Friday, May 31, 2013

The Tree That Got Away

When George Vancouver brought his ship, Discovery, into the bay he called Port Discovery on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula he noted that along both shores "thousands of the finest spars the world produces". This was perhaps the first reference to Washington State's forest resources.

Portions of the slopes above Discovery Bay still produce excellent spars. Demand for spars is not what it used to be, but demand for power poles more than makes up for the drop off in the spar market.

Timbered slope above Discovery Bay

A very mighty fine spar and more

Harvesting of spars and other timber began early in Discovery Bay as the site had steep slopes down to deep water. A perfect combination in the earliest days of timber harvest. Cut trees could easily be transported down the slopes to the water and easily loaded onto ships for ports elsewhere. Vancouver may have been the first non First Nation timber harvest when he had a new spar cut for his own ship. Spars and other timber were being harvested in the bay by the 1840s with a saw mill at the bay as early as 1858.

I suspect the trees above might actually be third growth given the harvest periods and growing conditions around the bay. But while traversing a slope above the bay I came a across a tree that managed to survive at least one round of harvest.

Notched Douglas fir with healed ax cut

I have seen plenty of stumps with notches cut in the base for planks that were then used to cut the tree above the lower but of the tree, but this was the first I have seen of one thus cut that was still standing. There must have been something that the cutters did not like after they began there work and the tree still stands.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Catching up with Juniperus maritima

After learning that I am/was behind the curve on our local northwest Washington juniper, I kept a sharp eye for Juniperus maritima while doing a fast traverse of Fidalgo Island between a visit to Orcas Island and ventures on the Olympic Peninsula. I spotted one on Marine Drive.

Juniperus maritime on Marine Drive south of Anacortes

I have always enjoyed seeing these trees as they are, well different. And now that I have been amply informed that they are not  Juniperus scopulorum (Rocky Mountain juniper) seeing them is even more of a treat.

As has been pointed out to me by much more tree savy folks I was behind on my tree facts. Adams (2007) recognized these junipers in northwest Washington and southwest BC as a distinct species he named Juniperus maritima. He had previously recognized that they were relatively unique and differentiated from J. scopulorum (Rocky Mountain juniper), but the genetic differentiation is apparently great enough to define this as a new species. Hence, I've gone back and updated all my previous mentions of Rocky Mountain juniper changing the posts to reflect this new found information. I like this tree even more now.

Part of my purpose in updating the old post references is that it may add to the knowlege base as to where these trees occur. Adams (2007) provides some discussion as to populations he examined. One aspect of the tree is it appears to have an affinity for ultramafic rock. One of the most robust populations is within Washington Park on the west of Anacortes. And the trees are present in large numbers on Burrows Island and Cypress Island as well; both of which are areas of ultramafic rock. The affinity may be related to the ultramafic rock soil stunts the competition creating opportunity. Likely this is due to the difficulty the ultramafic rock poses to other trees and the pressence of the trees near harsh shoreline conditions points to the need for limited competition. That said, there are very robust populations on the west side of Orcas Island, including locations well away for the shoreline and within areas not underlain by ultramafic rock. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Southern British Columbia Coal Terminal Schemes

While meandering about doing field work on the Olympic Peninsula I caught up a bit with British Columbia news listening to the CBC while driving and in camp. Oil and coal exports are perhaps even a hotter topic in British Columbia than Washington State because the impacts of the various schemes are all over the map of our neighbor to the north. Those issues were front and center in the latest Provincial elections - which did not play out well for CO2 advocates with the Liberals retaining power.

What follows is a southern BC coal terminal tour of sorts. Perhaps a companion of a now bit dated (but popular post) tour of Washington and Oregon schemes (coal-terminals-in-northwest-tour-update). I left off any discussion of the Prince Rupert coal terminal.

The latest coal issue is a proposal to build a coal terminal at the Fraser-Surrey docks.

The scheme of the terminal would be to import via rail coal from the Powder River in Montana and Wyoming, load the coal onto barges, haul the barges to Texada Island where the coal would be loaded onto large coal ships. In a manner this is similar to one of the schemes in Oregon on the Columbia River. The proposal would take about one train load of coal per day. Perhaps 1/8th the scale of the proposed Cherry Point scheme by GTP. And with the extra loading steps a bit more complicated.

The Port Of Vancouver recently approved the expansion of the Neptune Beach coal terminal on the north part of the Vancouver metro area.

The Neptune expansion is of an existing facility. The expansion will allow a greater throughput of coal through the existing terminal via upgrades to the rail tracks and loading equipment. The Neptune site ships high quality coal needed for steel manufacturing and would likely not be amendable to the low quality Powder River coal.

The overall map of the existing and proposed coal schemes in the Lower Fraser Mainland looks like this:

Neptune exists and is used to ship high quality steel coal and has recently been approved to expand capacity. Roberts Bank is the big existing terminal that ships thermal coal and currently receives something like three train loads a day from the Powder River in addition to the Canadian coal. It has expanded capacity but unless a major foot print expansion is undertaken it likely will be limited in further expansion. The two new sites are Fraser-Surrey Dock and Cherry Point.

