoma, The Olympian and the Bellingham Herald) are all going to require paid subscriptions beginning this week to read their online content. Just like the big boys Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and just like the small time Skagit Valley Herald and Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber.

Owner and publisher Mark Owings of the Bellingham Herald describes the change  this way: “Now, it's never fun to ask anyone to pay for something that has been free. But providing unlimited access across all platforms for a small amount makes sense. It also gives us the ability to protect our most valuable product -- our content. I know it really doesn't need to be said, but I'll say it anyway -- a business that gives away its most valuable product for free is doomed.”

The “small amount” for online access begins at an additional 46-cents a week for print subscribers when they renew and an “introductory rate” of 99-cents a month ($69.99 a year) for online-only subscribers.

Let me rephrase Mark Owings’ dictum this way: “A news medium that doesn’t provide its most valuable product — its content— is doomed.”

At the end of October, USA TODAY  reported: “The Wall Street Journal kept its position as the No. 1 newspaper. Its average circulation grew 9.4% to 2.3 million. USA TODAY was second at 1.7 million, followed by The New York Times at 1.6 million. Circulation at the Times grew 40% from a year ago. More than half of the Times' circulation was for digital editions.”

Now, by comparison, the average weekday circulation of the Bellingham Herald is 16,154. The Olympian’s average weekday circulation is 21,876 and the News Tribune of Tacoma’s is 74,826. By comparison, the Seattle Times’ weekday average is 221,665. (Alliance for Audited Media, 6 months ending Sept. 30, 2012)

The joke around our house is that the Monday Bellingham Herald is so light and small that if the wind’s blowing hard, go look for it in the bushes or in the street. But our household subscribes seven days a week— because we like newspapers, even when we have to search down the street to recover them.

The interesting, local news content at the Herald and The Olympian keeps getting less and less as news staffs get smaller and smaller. The bitter irony in news media has been the understanding that advertising dollars pay news salaries. Advertisers advertise because people buy newspapers. People buy newspapers to read the news. Less news to read or more news read, watched or listened to elsewhere— less readers of newspapers. Less advertisers, less revenue, good-bye newspapers.

The revenue generated by subscriptions is real money but not what makes a paper profitable. In the old days when there were service stations or even now with the gas’n’go mini-marts, the real profit doesn’t come from the gas that’s sold but from the tires, batteries and accessories that the service stations of the past sold and the beer, gum and cigarettes today’s mini-marts sell.

What’s sad about Mark Owings’ and McClatchy’s decision to charge for online content is that you will now pay for something you once got for free— without much difference in added value. Somewhat like once being able to use a public toilet for free and now having to pay a quarter to use the same toilet.

It should be instructive for Mark Owings and McClatchy management to take a good look at the reasons for the growth in The New York Times digital circulation. One reason is the aggressive marketing of its enhanced content. The other is the enhanced content itself, the breaking news, the multi-media presentations and background information that subscribers to the print-only newspaper don’t get.

That makes your online content valuable— and worth paying to read.

--Mike Sato

Monday, December 17, 2012

God and Guns

I don’t know how many of you said a prayer when you heard the horrific news last Friday from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown or said a prayer on Sunday if you went to church.

I felt a huge tear in the moral fiber of our society on Friday and had to stop watching, reading and listening to the news.

The mayor of Newtown early on was quoted as saying “evil came to Newtown.”  I don’t see “evil.” What I see and what angers me is, what kind of God allows children to be murdered? In Sandy Hook Elementary School. In Afghanistan. In Africa. In homes in cities, town and villages around the world.

If the God you prayed to on Friday and Sunday is, as holy books like to say, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, He is as cruel and capricious as Hamlet’s gods, who “kill us for their sport.” If He is not omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, there is no supernatural “evil” that visited Newtown to stands outside God’s supernatural “good.”

Instead, we suffer again an all-too-human moral failure. A failure to make it harder for a murderer-- sane or insane-- to find and use the kind of semi-automatic weapon that make it possible to kill and maim so many so quickly, this time young children.

If the past is any indication of the future, murders with weapons like these will continue because there will continue to be access to weapons like these in America. There will be those who will blur the distinctions among guns and rifles and we will hear the mantras: “Guns don’t kill, people kill.” “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”

Best then to make sure that every school administrator and teacher, every mall operator and merchant, every theater owner and usher— those responsible for every public space--  be required to have and be trained in emergency shutdown procedures to reduce the carnage from murderous situations.

That’s the society we’re living in and we need to watch out for each other and our children. Because God isn’t— and because there are many who believe it is their God-given right to have the very kinds of weapons that commit mayhem and murders.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hell or High Water? High Water, King Tides.

Port Orchard (PHOTO: Ray Garrido/Ecology)
From Neil Chism, The Trashman, via Eric Becker of We Are Shouting:

“Next week we will be having very high tides in Puget Sound.  
“If you want to see some dramatic stuff going on, check out the Duwamish on the 14th-17th early in the mornings. 
"NOAA is predicting 12 foot plus tides. If the weather is bad, i.e. low pressure over the city then add another foot or two, and if the river is really flowing and a few more inches in the waterway.  
“Look over at the T105 park for inundation, or the little Diagonal Ave. park. T105 should be more dramatic I think. We are watching the marinas down there too. If the bad weather holds the marina floats will be coming close to mechanical limits.”

And, from the Department of Ecology, heralding the “King Tide” season:

* Along Washington's outer coast, king tides will occur Dec. 12-15, 2012, and Jan. 10-12, 2013.  
* In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, they occur Dec. 12-14, 2012, and Jan. 8-12, 2013.

