Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Governor’s Visit to the Samish Bay Taylor Shellfish Farm – Wed. July 18. - An Eyewitness Report

By Pete Haase

About a week ago I got an e-mail from the Puget Sound Partnership (PSP) inviting me to a “small” luncheon and conversation, at the local Taylor Shellfish Farm, with the Governor and some PSP folks and other locals involved with the Clean Samish Initiative (CSI).  I was invited because I have been an active member of the “Storm Team” – a group of volunteers that do intensive watershed sampling for fecal coliform pollution during/right after rain storms.  I have done quite a lot of sampling in the Samish in support of the CSI and have contributed quite a lot of feedback, comments, and suggestions to the effort.

Turns out the “small” luncheon was actually the second of three visits the Governor and her group were making this day – all celebrating some activity in the endless effort to improve Puget Sound.  And it coincided with the first annual “Shellfish-tival”, a moderately attended family-oriented day at Taylor’s, with activities, education booths, food, and a bit of entertainment.  So there were quite a few people there, including plenty of press coverage.  It was also cloudy and cool.  As most know, the Taylor Farm is a small, old, working farm with dismal parking, not at all fancy, but right there on the shores of Samish Bay.  The tide was way out and all in all, it was really a nice setup; informal, great smells of shellfish cooking, lots of nice people and kids and action.  The arrangement for the Governor’s “luncheon” was just some picnic tables out near the bay with a little buffet table, and the Shellfish-tival crowd sort of intermingled with the “official” crowd.

The official group included Governor Gregoire, Bill Ruckelshaus who is Puget Sound Partnership Leader-emeritus, Martha Kongsgaard who is the current Chair of the PSP Leadership Council, Tony Wright who is the brand new Director of the PSP.

Attendees I knew included: Steve Sakuma, who is on the PSP Leadership Council, Tom Eaton who is the local EPA Manager, Ron Wesen who is a Skagit County Commissioner and member of the PSP Eco-systems Coordination Board, Mike Shelby with the local Western Washington Agricultural Association, Jon-Paul Shannahan from the Upper Skagit Tribe, Doug Allen and Mak Kaufman with the Bellingham Department of Ecology Field Office, Carolyn Kelly who manages the local Conservation District,  Kristen Cooley who is with the Outreach effort of the PSP,  Duane Fagergren who is the PSP representative on the Clean Samish Imitative, Rick Haley from Skagit County and the Manager of the Clean Samish Initiative, and Bill Dewey representing Taylor Shellfish and also a member of the PSP Eco-systems Coordination Board.  There were also other representatives from local Tribes and several of our State legislators.   There were about 30 in all.

The Governor then introduced her entourage and thanked us all and made a few brief remarks.  Next, Steve Sakuma welcomed and thanked us and encouraged us and said that when it rains you just have to work around it; a lot of spring rains having caused much Samish Bay pollution.  Then Rick Haley gave a brief recount of the past few months of effort and the disappointing results this spring. He asked the Governor to do all she could to keep various State agencies working on this effort.  He said this spring showed that there are often mysterious pollution sources we don’t yet know about and need to keep working on.

Mak Kaufman, the full-time “in the field” inspector with the Bellingham Field Office of the Department of Ecology, said that, in the fall the ground is not soaked up, so heavy rains that have dissolved the livestock manure in the fields have a good chance to soak in before reaching a ditch or stream,  but by late winter, the grounds are so soaked that new rains just sheet right off into the ditches and streams, carrying heavy loads of manure along. He said this is a Farm Management problem, rarely a septic problem.  The Governor asked Carolyn Kelly from our local Conservation District how they were dealing with that and Carolyn said they have to do a lot of follow-up, a lot of coaching, and that it is usually folks who have some other full time job and when they come home to the “farm” they might not get to the chores of mud and manure management.  Carolyn said there is a lot of “Incentive” money for farmers.

Doug Allen, Mak’s boss, said “Yes, continuing education is important but that we need to ramp up inspection and enforcement – an awful lot of education has already happened and results are not real good yet.”  Carolyn then said that many of the Best Management Practices that they have prescribed can’t be done except in the dry “construction” season (now) so we should see improvements this next fall.

Governor Gregoire gave some closing remarks.  She said the goal for the Samish pollution issue – only one pollution-caused closure of the shellfish harvest during March, 2012 – June, 2012 (there were 10!) – was a tough one but we should feel good about the progress and we would make it next year.  She reiterated that more and sterner enforcement was needed and encouraged continued education efforts and financial aid for farmers needing to make expensive changes.  She stressed that we must clamp down on those who don’t/won’t cooperate in order to keep it fair to those who do and have. She said that, as a private citizen, she will continue to do all she can to protect and improve Puget Sound.

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