A worthwhile read on the Port Metro Vancouver and for that matter Canadian view of coal exports can be found here: portmetrovancouver/Proposed_Coal_Projects_at_Port_Metro_Vancouver

The reality is that Port Metro Vancouver is a very aggressive port. They currently have a huge advantage in exporting bulk dry goods and a very strong mandate to facilitate shipping of bulk goods. Their letter (above) clearly indicates that bulk facilities will be permitted and a read through the permit processes thus far suggests that indeed the facilities will likely be permitted. That said, the Port does appear to be hitting some capacity issues in shipping coal. The focus has been on steel grade coal because that is what is being produced in the Canadian mines and the demand for that type of coal has been steady. sightline/canada-coal_2012.pdf discusses the likelihood of Canadian handling of Powder River Coal; however, the Fraser-Surrey Dock was not included nor was there a discussion of the Texada Island terminal.

Texada Island is a relatively large island between the mainland of BC and Vancouver Island. The Fraser-Surrey Dock scheme would be to load barges with Powder River coal and haul the coal up to the existing Texada Island terminal for shipment via big boats to Asia.

Geologically Texada Island has a very important resource - limestone for making concrete. The mine location smack dab on a deep water channel makes this site a huge player in concrete and is a very critical source of concrete for projects in Washington State.

Limestone mine on Texada Island

Close up of Texada Island shipping terminal

A close look at the Texada terminal shows huge stock piles of limestone, but there is a coal pile as well. The coal comes from the Quinsam Mine on Vancouver Island. The Quinsam Mine is an underground mine that produces very high quality coal that can be used in steel production. The coal is barged a short distance to the terminal at Texada. The coal at the Texada facility is shipped to support the kiln heating for making cement. Hence, the coal terminal at Texada supports the cement industry demands wherever the limestone is shipped. Cement plant clients in Tacoma and Seattle import limestone and coal from Texada Island.

Currently, the Quinsam Mine produces 520,000 tons of coal per year. A very minor volume relative to the numbers of tons (50 million) of coal being discussed as export from the Powder River. But one does have to wonder if coal resources so close to the water and a coal terminal (Texada) might be viewed as a far superior source of coal that would readily out compete the low grade coal from the Powder River.

I don't pretend to have crystal ball and can only say this energy future stuff is a tricky business and is likely full of curve balls and change ups when your trying to hit a home run. My impression is that the GPT Cherry Point scheme is going for the home run and the Canadians are going for the more certain bunts and singles. And there are a lot of other players we are not seeing. And some of the actions are simply bluffs that are part of negotiations that have nothing to do with us. Complicated stuff.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Skagit Bridge: Time for the Rise of the Transportation Wonks

DT provided me a very nice write up on the bridges situation with some very good background on earthquakes. As I noted in the first post, the collapse of the I-5 Skagit River bridge is giving us a small taste of what a post major quake landscape would feet like.  DT felt his write up was more appropriate on my blog as it gets into policy (one of my habits - good or bad). I made a few very minor modifications to his text and the policy part at the end is all mine.

The 'functionally obsolete' I-5 bridge over the Skagit River was toppled by a large truck. Imagine the effect of a large magnitude earthquake, which could shake a bridge for several seconds or even a couple minutes. Now, imagine dozens if not hundreds of such bridges collapsing, and the effects on regional transportation (not to mention on occupants of vehicles at the time). That is the grim scenario faced by all of us in the seismically-active Pacific Northwest and the Cascadia Subduction zone. Since this and other similar bridges were completed in the mid-1950s, the region has been relatively quiet seismically.
The bridge, built in 1955, and hundreds of other bridges of its generation in the Northwest were often designed in a manner described as fracture-critical — meaning a failure in a key location can ruin an entire span. There is little internal cohesion, and no underlying girders beneath the bridge spans.
The largest earthquake in modern times in western Washington was the magnitude (M) 7.1 Olympia earthquake in 1949. Since the Skagit bridge and its relatives were built (ca. 1955 or so) during the rush to complete I-5 the largest earthquakes have been the M6.5 Seattle-Tacoma earthquake (1965), the M5.1 Satsop earthquake (1999), and the M6.8 Nisqually earthquake (2001). Strong shaking during the 1949 Olympia earthquake lasted about 20 seconds; during the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, about 40 seconds. Since 1870, there have been six earthquakes in the Puget Sound basin with measured or estimated magnitudes of 6.0 or larger, making the quiescence from 1965 to 2001 among the longest in the region's history (WA DNR report). The energy produced in these earthquakes pales in comparison to what can be expected in a large subduction earthquake. The last big one (January 26, 1700) was estimated to be an M 9. (A magnitude 9 earthquake is on the order of 30 times more energetic than an 8.)
According to a May 24 report by Seattle Times reporters Mike Lindblom and Cheryl Phillps, "(t)here I-5 bridges in Washington State appear as “structurally deficient” in the national database: at the Stillaguamish River just north of Arlington; the Samish River south of Bellingham and north of Burlington; and the East Fork Lewis River, at Woodland in the southwester part of the state.
The Stillaguamish and East Fork bridges also are fracture-critical, steel-truss bridges. The I-5 Ship Canal Bridge in Seattle, built in 1962, has “satisfactory” or “good” ratings structurally, but is functionally obsolete because of traffic safety or capacity problems."
There are 362 fracture-critical bridges in Washington state, says the Federal Highway Administration. There are 366 bridges in the state that are structurally deficient, meaning they should be replaced, according to a recent report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The collapsed I-5 bridge rated higher than those. A third of all bridges — more than 2,800 around the state — have aged past their 50-year design lives.
“It doesn’t imply anything bad about the bridge. It just means that if a certain component fails, it can lead to the complete collapse of the bridge,” said Jugesh Kapur, former head of bridges and structures for the DOT.