* The Puget Sound dates for king tides are Dec. 16-19, 2012, and Jan. 14-17, 2013.
 Locate the highest tides— and take and share your photos:
* Use Ecology's king tide map and schedule to find when and where the highest tides will occur. 
* Locate a public beach by checking out Ecology's Coastal Atlas. 
* Take photos during a king tide, preferably where the high water levels can be gauged against familiar landmarks such as sea walls, jetties, bridge supports or buildings.

* Note the date, time and location of your photo - then upload your images on the Washington King Tide Photo Initiative Flickr Group.

Stay dry, ducklings.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When You Go To Seattle, Wear Coal Dust In Your Hair

Child coal miners-1908 (Wikimedia Commons)
Those planning to give verbal comments at Thursday’s public meeting in Seattle on the coal export facility proposed for the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve will get to see a whole different way used to allot the opportunities to speak:

Interested in giving verbal comments on the coal export facility proposed for the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve when public meetings are held Tuesday in Vancouver, WA, and Thursday in Seattle? Take a number to enter random drawings for about 150 two-minute speaking slots at each event.  The drawings will occur at the start of each hour during the three-hour public meetings.  People can enter the drawings at any time before the final drawing. Drawings set for spoken comments at upcoming meetings for proposed Gateway Pacific  

From verbal comments offered at past public meetings, it seems clear that it’s a free country and people can say whatever they want short of shouting “Fire!” However, project supporters hadn’t seemed to get the point of this comment period: the comments are meant to address what things the government agencies should include to be examined in the draft Environmental Impact Statement for this project.

Project supporters are all smart people so I won’t do their work for them but speakers saying ‘jobs jobs jobs’ one after another don’t move the process forward, it just makes it dumb and boring. I’ve been much more impressed by the pre-meeting work done by organizers against the coal project who have held workshops and training sessions on how to make comments that express both a position on the coal project and a substantive issue that needs to be examined in the dEIS. They’ve maintained that discipline in the public meetings thus far, including a firm reminder to participants that the views of opponents should be respected and the differences of opinions not made personal.

Project supporters can do the same, I’m sure.

Before today’s meeting in Vancouver and Thursday’s meeting in Seattle, here are a couple more news items to draw from in providing comments on the coal export proposal:

What is the risk factor of human error or natural disaster in causing a major spill of coal in the loading and transporting process?
A large bulk carrier docking at Westshore Terminals in Roberts Bank destroyed a coal conveyor system early Friday morning, knocking out the largest of the port’s two berths and spilling an undetermined amount of coal into Georgia Strait...  The mishap happened at 1 a.m. when the bulk carrier Cape Apricot, with a capacity of 180,000 tonnes, slammed into a trestle, the only link between the berth and the terminal, destroying more than 100 metres of it. The ship went right through the causeway, taking a road, the coal-carrying conveyor belt, and electric and water lines with it.  Ship crashes into dock at Westshore Terminals, spilling coal into water (with video)

How many more minutes will more coal train traffic block roads?
A Burlington Northern Santa Fe train is no longer blocking three major intersections in Mount Vernon, according to city police. The train blocked several roadways, including Fir Street, College Way and Riverside Drive, for 45 minutes to an hour, said Sgt. Peter Lindberg. The train was moved about 10:45 a.m. “It’s an emergency brake situation,” Lindberg said when the train was stopped. “That’s all we know and (BNSF) is not getting back to us because they are probably busy.” Train in MV no longer blocking roadways  
Like many other cities, Seattle, Edmonds and Marysville are alarmed at the prospect of massive coal trains and their effects on communities. Compounding it all, tracks are already reaching capacity or nearing it. Coal train impacts feared along the Sound 

How much will the coal to be exported from Cherry Point contribute to global warming and sea level rise?
As recovery continues from Superstorm Sandy, the U.S. government reports Thursday that flooding from future storms will likely worsen as global sea levels rise between 8 inches and 6.6 feet by the end of this century. NOAA sees sea level rise of up to 6.6 feet by 2100 

Go get ‘em, tigers.

--Mike Sato

Sunday, December 9, 2012

This is Regulatory Reform?

In earlier blogs, I’d alerted readers to how the Department of Ecology is proposing a makeover of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) provisions to exempt development actions requiring environmental review. Tomorrow, December 11, is the final day to comment on the rule makeover:

“In the first of a two-part rulemaking, the Washington Department of Ecology is proposing changes to the State Environmental Policy Act which would, among a number of changes, give local governments the option to select the exempt threshold for single-family housing developments from between four to up to 30 units. For multi-family buildings, local governments could select from four to up to 60 units as the exempt level while the threshold for minor agricultural construction projects could be between 10,000 to 40,000 square feet. The public comment period for the proposed rule is open until Dec. 11. Ecology seeks public comment on draft SEPA rule changes

SEPA is not a perfect tool to require environmental review of residential and multi-family development but it provides a way for the public to comment on development actions and to appeal governmental actions, if appeal is warranted. Raise the threshold to make projects exempt from SEPA may make life easier for developers and government jurisdictions but at the expense of public oversight.

Our man on the Peninsula Al Bergstein has written to the Department of Ecology objecting to this proposed change in exemption levels, and Al and I encourage you to do the same and email your comments
 by COB Tuesday.

