After spending years and millions to gain approval for its proposed Snoqualmie Ridge development, the Weyerhaeuser Corporation now wants to use tax-exempt public bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements. The tree-growing company hopes to save $14 million in interest payments by using the bonds to finance roads, drainage facilities, and a sewage treatment plant to serve its 2,000-home golf course development.
The bonds would be issued under a state program aimed at financing "all or part of the project cost of any industrial development facility." Of course, Snoqualmie Ridge isn't an industrial facility. A minor problem, say backers of the government giveaway, who point out that the 1,343-acre development includes a 100-acre business park. Actual industrial projects aided by the state program have averaged a bond issuance of about $6.4 million each, and Weyerhaeuser wants King County to authorize the issuance of $60 million in bonds for Snoqualmie Ridge. The state has ruled that the project is eligible.
The bond proposal has been approved by the Snoqualmie City Council and was approved by a County Council committee last week by a 3-1 vote. The dissenter was County Council member Dwight Pelz. Another council member less than delighted with the deal is Brian Derdowski, who saw the Snoqualmie Ridge development approved over his objections, based partly on Weyerhaeuser's pledges to pay for necessary infrastructure improvements. The timber giant's attempted dip into the public purse is just an added insult.
"Taxpayer subsidized financing is a limited commodity and an important commodity," says Derdowski. "At a time when growth is happening like crazy, should we be subsidizing it?"
Although County Executive Ron Sims initially supported the Weyerhaeuser application, he's expressed second thoughts. But Derdowski has little doubt that the proposal will be approved by the County Council. "There's very few people who have the nerve to actively buck the Weyerhaeuser Corporation," he says. "The bottom line is always political. People that oppose Weyerhaeuser end up with powerful primary challengers, and I'm a good example of that."
In these days of stadium handouts and other corporate welfare, it's hard to shock the public any more. But subsidizing high-end sprawl housing using bonds under a program intended to lure industrial jobs to Washington just might do the trick.
A citizens' group challenging Seattle's restrictions on steep slope development has gained an unusual ally—the environmental organization 1000 Friends of Washington. The environmentalists have filed a "friend of the court" brief with the Washington Court of Appeals in support of Honesty in Environmental Analysis and Legislation (HEAL).
The case is HEAL's challenge of a Seattle requirement that developers of steep slope lots preserve 70 percent of the property as undisturbed open space. HEAL argued before the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearing Board that the 70 percent rule had no scientific basis and that "disturbances," including terracing and the installation of subsurface drainage, actually improve slope stability. They cited a Growth Management Act provision that municipalities must use "best available science" in drafting regulations for development in critical areas (a category encompassing wetlands, steep slope areas, and stream corridors). Seattle successfully counter-argued that state law requires only that the best available science be included in studies, not actually used as the basis for regulations. "They said it was enough just to fill the record with paper," says HEAL's Randy Spaan.
Curiously, Seattle wasn't the only municipality making that argument. The state's two other growth management appeals boards heard similar cases—with the key difference being that the "best available science" argument in these cases was used to justify lax environmental regulations. Both municipalities argued that compiling scientific studies fulfilled the GMA requirement—and that they didn't have to protect critical areas from development if they didn't want to. Seattle won its case; the other two municipalities lost.
Steve Clagett, executive director of 1000 Friends of Washington, says the court needs to sort out the conflicting growth board decisions. "We think in terms of matters of law there ought to be more uniformity on this point," he says. Although Seattle's argument on the "best available science" law is being used to defend strict environmental regulations, he notes, the same precedent could be used to defend weak regulations elsewhere in the state. On this point, 1000 Friends and HEAL are in agreement, says Clagett. "We agree . . . that when you include best available science, you can't just pay lip service to it."
Tent city trials
Contrary to what was printed in last week's column, a judge dropped charges against just one of the eight Tent City II residents (not "several," as reported). Two defendants have been granted pretrial diversion and four others have yet to be formally arraigned. The eighth protester pled guilty to second degree criminal trespass and got two days in jail.
One of my better ideas
Former legislator Mike Patrick wasted no time in praising his own work last week when State Sen. Pam Roach's Senate Law and Justice Committee reviewed the state's drug abatement law. Patrick, who now works for the Washington Association of Police and Sheriffs, got away with his enthusiastic description of the drafting process until he invoked the name of another former legislator, now a justice on the Washington Supreme Court. "A lot of bright and talented people like Senator Phil Talmadge worked on that law," said Patrick.
"A lot of bright and talented people don't agree with Senator Talmadge on a lot of things," shot back Roach.