Policy Implications

One aspect of this collapse will be the policy implications. Will the Skagit Bridge failure lead to changes in policy?

Over sized Loads

One policy issue that perhaps needs some review is the over site of extra large loads on our highways. Are we too permissive when it comes to what is allowed? Is the over site adequate? Clearly there are times when extra large loads should be allowed, but in this case, Was there a compelling public benefit for transporting essentially a large steel box on the entire length of Interstate 5? I was particularly struck (pun subconscious) by the frequency that bridges have been hit by large loads.

Vulnerable Bridge Syndrome

Outside of the oversize load issue, the collapse of the bridge will be and has been raised as a wake up call regarding our transportation vulnerabilities. This issue is by no means new as noted above, The American Society of Civil Engineers has been actively advocating on the vulnerable bridge issue for some time. And State and Federal agencies have clearly recognized the problem.

The transportation wonks and those familiar with the number crunching of costs have some idea of the scale of the bridge issue. My own introduction to the problem came during my stint as a part time County Council member. The County Public Works had to dramatically shift priorities once they began evaluating bridges and began recognizing the huge cost liability the County faced. This happened in counties all over the country. Very suddenly there was a lot less money available for improvement projects. Even small, obscure bridges that had only a very localized but critical impact were eating up vast quantities of federal grant money. Indeed the question of perhaps abandoning the entire road would get asked. At the very least, one could express some regret that the original road was ever built in the first place opening areas up for development that would never otherwise have been developed.

Rapid Response Political Action

The policy issue is also very much a political issue. John Stark Post sheds a bit of light on the early rapid political positioning that took place at least locally.

From the three GOP legislators in the 42nd:

“We are committed to working in a bipartisan fashion with the governor, our fellow legislators from both sides of the aisle and our federal delegation to address the immediate need to rebuild this bridge and reopen this vital transportation corridor,” State Sen. Doug Ericksen and State Reps. Jason Overstreet and Vincent Buys said in a joint press releasze. “We will work to deliver the resources necessary to mitigate the current crisis, provide funds to rebuild the bridge and create an emergency-permitting system to get the bridge operating again in record time. Some lawmakers in Olympia have been calling for increases in the gas tax and other transportation fees to fund highway and transit projects. We expect that many will use this event to try to further their cause.
“Let us be clear – any comprehensive transportation funding package in Olympia must include, and be preceded by, comprehensive reform of how we build transportation projects and how much we pay for them. Reform must come first if we are to address the many challenges that we face in our state’s transportation system. More information will emerge in the coming days with regards to comprehensive reform strategies.”

The above press release shows the impacted public that these guys are going to work hard to get this bridge fixed fast. They are taking advantage of using the opportunity to advocate for transportation reform. But, What are the reforms? A bit of a flub politically in that it is clear they have not yet formulated their ideas on reform. And they could not help but use the chance to beat the drum about permits no matter if it is relevant or not - and in this case it is of very little relevance.

The local Democrat delegation from the 40th District had their press release as well.

“This accident is a reminder that our transportation infrastructure requires ongoing investment in maintenance and upkeep. This bridge was not considered structurally unsound, but it was deemed outdated based on the type and volume of traffic it was carrying. It should raise red flags when a single oversized freight truck can disrupt an entire region’s transportation system. We need to be doing more as a state to prevent this type of disaster from happening again.
“As representatives of the 40th Legislative District, we are doing everything in our power to secure the resources, expertise and action necessary to handle the current situation and mitigate the damage to the quality of life and the economy of northwest Washington.
“Our transportation network in the North Puget Sound is inextricably linked to the ferry system. While Governor Inslee’s emergency proclamation was a positive step for getting Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties the resources that they need, it does not address our marine highways that serves the islands of San Juan County. We are pushing to have the state of emergency extended to San Juan County to ensure that the full area of the impact of is addressed.
“We also urge the Washington State Department of Transportation to consider moving an additional passenger train to the North Cascade Corridor to help those attempting to travel between Bellingham and Seattle. Increasing the frequency of rail service along this route is an immediate step that can be taken to reduce some of the congestion and mitigate the negative impacts on residents, particularly with traffic set to worsen with Memorial Day traffic.”

I have to say the Dems release is better. They too will be working hard to get the resources to fix the bridge, but they also are pushing for some short term solutions: rail and extending the emergency to San Juan County. Yes, the marine highway reference probably seems silly, but two things: San Juan County will be impacted and it is an opportunity this delegation can never miss to advocate for the islands.

Other politicians have jumped into help. And this will be one of those "disaster" tests for Governor Inslee. How fast can he get the WDOT and Federal teams to get the bridge repaired, What will be done in the short term to ease the disruption, and How rapidly will a permanent solution be designed and implemented?

Political Rewards and Punishment

As noted, there is a political aspect to disasters that are or should be well understood by any politician. This type of event has been studied - think Hurricane Katrina as one example or more locally the snow storm that took out Seattle Mayor Nichols.