December 7, 2012   
Department of Ecology 
ATTN: Fran Sant 
PO Box 44703 
Olympia, WA 98504-7600   
To Whom It May Concern:
  I am writing to comment on the proposed SEPA rule changes, as documented in October 2012.
I am writing to strongly object to the proposed changes to the SEPA rules, as they pertain to the following sections:·        Proposed changes to WAC 197-11-800(1)
o   I strongly oppose establishing separate flexible thresholds for local governments as laid out in the following sections.              
§  Section 1 b i and ii
·        This change appears to significantly weaken environmental protections by exempting local counties for projects of what is arbitrarily determined by Ecology to be ‘significant’. There is no supporting information about how these sizes of projects were scientifically formulated, nor any basis for believing they will beneficial to the environment or not.
§  Section iii of same
·        Additionally, this seems to be an arbitrary size, that does not scientifically establish whether a single project may do significant harm to a local environment.
§  Section iv of same
·        Again, these sizes of projects being exempted do not seem to have any supporting scientific backing to establish why these exemptions are deemed appropriate.
§  Section C level iii
·        The idea of 21 days to challenge significant changes to the rules changes on a local basis puts too high a burden on what are usually underfunded local citizens, their governments and interested organizations. Often these groups meet monthly, and establishing a 6 week timeframe seems to be more in tune with allowing citizens to have adequate time to prepare a challenge to a rule.
§  These rule changes in the table could just as easily been substantially larger or smaller, as there is no scientific understanding why these numbers were chosen.

As a bureaucracy that is charged with bringing a scientific point of view to the process of protecting our common environment, we of the public rely on the Department of Ecology to use Best Available Science (BAS) in making these decisions. By not substantiating these rules changes by using BAS, the Department puts themselves, and the taxpayers that fund them, at substantial risk of a challenging (and costly) lawsuit. Courts have ruled over and over again in the last decade that BAS is a standard as a credible method of making environmental rules, especially in supporting challenges to the State’s Shoreline Master Program and Critical Areas Ordinances.

As a person who is working on a variety of issues, including currently being a member of  the Jefferson County Marine Resource Committee, edit the Olympic Peninsula Environmental News, and have been a working member of the Jefferson County Shoreline Management Program, Citizen Advisory Group, I support holding off making these changes (while going ahead with the others in this rules change), in order to produce credible evidence that these changes will not harm the environment.


Al Bergstein
Member - Jefferson County Marine Resource Committee
Member – Strait ERN – Puget Sound Partnership
Jefferson County
1607 Admiralty Ave.
Port Townsend, WA 98368
--Mike Sato

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Two Minute Drill: Ocean Acid, Coal Exports and Jobs

Here are three more points to raise with the federal, state and local government agencies holding a public meeting today in Ferndale (and in Spokane on Dec. 5 and Seattle on Dec. 13) to gather comments about what should be considered in evaluating the coal export facility proposed for the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve:

  1. Take seriously that the Governor of the state of Washington by virtue of the power invested in her by the Constitution and statutes of the state of Washington did, effective immediately, hereby ordered and directed the Office of the Governor and the cabinet agencies that report to the Governor to advocate for reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide at a global, national, and regional level.
  2. Take seriously that exporting US coal to China will increase carbon dioxide emissions and increase ocean acidification. 
  3. Take seriously that increased ocean acidification puts at risk Washington state’s world-leading shellfish industry, which employs about 3200 people and generates revenues of about $270 million annually.

Now, you do your two-minute drills, state officals and governor-elect Jay Inslee.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Some Things Settled: Thanksgiving Turkey, Black Friday

First of all, the standoff between my granddaughter and the turkey was called a draw before Thanksgiving Day.

The turkey that did lose was a 22-pounder brined externally by channeling Molly Stevens, two days before Thursday and left to season in the refrigerator. Two hours to room temperature, four-and-a-half hours at 350-degrees after an initial singe at 450, then an hour’s rest before deboning and carving deli style— all in all, a pretty good eating bird. The only leftover by the weekend was a small portion of turkey soup.

So it’s settled: It is possible to have a simple, tasty turkey...

Despite what Mark Bittman claims is an annual culinary disaster:

“At the hands of all but the most experienced, careful or lucky cooks, the more than 700 million pounds of turkey we’ll buy this week will wind up with breast meat that’s cottony-dry and leg meat that is underdone, tough, stringy or all three. And although a friend of mine claims that this is how people like it — “it’s exactly how our grandmothers did it, and it’s what we grew up with,” he says — I believe this explains why we waste an estimated $282 million worth of turkey each year, enough to feed each food-insecure American with 11 servings.” All Hail the Sweet Potato  

Before going on to extol the virtues of the sweet potato, Bittman concedes: “Thanksgiving is a celebratory feast that has little to do with the harvest or the brilliance of the food but rather family and memories and, usually, obligations.”

His contention that we don’t get together to eat good food on Thanksgiving but are basically celebrating a tradition made me rethink all the messages I got encouraging me to take part in Black Friday and those I got dissing Black Friday.

“It’s a family tradition,” a Black Friday shopper said in one news account.

So that settles it for me about Black Friday.

It’s not one of my family traditions like eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I’d give a polite ‘no thank you’ to an offer to join in a tofukey meal or to join you on Black Friday--- but if tofukey or Black Friday are part of your traditions, go to it. I simply suggest we be polite in going about our traditions. After all, customs are the rocks upon which our societies are erected, but there’s little gained by throwing them at each other.

--Mike Sato

Monday, November 19, 2012

Have You Hugged Your Toilet Today?

November 19 is World Toilet Day, an annual event launched by Singaporean businessman Jack Sim who in 2001 founded the World Toilet Organization. Go ahead and snigger, then wake up: 2.5 billion people – that’s one in every three people worldwide – do not have access to a clean toilet. 

Unmanaged human waste carries diseases which makes people sick. It pollutes drinking water. It affects productivity, hampers economic development and shortens life expectancy.

Pre-industrial peoples like Romans and Egyptians and cities in India and Pakistan treated human waste by connecting toilets to flowing water sewage systems. According to Wikipedia, the  flushing toilet was invented by John Harrington in 1596. Joseph Bramah of Yorkshire patented the first practical water closet in England in 1778. George Jennings in 1852 also took out a patent for the flush-out toilet. No, Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet but did much to increase the popularity of the toilet in the 19th Century.

Here in the Northwest we take care of some household sewage on site by flushing waste into a septic tank which, if properly working, breaks down solids using bacteria in an anaerobic process and distributes liquid effluent to the ground via a drainfield. In large cities, the process of separating solids, disinfecting pathogens, removing metals and chemicals takes place on a larger scale before effluent is discharged into a water body like the Salish Sea.

Over the last 40 years, Washington’s Puget Sound jurisdictions have invested— both willingly and not so willingly-- in sewage treatment plants and technologies. The most recent example of this type of large-scale, water-based sewage system is the Brightwater sewage treatment plant, built at a cost of $2 billion, to handle the waste of King County and its municipalities. Brightwater people, hug your toilets today.

The out-of-sight, out-of-mind technology of our modern waste disposal system in the capital city of Victoria is still stuck in the mid-20th Century where human waste is not treated but simply screened to remove litter then flushed out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. What seemed like a positive forward movement to take responsibility for disinfecting their own shit by building a primary treatment sewage facility for three-quarters of a million dollars has found local politicians and interest groups now in opposition.  Hug your toilets, Victoria— just don’t flush.  

As populations increase and potable water resources diminish, a technology of using clean water to flush away human waste so it can be disinfected in a costly process before returning the water to the environment comes to look more and more impractical and irrational. What next after the flush toilet?

In rural areas with high ground, outhouses and squat toilets and pit toilets work fine to protect human health. It’s in our towns and cities around the world where we need our best and brightest minds to engineer waterless toilets, businesses to market a new culture and installations, and activists and elected officials to push the regulatory envelope forward.

In the meantime, hug your toilet today.

--Mike Sato

Friday, November 16, 2012

Electing Obama, Saving Puget Sound

It might be instructive to take a look at the successful Obama campaign playbook when pondering how to build a constituency around restoring Puget Sound to health.

First of all, people have to know what’s at stake— and then need to know what they need to do to make a difference in what’s at stake. It took many millions of dollars to get that done in the presidential campaign.

And it was smart people spending money very smartly.

“It was called ‘the Optimizer,’ and, strategists for President Obama say it is how he beat a better-financed Republican opposition in the advertising war,” writes New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg in “How Obama Won.”

“Culling never-before-used data about viewing habits, and combining it with more personal information about the voters the campaign was trying to reach and persuade than was ever before available, the system allowed Mr. Obama’s team to direct advertising with a previously unheard-of level of efficiency, strategists from both sides agree.” 
“Through its vast array of information collected via its e-mail list, Facebook and millions of door-to-door discussions conducted by volunteers in swing states — and fed into the campaign database — the campaign devised a ranking scale for voters ranging from likeliest to support Mr. Obama to least likely.”

From those voter profiles and ratings, the campaign developed its advertising campaign targeting specific messages via specific media, timing and frequency in swing states. Combined with volunteers on the ground, they got enough people to recognize what was at stake— and to get them to act — vote -- to make a difference.

Washington wasn’t a swing state so most of the Obama campaigning came to me via email messages from Barack, Joe, Michelle, Jim and a host of others I came to know nearly every day on first-name basis, inviting me to enter drawings to have dinner with the president and to join him election night in Chicago. Nothing out of the ordinary for a small amount contributor.

But the Obama campaign’s use of data mining and using that data moves way beyond even the sometimes amusing promotions I get from Amazon based on past purchases and purchases made by others whom they think I resemble.

The Obama campaign makes the campaign to save Puget Sound— the polling, data collecting, profiling and segmenting-- comically anachronistic. For years, the Puget Sound Partnership has been laboring under early polling that nearly three-quarters of the population thinks Puget Sound is in OK shape. That’s led leaders to shy away from decisive actions until more people see Puget Sound’s health as a problem.

Efforts to change that awareness — if in fact it is so sanguine — have proceeded like a low-grade infection. So how do you strategically go about getting enough people to recognize what is at stake— and to get them to take actions that will make a difference?

We’ll continue to nibble around the edges of the problems in Puget Sound until we take real action.

It costs money but there are smart people who know how to spend money very smartly.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Inconvenient Patriotism

America waved a lot of flags and said many fine words earlier this week about those who serve our country. A day later and a week after our elections, people from Texas, Louisiana and Florida are petitioning the White House to secede from the United States. ["White House to Review Online Secession Petitions"]

I guess that's silly and harmless enough since you and I could petition the White House to disregard those petitions to the same end.

If the presidential election had gone another way, would the petitioners have been satisfied to remain as part of the United States? Would those left-leaning citizens who threatened to move to Canada really have pulled up stakes and left?

People still say the Pledge of Allegiance and it must mean something to say "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

I don't like the "under God" part because I don't think God has much to do with how we govern ourselves, that's up to us, but I say the pledge, because the important part for me is the "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" part.

It's too convenient to say you are an American citizen until things don't go your way, then want out. Or then claim to be more of a real American patriot than those you don't agree with.