But what about the long-term political consequences. The "let's be prepared" approach to transportation vulnerability which is at the heart of DT's assessment of seismic risk consequences. The 42nd GOP suggest reform, but as noted provided no specifics regarding fixing the vulnerable bridge syndrome. Will that reform include added funding to move the very costly bridge replacement projects forward? Or Will it be a shift in funding away from other projects?

Healy and Malhotra (2009) shed some light on this matter. They evaluated the political rewards for fixing disasters and the lack of rewards for spending to minimize disasters. A state where voters routinely vote for Tim Eyman initiatives (Eyman is a anti tax crusader), suggests that extra spending to fix bridges before they collapse will not be rewarded.

There are two approaches for avoiding naming non bridges after Tim Eyman. One is to raise transportation taxes. Perhaps that can be done is some sort of new way that will be fairer and more reformed minded than across the board increase - which means ignoring Eyman. Or, we can accept Eyman and be much more honest about priorities and building economic development support infrastructure in our communities. Claiming permit reform and efficiency is not an honest assessment of the costs that go into transportation projects and should be ignored or ridiculed as ignorant or dishonest.

Perhaps this bridge collapse will lead to the rise of the transportation policy wonks and a new golden age in transportation in Washington State.

Thanks again to DT at

Bridge Logistics

Farm to Market Road backed up south of Highway 20
Not much I can add to the discussion regarding the I-5 bridge collapse at Mount Vernon and Burlington. There really are not any good alternative routes. I suspect that the shortest detour is likely the best way to go. I got a view of one of the alternative routes (see above) on my return from the Olympic Peninsula. I turned north on Farm to Market which was not impacted in any appreciable manner from the detour.
The bridge will add to the logistical equations for Stratum Group as we do lots of work south of the Skagit and I have a project in Mount Vernon this next week. We will have to be clever about trip timing. It also provides a taste of what a large earthquake would do to our transportation network.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Updates: Mike McShane, Whatcom Rural, Fluoride and Junipers

A few short updates before heading out to field work: 1) Yes, I am related, 2) Whatcom County Rural planning, 3) Fluoride struggles and 4) Juniperus maritima.

My Brother Mike

Yes, Mike is my brother and I am proud of him oregons_newest_federal_judge

Mike and Mount Lassen

Whatcom County Rural Update

Whatcom County's Rural Element policy efforts (whatcoms-rural-element-iii) were taken by the County Council on Tuesday. I attended the County Council meeting Tuesday to see how it would go. The public hearing was fairly standard with a few property rights activists, a few specific property owners or attorney representatives wanting to maintain the status, and Growth Management Act advocates. A few had over the top testimony - there is some real hatred of Futurewise.

Once the hearing ended, Sam Crawford moved approval of the ordinance as forwarded by the Planning Commission. Crawford then offered some amendments and Carl Weimer put forward a couple. The amendments were in line with staff recommendations regarding the 10 acre zoning and the cluster provisions. Smooth sailing other than the discussion which mostly revolved around Barbara Brenner's poor grasp of the issues.

Further discussion stalled with the final vote deferred to after a work session. Hopefully the council members will read the staff memos on the boundaries of the rural zones and avoid yet another Hearings Board failure.


Portland, Oregon just ended another round of struggle over fluoride in drinking water (oregonlive.portland_fluoride). Sarah Kliff at Wonk Blog had a nice write up on fluoride policy battles (wonkblog/a-brief-history-of-americas-fluoride-wars). In a manner the policy and science tribalism that shows up in climate debates also shows up in fluoride debates. Its just the tribes are different. I am non tribal on the matter, but will say I drank fluoride treated water with the exception of my time in Bellingham. Bellingham has natural fluoride in its water, but at levels below the level of fluoride treated systems.

Juniperus Maritima

Turns out those Rock Mountain junipers (isolated-rocky-mountain-junipers) in the San Juan Islands and Skagit County are not Rocky Mountain Junipers. I have been informed I am behind the curve on junipers. As of 2007 we have our own local juniper.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Isolated Juniperus maritima on Orcas Island

The western portion of the Orcas Island has stands of Juniperus maritima (rarest-forest-in-western-washington) and the species is scattered about other parts of the San Juan Islands and the islands of Skagit County. On a recent trip to Orcas Island I spotted a particularly tall specimen growing out of a bedrock bluff along the shoreline. I estimated it to be 45 feet tall.

A tall lonely Juniperus maritima
Close up of tree

A few notes on this tree. It was growing on the highly exposed bluff out away from the forest above a south facing headland. The site is east of the village of Orcas. The bedrock is tectonicaly sheared neat volcanic sand stone and mud stone of the Constitution Formation. The bedrock note relates to an affinity the tree has with ultra mafic rocks of the Fidalgo Ophiolite which was not present at this location. 

The forest behind away from the shore consists predominantly of Douglas fir; however, I observed lodge pole pine, grand fir, western hemlock and western red cedar in the forest as well as red alder and on the outer edge madrone.

I also noted that the sprig of green I grasped from the lower branch shown above had the more classic juvenile very spiny foliage that protects the plant from being nibbled by deer. 

I only observed one more juniper in the vicinity. Nearly 350 feet further along the shore I came across a very stressed juniper hanging down the rock. However, this one did have fruits. Perhaps a coyote or other critter will do some planting and keep these isolated junipers going.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Whatcom's Rural Element III

Back in January the Growth Management Hearings Board ruled parts of Whatcom County's Rural Element Plan were invalid. The board also found other parts were just fine digesting-rural-element-ii-local-wonky.  This ruling was a follow up after a previous ruling against the County Rural Plan digesting-lamirds-wonky-long-and-local.