I think the real tough kind of patriotism is the inconvenient kind the President talked about a week ago when he accepted the second term. The kind of patriotism that doesn't see red and blue states but a United States, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post-Election Diversion: Channeling Molly

I can’t think of a better time to share a few thoughts about food and cooking than the day after US Election Day 2012. I'm thinking about Molly. 

That’s Molly Stevens, of course, author of All About Braising and All About Roasting.

But starting from the beginning: My daughter gave me All About Roasting as a Christmas gift last year and I spent most of the week that followed enjoying just reading Molly Stevens.

Where better to start than to make the dish on the cover-- One-Hour Rosemary Rib Roast— and not just to try making it but to cook it in earnest, following Molly's directions step-by-step -- channeling Molly, as it were--  for my daughter’s birthday in mid-January. 

The meat counter at Sehome Haggen had a prewrapped piece at $7 a pound and Molly makes it incredibly simple: Two days before dinner, I followed every direction including getting the right kind of kitchen string to lay under the roast and even using the mortar and pestle to mash the garlic into a paste. This cut already had the ribs hinged, so I rubbed the meat with the garlic paste, generously salted and peppered the roast, and arranged sprigs of rosemary between the ribs and the roast and on the top the roast. Then I tied the sprigs down with the three lengths of kitchen string laid under the roast.

(OK, Molly, it wasn’t that smooth and it didn’t look like the pictures that showed how to do it 
nicely. I cut the strings too short the first time. I got the order mixed up and put the rosemary sprigs on before slathering on the garlic paste. And I had to wash the small baking dish I was planning to use before I could put the roast in the refrigerator.)

But: In went the roast, uncovered, to the refrigerator exactly 48 hours before it was supposed to go into the oven.

For the next two days I was fascinated by how the surface texture of the roast changed beneath the bushy sprigs of rosemary. The surface of the roast contracted from the salt which created a crusty layer. What a wonderful distraction whenever I opened the refrigerator door.

On the big day two days later, we drove the roast 90 miles south to my daughter’s home and got her oven heated to 450 degrees. Two hours after we took the roast out of the refrigerator and having it at “room temperature,” we popped it in the oven.

This is the part that’s filled with anxiety: I wanted it medium-rare and Molly tells me to check it regularly after the internal temperature reaches 100 degrees— and to remember that the roast will keep cooking while it “rests” after being taken out of the oven.

After 60 minutes, the internal temperature is 105 degrees. (OK, all ovens are different.) At 75 minutes, it’s at 110 degrees. Take it out and let it “rest” and it will reach the 125-130 degrees desired?

Five of us are standing around the oven door. "Leave it in for a few more minutes" prevails.

At 80 minutes, the internal temperature is 120 degrees. “Take it out, take it out!”

I imagine that by the time it “rests” for its obligatory 20 minutes, the roast will be well done, dry and spoiled. The rosemary is burned to a crisp. The instant-read thermometer reads 135 degrees five minutes into the “rest.” Ruined? Ruined! No, I had it in too deep and was hitting the rib bone.

After 20 minutes, the first slice of the carve reveals perfection: Crusty exterior, brown then the pink of a juicy interior. The taste? Best piece of meat I’ve cooked. A perfect gift in return for a wonderful present.

Have you Channeled Molly?

--Mike Sato

Friday, November 2, 2012

The ‘Poor’ State of Our Sound

I drank beer with a few folks the other night and talked about saving Puget Sound. The beer was good; the discussion, well, less than satisfying.

Talking about saving Puget Sound is less than satisfying the same way reading about how the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council addressed and approved the latest State of the Sound report. (“Little progress reported in Puget Sound health”)

According to the Sun article, there’s progress on reopening polluted commercial shellfish beds and restoring habitats but many other indicators of the Sound’s health— Chinook salmon and orca populations, herring stocks and eelgrass beds, and water quality— are not improving. The best that can be said is that it would be worse if nothing were being done, and that the problems weren’t created in a day and won’t be solved in a day.

So what do we know?

We know a lot of money has been spent but there’s not enough money to do what’s necessary. In fact, we might not know, exactly, how much money is needed but it’s a lot more than the $230 million a year that’s been spent since 2008.

We know what work’s been done thus far but we don’t know whether the work’s been effective because we can’t afford to monitor effectiveness and decide what actions work, what actions don’t work.

We think we know that people know the health of the Sound isn’t good but that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in what they do in their lives. And, as Skagit County citizen Pete Haase told the Council, picking up dog poop isn’t going to save the Sound.

Uncap me another beer.

The Partnership and its Leadership Council seems mired in the same rut saving Puget Sound has been in for years and years: not enough money to get the job done right, not enough ways to show that spending the money and doing the work are making a real difference, and not enough people caring enough to insist that Puget Sound be protected and restored to health.

Where’s the leadership?

We need the leadership, political or otherwise, that says let’s protect the Sound by first enforcing existing laws that protect the Sound. It’s not an easy task but essential: Do No More Harm.

We need the leadership, political or otherwise, that brings together businesses, soccer moms, the hook-and-bullet crowd with whale huggers, tribes and local governments to establish an ongoing revenue source to put real money into cleaning up polluted runoff, restoring habitat and reopening polluted shellfish beds. It’s not an easy task but it has been done: the Centennial Clean Water Fund (the cigarette tax) is one example from the mid-’80s.

We need the leadership, political or otherwise, that gets on the road and into our communities to energize and publicize the many, many local efforts underway protecting and restoring parts of Puget Sound. It’s not an easy task but we need to build awareness of what’s at stake in saving Puget Sound neighbor-to-neighbor, project-by-project— and shape that constituency into one that insists that the Sound be protected and restored to health.

Enough beer for now. Where’s the leadership?

Look, tell me what you think, and I’ll buy the next round.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No Coal: Two-Minute Drill

Coal Carriers vs. Ferries  (RE Sources)
Last Saturday I got to say in two minutes what one of my concerns was about the Gateway Pacific coal export facility proposed in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve and what I’d like decision-makers to investigate when making a decision on the permit application.

The process itself is what’s called ‘scoping’ for the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, supposedly the basis upon which local, state and federal jurisdictions will make their decisions. You can read all about what ‘scoping’ entails here.

Saturday’s meeting in Bellingham will be followed by public meetings on Nov. 3 in Friday Harbor, Nov. 5 in Mount Vernon, Nov. 13 in Seattle, Nov. 29 in Ferndale, Dec. 4 in Spokane, and Dec. 12 in Vancouver WA. Detailed schedule here.

If you choose to make a verbal comment at one of the public meetings, you have to do it in two minutes or less. It’s a good idea to comment on some aspect of the project that affects you personally and to conclude your comment asking that the environmental impact study address a specific question or an issue the project raises.

Two minutes, as many of us find out, isn’t much time to express your care for the Salish Sea and your concern about its threats. But it can be done and it’s really a fun exercise for the good.

Here’s what I said in two minutes:

“Over the last 25 years, I have worked with others to protect and recover our endangered Southern resident orca whales, the endangered salmon they eat and we eat, and the places the whales and the salmon depend on for their health. 
An oil spill in these waters would devastate the orcas whales and the salmon we are working so hard to restore to health. 
Every year, over ten thousand large vessels enter and exit the Strait of Juan de Fuca to and from the Pacific Ocean. Over the last 25 years, we have advocated for stricter oil spill prevention and for more rapid and effective response to oil spills. 
This proposed coal export facility and a proposed oil export facility in Vancouver BC will add over fifteen hundred large vessel transits to the narrow waterways in Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties. 
This EIS should examine:
One, how much will more large vessel traffic increase the risk of an oil spill in these waters,

Two, how adequately can our system of oil spill response and recovery protect our shores and waters when large vessel traffic increases,

Three, how much will more large vessel traffic affect the health of endangered Southern resident orcas —the effects of more underwater noise, more vessel interaction, and prey availability. 
And last, please examine all measures the shipping industry must take to minimize the risk of an oil spill and to maximize timely response and recovery of oil should a spill occur. 
If you cannot ensure the safety of our shorelines, our whales and our salmon, don’t permit this project.”

Now, you try— and let me know how it turns out.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fall Colors— You Mean It’s Not Jack Frost?

I thought it was simple: While I’m sleeping, this spirit— something between Jack Flash and Jack Black — paints fall colors on the leaves when it starts to get colder and the nights get longer.

Turns out that it’s a bit more complicated and, if you like chemistry more than myth, a bit more interesting

Trees, the kind whose leaves change color in the fall, produce green chlorophyll in their leaves to photosynthesize sunlight, water, minerals and carbon dioxide into sugars which they live on.

When the nights get longer and days cooler, trees make less and less green chlorophyll and different chemical pigments become more prominent in different trees or at different stages of leaves turning-- reds, oranges, browns — as the sap leaves the trees, go down the twigs and trunk and are held in the roots until spring.

Cool, eh?

That might account for how the leaves change colors but how do you think the frost gets dusted on the garden in the early morning this time of year?

--Mike Sato

Monday, October 22, 2012

“Obama Lies America Dies”

That’s what the bumper sticker on the SUV with the Romney/Ryan sticker said.

My first reaction in the post office parking lot was to punch out the old guy who got out of the vehicle.

Of course I didn’t but my visceral anger surprised me. I hear all kinds of ignorant people saying ignorant things and sometimes people know better, which makes them stupid people saying stupid things. And I usually shrug it off.

But this crossed the line. This was political hate speech.

I’ve disagreed with a lot of people but in only one or two instances would I have considered the disagreement based on the other person having told a lie, that is, made “a false statement with deliberate intent to deceive.” There have been false statements and misunderstanding but very rarely a deliberate intent to deceive.

The President hasn’t lied, and neither is America dying.

Some places and people are having a hard time of it and we need to fix a lot of systems to make sure everyone has a fair shot at a good living— but America isn’t dying. To say America is dying is an insult to all the people who are working hard to make it work better.

The real trouble with political hate speech is that it spurs hateful reactions, like wanting to punch someone out. It doesn’t invite discussion; it kills discussion. I want to live in a civil society where I can discuss the facts that support my values and differ in my conclusions without hating those with whom I might disagree.

This isn’t just about political speech during election years. It’s about how we conduct ourselves in advocating for and against a major project like coal ports and pipelines, shoreline developments, endangered species protection, mineral extraction, logging, fisheries regulation, water rights— you name your issue.

So, what say?

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saving Puget Sound: Brand, Re-brand, No Brand

My colleague Joan Crooks of Washington Environmental Council wrote me a nice email on Monday dressed up just like a message from People For Puget Sound. She even got the typography of capitalizing the “F” in “For” right. Maybe it was meant to be new wine in old skin or maybe old wine in new skin or old wine in old skin —somebody help me here— but it just tasted weird and strange.

In essence the message was that the People For Puget Sound saving Puget Sound beat will go on— somehow and soon, stay tuned. I will. After all, Joan has my email address and everyone else’s that was in the massive database of the now-defunct 20-plus year-old organization.