Since the January ruling, the County has been working on some fixes and has appealed one of the issues in question to Superior Court. The issues taken to Superior Court regards some of the development regulations in areas that are limited areas of more intensive rural development. The County position is that the amount of and scale of business activity in these areas allowed per the plan the Board ruled against should be allowed to stand. The County has hired a Seattle law firm to help them on the matter. As in most legal matters of this sort there is not yet any substance to talk about. Just attorney fees.

Another matter regarding development regulations in the Lake Whatcom watershed is being deferred as well as it is wrapped up in another case as well as additional actions the county may take outside of this specific process.

The Process

The issues being worked on have moved through the Planning Commission (the advisory body on planning issues) and are now before the County Council. The council has already scheduled a public hearing. A good thing as it opens the opportunity for the council to alter the Planning Commission recommendations.

The Planning Department staff came up with a variety of solutions to resolve the problem areas; however, not all the staff recommendations were recommended by the Planning Commission and in at least a few cases the Planning Commission has opted to recommend a stand-your-ground approach to the Council.

The Council will have to decide whether to make a few obvious changes in order to reach compliance or go through the same motions of a round of hearings before the Growth Board and another rejection. Tough business for a Council majority that would much rather not have to contend with the fact their planning choices can be appealed to the Growth Management Hearings Board and overturned.

The Issues

Variety of Densities

Rural areas of Whatcom County outside the forestry zones and agricultural zones are mostly zoned or one home per 5 acres with the scattered pockets of rural villages and LAMIRDs as well as odd ball suburban development neighborhoods created before the Growth Management Act. The County does have some areas zoned one home per 10 acres. However, there was no guiding language as to why an area would be one home per 10 acres versus one home per 5 acres. It seemed random and the Board ruled against the county.

The County staff came up with some language to spell out the criteria from defining the difference between R10 and R5 zoning criteria and how any change from R10 to R5 will be reviewed. The Planning Commission added some language and dropped some from the staff recommendations that could (will) be subject to challenge as the Commission version pushes the envelope of opening up areas that are active farm land to be divided and does little to limit additional lot creation.

Lot Clustering

The Planning staff have come up with a few added bits to really clarify cluster rules and since the Planning Commission work are recommending some additional tweaks to solidify the cluster provisions. The idea of clusters is to provide protection of resource land areas (farm land) where the zoning allows homes at say one per 5 acres one can crowd the homes together to reserve a large chunk of farm land. It is also used as a way to preserve future development land near the margins of cities. By clustering the homes, future urban growth will be easier.


A few of the LAMIRDs in the County did not pass the Hearings Board review, but the County is getting close. These have been reviewed enough that it should be clear where the lines should be drawn. It really has turned into a technical exercise. In a couple of cases, the Planning Commission wanted no change from the previously found wrong boundaries. It will be up to the Council to make the change(s).

Water Transmission Lines

This was an easy fix with clarifying language and should be no big deal.

Concluding Thoughts

As I have stated before, the County Council is close to getting this done excepting the issue of development regulations in limited areas and the water quality protection issue in Lake Whatcom. Given the cost of outside legal help and the questionable advice that may generate, I'm not sure that given the scale of the problem warrants that path and the costs.

In terms of the remaining issues the Council will be voting on, this will come down to being practical or taking a perceived ideological stance. I suspect we'll get a bit of posturing and speeches from some of the Council and then an understandably reluctant vote for the needed changes. And a couple of council members may take a proud ideological and completely irresponsible stand that will hopefully be a minority.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Whatcom County Mental Health - A Back Story

Anne Deacon provides an overview of mental health services in Whatcom County in the Bellingham Herald (Whatcom County Mental Health).

Federal support, and certainly in recent years state support, for mental illness has slipped. Talk to the folks that run our jails and what you'll hear is that the largest mental health facilities are the jails. The back up plan for dealing with the mentally ill has become the local county jail. The jail costs are just one cost aspect of not dealing with the mentally ill.

It was understanding that not funding programs to address mental illness caused excessive costs elsewhere that led then County Council person Laurie Caskey-Schreiber to bring forward a proposal for a local sales tax to ensure funding of mental health programs in 2009. Laurie had been on the council long enough to know that competing interests combined with continued cut backs from the State were far from optimal, that a sales tax increase would never ever be brought forward by then County Executive Pete Kremen and that getting funding from existing county revenue was very unlikely in the budget process.

I have been part of or witnessed plenty of dramatic votes on the County Council, but this one ranks perhaps as the most dramatic. In part, it is because the vote had such lasting consequences. Perhaps not a now-or-never-vote, but it was clear to me that if it got voted down, it would be on the order of a decade before it would be considered again.

Another aspect of this particular Council vote was that the Council meeting was packed with citizens very strongly in favor. A nice break from the usual long contentious land use/planning battles that have so dominated Whatcom County politics.

As this was an Ordinance, the vote was a role call vote - that is the Clerk would call a council persons name and they would vote yes or no. I do not remember the exact order, but everyone knew this was going to be close vote. It was a given that Laurie would vote yes and it was assumed that Seth Fleetwood and Carl Weimer would vote yes. That meant one of the other 4 council members would be needed to support it: Barbara Brenner, Sam Crawford, Bob Kelly, or Ward Nelson - all four with strong fiscal conservative credentials.