The “People For Puget Sound” brand, however, is pretty heavily damaged. Here’s why:

The organization knew well in advance of founder and executive director Kathy Fletcher’s retirement in 2011 that it needed to rebrand itself from “Kathy Fletcher’s organization.” Hence, it spent nearly two years upgrading its administrative systems, updating its strategic plan and developing an executive director search and transition plan.

The new executive director would be chosen to carry out the strategic plan with all systems operational and move the organization forward into the next decade. The transitional pivot in the rebranding was the 20th anniversary celebration throughout 2011, first looking back on the organization’s accomplishments, then— and most important-- looking forward to the next 20 years under new leadership introduced throughout the Sound at community and member events.

New executive director Tom Bancroft and the board of directors chose not to follow the transition plan, instead choosing to reduce work force to reduce operating expense. Thence began the eclipse of People For Puget Sound: declining public engagement, declining public profile, declining influence. Members and the very people of Puget Sound weren’t told what, if anything, the organization was doing and accomplishing for the Sound. No accomplishments, no funds raised. No bangs, no bucks. Classic death spiral.

The board and Tom Bancroft never rebranded People For Puget Sound; they sank “Kathy Fletcher’s organization.” And now, WEC has taken the nameplate and says one day she will float again.

Will she float again as a USS Nimitz alongside WEC’s USS Stennis? Or a dinghy towed behind the WEC yacht? Will wait to see.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

WEC: “Holding Ourselves and Public Officials Accountable for Carrying Out Commitments and Enforcing Laws and Regulations”

Many readers received Washington Environmental Council executive director Joan Crooks’ gracious message yesterday announcing the transition of People For Puget Sound’s policy, advocacy and grass roots work to WEC upon the shut down of the once-preeminent Puget Sound conservation organization.

I still feel terribly betrayed that People For Puget Sound’s management took it upon itself to shut down the 21-year old organization without a word of asking for help from its members, volunteers, past board members and past staff. Shame on them.

But I’m glad that Washington Environmental Council is expanding its focus on the protection and restoration of Puget Sound.

Joan’s message didn’t provide details but I’m sure it will become evident in the weeks and months to come how WEC will expand its role in Puget Sound policy, advocacy and grass roots action.

I expect them to demonstrate in word and deed one of the fundamental ways People For Puget Sound sought to save the Sound, by “Holding ourselves and public officials accountable for carrying out commitments and enforcing laws and regulations.”

At this time of transition, it might be good to take a look at what guided People For Puget Sound in its two decades-- its Mission and Vision and Core Values.

That’s the banner passed on to Washington Environmental Council, that’s the bar that’s set for their meeting the challenge of protecting and restoring Puget Sound.

I wish us all well.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The End of People For Puget Sound

At the end of August a year ago, I was laid off after working 20 years for People For Puget Sound— for budget reasons.

Yesterday, on 9/11, the board and executive director of People For Puget Sound announced they were shutting down what was once the premier Puget Sound conservation organization at the end of this month— for budget reasons.

"This is shocking and sad," founder and recently retired executive director Kathy Fletcher told the Kitsap Sun. "I never would have imagined that this would happen."

I’m angry, disappointed and sad.

I’m angry because what we worked so hard for over 20 years has gone down the toilet in a year. I’m angry because all the work we did in strategizing the executive transition and People For Puget Sound under new leadership never took flight. I’m angry because we went through many tough financial crises during our 20 years and worked our way through to survive. I’m angry because People For Puget Sound will not survive.

I’m disappointed because those of us who loved and cared for People For Puget Sound were never asked to help in this past year, never consulted, never told how bad the situation had become. I’m disappointed that an organization based on engaging people never turned to the very people who made up its membership, its volunteers and its donors. I’m disappointed that no other alternatives were openly discussed before announcing an end to People For Puget Sound.

And I’m sad because Puget Sound will no longer have a watchdog and advocate focused exclusively on the Sound’s well being. I’m sad because we won’t have activists and volunteers — the real people of Puget Sound — speaking in one voice for the land, waters and critters of the Sound. I’m sad because I, too, never would have imagined that this would happen.

I’m sure the board of directors and executive director of People For Puget Sound believe they’ve made the right decision. And the decision’s been made: they’ve brought about the end of People For Puget Sound.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mr. President, I Was Listening

I listened to President Obama carefully last Thursday but it wasn’t until the end of his acceptance speech that I was moved the way I was moved four years ago.

I went back to the transcript to find what resonated so strongly:

We, the people, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

“As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.

“So you see, the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens- you were the chang

I’ve always believed that it is ‘we’ and not ‘me’ that forms the fabric of our lives, and four years ago I heard it clearly articulated as the vision of change. The conflicting visions of ‘we’ versus ‘me’ are what is at odds today, inflamed by political firebombing.

Mere rhetorical flourish? I think not. “When the people lead, leaders will follow,” Gandhi is quoted as saying.

So often, it turns out, the real victory in local conflicts come with winning hearts and minds, not territory.

How often has a cause or an idea, championed by a charismatic leader, fizzles away when the leader passes or the charisma fades? How often does a cause or an idea take on a life of its own and is then described as an idea, a cause ‘whose time has come’?

As an organizer, an activist and a communicator, I’ve spent most of my entire adult life working towards building constituencies around causes and ideas, to nurture and shepherd a culture of ‘we’ as opposed to ‘me.’

Folks who voted for the president four years ago and thought he’d take care of everything so they could go back to their lives are naturally disappointed. He never said he would or could.

Last Thursday, he threw us back upon ourselves: “So you see, the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens- you were the change.”

And the change was that ‘we’ are the vision that will guided our way forward. That’s what resonated with me four years ago and last Thursday resonated with me again.

To work to move forward with inclusiveness as a guiding principle is such a daunting task, so much harder a challenge than pitting me against you, us against them. But unless we figure out how to do it as ‘we,’ there will be no real change.

Thank you, Mr. President.

--Mike Sato

Friday, August 31, 2012

Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago?

The Republican presidential nominee asked that question of me last night. Here’s my answer:

No, I’m not better off, because after working at a company for 20 years, my position was eliminate exactly one year ago for business reasons and I have been unemployed for the last year.

In applying for jobs these last 12 months I’ve learned that my skills are not easily transferable to the current marketplace and that employers don’t really care to pay for knowledge and experience, especially when they can pay a younger person much less to do what is deemed adequate. That lesson has been sobering and humbling and, although I’ve always empathized with those laid off for whatever reasons, I’ve come, after a year, to a deeper understanding of how demeaning and humiliating it is to be unemployed and unemployable for many of my country’s fellow workers.

The reason given for the termination of my position was financial, a business decision based on the economic downturn of the last few years caused by the bursting of the real estate speculation bubble and near-financial meltdown of our banking institutions.

It was a problem I did not cause nor profit from. It was caused by those who believe that true economic value comes from the use of capital and that the accumulation, buying and selling of assets are governing principles of our nation’s economy.

For 20 years of my employment, I received wages for my labor and my value to my company was my labor. My skills, knowledge and experience are my assets in today’s marketplace.

Four years ago the hope I felt and the change I hoped for was kindled by what I felt was a recognition that this country had chosen leadership embodying my values— the values that my labor, not what I owned, was what was worthwhile as a contribution to our country.

The man who asked me the question last night stands with many others for whom the accumulation of capital is most important, not the value of labor. He stands with many others who have, with money and influences, stymied reforms of the regulatory and financial systems that have failed to protect my interests. He stands with many others who would take us back to the very way of doing business in this country that brought about the very hardships he now promises to alleviate.

No, I am not better off than I was four years ago. But that is not because the hope I felt four years ago was misplaced or foolish; it was not and the value of my labor remains all that I can offer to this country. No, I am not better off than I was four years ago and I will not be better off in the company of Mitt Romney, his capitalist brethren and their lapdogs because in their eyes, I have no value, no assets, nothing worthy to buy and sell.

My worth is my labor— and I will work for and vote for and stand with those who believe the same.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

‘Tis Only Human to Spill...

(Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
After Friends of the San Juans’ board member San Olson told me about a talk he was giving on risks associated with increased vessel traffic in our shared Salish Sea waters, I came across the photo on the left in the Peninsula Daily News. It accompanied a story about an oil-spill drill conducted last week around Port Angeles.

I recall one of the first field trips taken by the newly-formed Puget Sound Water Quality Authority in December 1985 was out to the Strait near Port Angeles where the Arco Anchorage, carrying 814,000 barrels of Alaska crude, went aground due to a navigational error, spilling 5,690 barrels -- or 239,000 gallons—of oil. (Tom Callis at the PDN wrote a good retrospective on the incident two years ago.)

A couple of images and sensations are still pretty fresh for me today: one is the smell of spilled oil, the vapors that permeate everything; the other is the sad frenzy at the bird rescue cleaning station set up at Peninsula Community College.

Since then I’ve never been to a spill that bad which was caused by a drift grounding or navigational error, thank goodness, but that may be due to subsequent progress in establishing better navigational oversight and stationing a stand-by rescue tug in the Strait. Since the rescue tug system went into service in 1999, there have been 46 times when the tug has responded to a vessel in distress. Neah Bay Emergency Response Tug - Summary of Responses

In 1999 the Coast Guard reported that: “The number of vessels greater than 300 GT in size transiting the Strait of Juan de Fuca is projected to grow from about 11,000 transits in year 2000 to over 17,000 transits in year 2025, an increase of 50%. Petroleum movements, including cargo oils and ship bunkers, are forecast to grow from about 360 million barrels in year 2000 to 457 million barrels in year 2025.” Use of Tugs to Protect Against Oil Spills in the Puget Sound Area

But San Olson told me one of the main points in his talk was that there’s a lot more vessel traffic on the horizon not anticipated in spill contingency planning by either US or Canadian agencies.

The proposal to export coal to China from Cherry Point near Bellingham would at full capacity fill approximately 487 large cargo ships making about 1,000 vessel trips through the waters of the straits.

Kinder Morgan of Canada proposes to export tar sands oil from Burrard Inlet and Burnaby near Vancouver and there’s consideration to expand tar sands export at March Point in Anacortes. If so, another 225 more oil tankers could pass through the Salish Sea annually.

I’m sure every precaution will be taken to ensure vessel safety and spill prevention if these proposals come to pass. But it’s only human to err— and to spill oil.

And we learn a few things from these spills. We learn that it’s a lot cheaper to keep the oil out of the water and prevent spills than to attempt to clean them up.

We got a lot better at handling reports of oil spills and coordinating spill response after the Dalco Passage oil spill in October 2004.

We put regulatory safeguards in place to keep oil out of the water when fuel was being transferred over water or between land and water after the Point Wells oil spill in December 2003.

And, after BP’s Deepwater Horizon debacle in 2010, the state strengthened spill contingency planning, spill equipment deployment and spill response training.

Which brings me back to the picture of the oil spill drill last week.

It’s certainly a nice summer day, calm and pleasant, and I’m sure the drill went well. The Arco Anchorage spill happened on a cold, windy December night. So did the Point Wells fuel transfer spill. The Dalco Passage spill was reported in the early morning hours before dawn as the October fog rolled in.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

--Mike Sato