Barbara Brenner was already known to be opposed - she gets a bit rabid over just about any issue so it was easy to predict. She also opposes taxes and consistently believes we can fund everything if only we would not fund other things. A little commentary - BB's grasp of budget matters is not her strength.

There was hope that Ward Nelson would be supportive. He has been perceived as a moderate and sensible guy and he does get county budget matters probably as well as anyone. However, Ward disappointed the crowd; he could not overcome his consistent anti tax increase record.

That left the matter to Bob Kelly or Sam Crawford. Bob and Sam had a bit of fun with each other on this vote. When their names were called they both deferred their vote for later, a bit unusual, but a play at getting to be the deciding vote. Sam Crawford actually deferred twice in order to force Bob Kelly to play his hand. Kelly then voted no. He had been on the fence and Crawford likely wanted to watch him jump or Kelly wanted to put the whole matter on Crawford.

That left Sam Crawford, a conservative Republican. Like Ward Nelson, Crawford has a good grasp of county finances and governance in general. But unlike Ward Nelson, he was able to step away from his tribal alignment of no new taxes ever and voted yes.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Low Corruption in Washington State

Wonk Blog's Brad Plumer calls attention to a NBER paper ( on corruption in state government that draws a correlation between distance from the capital and the main population center and corruption.

I am not particularly convinced of the correlation and the trend line plot, but by the measure used the graph does show that Washington State is the second least corrupt state. Regardless of distance from the population centers, the state appears to have developed a governance approach that minimizes corruption.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Port Townsend Morgan Hill Divot

Northwest of the Port Townsend waterfront is a great shoreline beach walk with a very steep high bluff.

Morgan Hill Bluff, Port Townsend

I've walked this bluff beach for work possibly more than any other shoreline. For one thing there are homes on the top of the bluff, it is a steep bluff, and it is an eroding bluff. I have not really had that may project sites on the top of the bluff, but two of them required follow up visits as Port Townsend planners are legitimately concerned about any development schemes above the bluff and due to erosion along the toe of the slope (storm-surge-and-bluff-landslides) over the past ten years landslide activity on the bluff has increased.

It is a nice beach walk and unlike many of my projects there are usually people walking the beach. An exception is during high tides when I have had to get a bit wet. Which is why this bluff is eroding - the beach isn't high enough.
While walking the shore it is easy to miss the big divot on the bluff. But with the trusty LiDAR it is easy to spot. 

LiDAR of the divot (Jefferson County GIS)

Aerial of the divot (Jefferson County GIS)

Easy to see in the LiDAR but a bit difficult in the aerial. Note the sharp square and adjacent polygon shape on the lower left. These are former drinking water reservoirs on top of the hill summit.

If your agile and the rope is still present, it is possible to scramble up into the divot, but it has gotten progressively more difficult as more erosion takes place.

It is a popular kid hangout - Picture the boys in the movie Stand By Me
Shortly after taking this picture a group of 12 year olds showed up

Headwall of the divot

I have never been able to confirm the full cause of the divot. I was once told by someone that the reservoir had leaked causing a flood of water over the bluff and eroding the divot. I have not been able to find a specific reference to that event, but it makes some sense as the reservoir is no longer in use and the slope above is designated on city hazard maps as a critical drainage corridor. Alternatively, it may have been a case of uncontrolled stormwater draining over the bluff face.

1950s aerial with reservoirs in use

Port Townsend potential hazard map
Red indicates potential geologic hazard areas
Yellow indicates potential critical drainage corridor 

It is easy to see that flowing water across this slope would be potentially problematic and could create a divot into the bluff. While the top of the bluff is underlain by hard compact glacial till, the till is sitting on top of a very easily eroded sand with very low cohesion.

Till over alluvial sand
(yes I barked my knuckles earlier in the day)

Water flow across this sand would readily mine the sand out causing rapid bluff retreat. This would particularly true if the water was flowing though a critical drainage corridor as suggested on the City hazard map.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

San Blas, Mexico and Washington State

Going through old photo slides I came across an unexpected  historic link to Washington State. We once visited San Blas the jumping off port for the very first European visitors that set foot in Washington State.

Raven and me getting ready to head out for the swamps and fresh water springs

I knew almost nothing about San Blas, Mexico when we arrived there. For us it was a place to rest after some hard travels. We did know that the swamps nearby could be explored and that nearby there were some surf beaches. We did head into the jungle with the added benefit of filling our water supply jugs with 15 gallons of fresh water from the springs that poured out of the base of the mountains. A nice treat after weeks of boiling or iodine treatment. And I body surfed some big 10-foot waves that fortunately did not kill me. 

But I was ignorant of the small fishing town's history and its link to Washington State. We stayed in a very old colonial era building. It was a bit of step back in time as the building dated back to the 1700s. It had great air  movement in the rooms which was good because it was hot and humid and it helped with good sleeping. On the hill above the small town were substantial ruins, but at the time not much information.

Remnants of the old fort

The view from inside the church

San Blas was the primary Spanish coastal harbor on the North American coast during the period when Spain tried to solidify its claim on what is now Washington State and the entire coast of North America. That claim was a bit tenuous for the Pacific Northwest as it was based on pronouncements by a pope over 200 years before trying to prevent war and was followed by explorations that laid claim to lands by simply charting the shoreline and occasionally stepping ashore making proclamations of ownership.

There were several problems with the Spanish claims. One was of course the land was already occupied. In 1775 a Spanish party originating out of San Blas came on shore on what is now Washington State and claimed the land for Spain. Quinault warriors had little regard for the Spanish claim and promptly killed a 7-man shore party. It would be 17 years later before the Spanish attempted to establish a land based settlement in Washington. That settlement at Neah Bay originated from San Blas. It was a short lived settlement and was given up in less than a year.

The Spanish Pacific Northwest claim was being undermined by the sea otter fur trade. English merchants learned that it was a lucrative business after Captain Cook's 1778 expedition made large sums selling sea otter pelts obtained in Nootka Sound to the Chinese. Others followed Cook frequently calling in at Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island. The Russians were actively working in Alaska and had established trade centers on the Alaska coast including Sitka. The Americans were in the mix as well with merchants plying the North Pacific.

The ability to simply claim a land by sailing its coast was being undermined by commerce and the English attitude of occupation being a stronger claim. The local coastal populations were not particular about who claimed the Pacific Northwest as they were already firmly occupying the land and had been for centuries and they were enjoying all sorts of new and exotic goods which they could also trade with inland tribes. The Spanish solution to this trouble was to send ships north from San Blas to better chart the coast to bolster their claims and enforce their claims by expelling or arresting European and American merchants that were present.

On the exploration front, the Spanish had a head start on all others. This is reflected in many Spanish names that survive in Washington State: San Juan Islands and the Strait of Juan de Fuca being the most obvious on maps. All named by ships that sailed out of San Blas. Part of this exploration story led to one of the more famous Washington State History lessons: Cook and all those Spanish expeditions were never able to locate the Columbia River despite assuming there was a big river somewhere on the Pacific Northwest coast. Instead it was an American merchant ship, the Columbia under Robert Gray, that found the river giving the United States a huge boost on claiming the Pacific Northwest.

The Spanish explorations and enforcement of their claims in the Pacific Northwest were based primarily out of San Blas. The Spanish claims began to fade and were ultimately harmed by actions that took place on Nootka Sound in 1789. English merchant ships were captured and English prisoners were hauled off to San Blass leading to the Nootka Crisis and nearly to war between England and Spain.

War was avoided as England and Spain agreed to a sort of joint claim without resolving anything. The idea was to defer the claims resolution to a future undetermined date. This deferment was aided by the fact that both Spain and England had joint interests elsewhere; both were interested in containing the ambitions of France. The peaceful resolution opened the opportunity for the United States to continue to insert itself into the region as well. And established a trend of deferring claim resolutions in the region in order to avoid war that lasted nearly 100 years.

As for San Blas its early glory days faded. Its usefulness as a port for controlling the Pacific declined as Spain was far too extended and then Mexico became independent. The fort at San Blas and the Mexican Navy were no match for the United States during the Mexican-American War. The US invaded and plugged all the cannons.

Whenever I come across a reference to San Blass and its history, I think of the quiet fishing town and diving off the front of the jungle boat into the fresh cool spring water. It is hard to picture the first European visitors to Washington State having set sail from what is now a backwater of swamp, jungle, small fishing boats and few hard core surfers.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Notes on Warden

I visited Warden last summer, but never got around to putting a post up about this small eastern Washington town. It was one of several small towns I visited on the trip, but unlike the others, Warden has not be partially depopulated (washtucna and benge). Warden is a big ag center in that it is surrounded by large scale farming.

Geology plays a bit of a role in Warden's population stability and even growth. Warden is located on the eastern edge of one of the primary flood way paths from the ice-age floods that swept across eastern Washington AERIAL VIEW.

Warden (Google Earth)

The flood path is from the surge of water that came out of Grand Coulee. Warden is off the main flow path enough that the land was not stripped all the way down to bedrock like areas to west in the Pot Holes area (the brown swath to the west of Warden in the image above).

The earliest non First Nations settlement was sheep and perhaps some cattle grazing. This was followed by homestead claims with a significant mix of German and Russian immigrants. The early homesteaders from the 1880s were dry land wheat farmers.

Warden dodged the first depopulation fork by getting a railroad spur that actually operated and stayed in operation. Then Warden got a big boost with the construction of Grand Coulee Dam and the development of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. Warden received irrigation water via canals that follow the ice-age flood path. Warden is located on what some locals call the wet line. West of the wet line, farms are irrigated, while east of the line farms are either dry land or irrigated via deep wells (those wells are limited, expensive  and running out of water). Hence, small towns to the east of the wet line have tended to become smaller as mechanization has reduced the labor needs, but to the west of the wet line irrigation has expanded agricultural intensity. Hence, Warden is a bigger town today than it was 50 years ago.

Pamela's Pantry, Warden, Washington

I stopped in at Pamela's Pantry on Main Street after seeing its obvious mix of old style retrofitted with a big fan for the grill. I was hungry and the burger was good. The building is one of the oldest in town.

The name Spudnik perhaps reflects the Russian/German heritage
It also reminded me of my first nickname - Spitnik - a play on the first Russian spacecraft

Like many eastern Washington towns, there has been a significant cultural shift in the population

Yes - they grow lots of potatoes in the vicinity

The new canola oil plant construction site

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bolton Peninsula Introduction

The Bolton Peninsula is a bit out of the way and a bit off the beaten path. That said part of my purpose is to share a few geologic notes - there are some important geologic features on this not so easy to get to place. By one example there is an active 1,600-foot wide translational landslide calving blocks of soil off of a 200-foot cliff. This area is slated to be mapped by the Department of Natural Resources Geology Division this year so I am motivated to put together some information on the area. I'm excited about the DNR bringing their skill sets, resources, dating equipment and larger picture experience to a land area I know fairly well and want to know more. But I also think the Bolton may have some features that will shed light on a broader understanding of local tectonics and glacial history. 
The peninsula is a steep sided finger of land east of the small town of Quilcene and is located between Quilcene Bay on the west and Dabob Bay on the east and south. The bays are inlets on the northwest side of Hood Canal. The peninsula is approximately one mile across and four miles long. The summit ridge is 570 feet high. Lots of steep slopes for assessing geologic hazards. And those steep slopes also provide excellent exposures to the underlying geology.
Bolton Peninsula with Quilcene Bay on the left and Dabob Bay on the right

As out of the way as the Bolton is for most people, I have had the opportunity to make numerous ventures to the peninsula and have walked its entire shoreline. So for me it has not been out of the way at all.

The Bolton Peninsula is within the Quilcene Quadrangle which is listed to be mapped within the next two years as part of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources Geology Division geologic mapping program. The area has been mapped before by Birdseye (1976). An update and perhaps more detail is warranted as we now have a better understanding of some of the units in the area, LiDAR will help greatly with interpretation of landforms and some technical advances have been made in dating units that were not available to Birdseye. I will say the Birdseye did a remarkable job. Where my interpretations have deviated from Birdseye it has typically been due to level of detail, fresh landslides that exposed units not previously visible, availability of LiDAR and my access to private upland properties.

The southern shore of the Bolton has some unique features that warrant further exploration and interpretation.

Southern end of Bolton

LiDAR southern end of the Bolton

The LiDAR image shows a great deal of detail that could never be deciphered from an aerial image. The smoothness of the upland areas with slight lineal features is the classic uneroded glacial drift landscape with glacial lineations oriented north to south. Not much in the way of recessional outwash from the retreating ice on the uplands of the Bolton. The incised drainages cut into the peninsula are post glacial.

Close up LiDAR of southern Bolton shoreline
The south shore of the Bolton has a great bedrock exposures, tilted glacial and non glacial alluvial units, a massive translational landslide and an ancient river deposit with an intriguing gravel and cobble distribution.

A note about access. The shore is public, but there is no official public access via land. Regardless of public versus private, this is a very cliffy shore. The south bluff is for the most part 240 feet high or more and can only be traversed at a few spots and even those are hairy. I have traversed the ravine shown on the right side of the LiDAR above twice. Both times the experience was horrible, dangerous and uncomfortable, and I am used to nasty brush and slopes. I should also add that poison oak is very present on portions of these slopes. The reality is that if you want to visit the southern Bolton shoreline, you will really need to want to, and I would recommend boat or hiking the beach from the limited access points available (There is some public land that reaches the shore, but I am not clear as to its openness to access).

Posts to follow: Twin Rivers Formation, tilted glacial till, the big slide and the Great Puget River?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Storm Surge and Bluff Landslides

When I first visited the bluff shore below Morgan Hill in Port Townsend approximately 10 years ago, the base of the bluff was for the most part lined with past landslide debris that was well vegetated. The landslide material was acting as a wedge of material protecting the toe of the slope from erosion. But high tides combined with an approximately 2-foot storm surge and winds with waves removed a significant amount of the toe of the slope in 2006. The same storm eroded the base of the bluffs on the east side of Marrowstone Island and numerous other location in the Salish Sea. Following that erosion event shallow soil slope failures began to progress up the bluff slopes and at one location culminated in the high glacial till bluff breaking off a slab of till that collapsed onto the beach this winter.

The storm surge from this event can be seen from this plot of the February 4, 2006 tide at Port Townsend.

 I was curious how the 2006 event stacked up with the December 17, 2012 high tide/storm surge.

The height of the tide was very nearly the same although the period of 10-foot + water level was a bit longer during the 2006 event. There have been a few other similar events at Port Townsend between 2006 and 2012 with the result being continued toe erosion and shallow landslides. Due to development of the waterfront to the southeast, the beach at this location is not built up due to lack of sediment and is susceptible to erosion with subsequent shallow landslides.

The December 17, 2012 tide measured at the Seattle gage was the highest ever recorded in Seattle breaking the previous record from January 1983.

A couple of things to note. The storm surge from in Seattle was at its peak during the low tide or otherwise the record would have been broken by a larger margin. Another note is that the storm surge in Port Townsend was larger than in Seattle. The storm surge in Port Townsend tends to be on the order of 2 feet. And again, wind driven waves are an important factor in driving erosion.

I went through this exercise as I had been to another beach that appeared to have had no erosion at all from this winter's high storm surge. In this case the beach has a significant sediment source to remain built up from eroding bluffs to the south as well as lots of large drift wood which acts as a natural bulkhead. Indeed, despite the lack of landslide debris at the base of the slope, landslides along this shore reach have been very infrequent over the past 50 years.