April on Bainbridge: Planning, Politics, and Poetry

Jon Quitslund

Forget April in Paris!  There’s lots to do close to home.  Spring in the air . . . but as Groucho Marx said to Margaret Dumont, If I sprung in the air I’d fall in the lake!

April is Earth Month, and the month in which the sun’s rising and lengthening of days seem to accelerate.  It becomes easier to pack more variety, of work and play, into the days and weeks.

My calendar is full.  Three meetings in the month has become the new normal for the Planning Commission, and of course hours of preparation precede each meeting.  But the time spent has been satisfying and productive.  While I do my best thinking alone, it’s teamwork that really accomplishes things, and COBI today is a place that rewards individuality in a cooperative spirit.

I’m starting this post late in the evening after a Planning Commission meeting, and I’ll try to finish it tomorrow.  On April 7th our agenda included work on pieces of the Shoreline Management Program and the next-to-the-last study session on the Water Resources element of the Comp Plan.

Christy Carr, the Planner now responsible for interpreting and administering the SMP, has gone through the whole monstrous maze looking for ways to clarify its language and make it more coherent, without introducing any changes in policies.  We’ll be dealing with this ‘General Limited Amendment’ piecemeal, for several months.

The next meeting  (April 14th), will include a public hearing on another piece of the SMP, dealing with commercial aquaculture, and this amendment will introduce significant and precedent-setting changes, setting aside policies that the Department of Ecology obliged the City to accept when our SMP was submitted for review.

As you may know, aquaculture is a big business in Puget Sound, both in net-pens for fish and in tideland tracts dedicated to intensive cultivation of shellfish.  The Washington legislature has declared “that aquatic farming provides a consistent source of quality food, offers opportunities of new jobs, increased farm income stability, and improves balance of trade” (RCW 15.85.010).  Accordingly, aquaculture is a “preferred water dependent use,” but (like single-family residences and boating) commercial aquaculture is subject to regulation that recognizes its environmental impacts.

An acute awareness of those environmental impacts led a group of Bainbridge citizens to bring a suit against the Department of Ecology, claiming that the regulations called for in our SMP went too far in support of industry interests.  The several parties are now involved in settlement talks before the Growth Management Hearings Board, with the City participating on the plaintiffs’ side.

Commercial aquaculture is not going to be prohibited in the waters and on the beaches of Bainbridge Island, but opportunities will be limited.  What’s at issue (in this as in other parts of the SMP) is what sorts of regulation are necessary in support of the “no net loss” standard and the general public’s interest in the integrity and beauty of our beaches and Puget Sound.

On April 14th, the Planning Commission and the public will consider a draft of the Aquaculture limited amendment that has been reviewed by the Department of Ecology and the Growth Management Hearings Board.  This will be the Commission’s second look at the text: it will then go to the Council.  This will be an occasion to recognize the principles and persistence of a local group (the Bainbridge Alliance for Puget Sound, and their lawyer David Bricklin), and the excellent work of Lisa Marshall and Christy Carr, representing the City in the settlement talks and the drafting of appropriate regulations.

There will be other items on the April 14th agenda: another piece of the General Limited Amendment, the last portion of the Water Resources element, and first steps in the updating of the Comp Plan’s Housing element.

I want to say a few things about Water Resources.  Concern about our water supply has a long history on Bainbridge.  The Island’s hydrology has changed as our population has grown, as settlement patterns have changed, and as public and private water systems have developed.

In response to those changes and a widespread concern about our future, the City has worked very hard to establish and communicate reliable information.  We have a lot of data on both quantity and quality in our groundwater, and we have models that make it possible to predict (though not without a doubt) how well our aquifer system will perform under pressure from a growing population and a changing climate.

In recent months there have been many occasions for citizens to learn about the Island’s water resources, and a wealth of new information is being worked into the Comp Plan, along with goals and policies that will support sound land use policies and good stewardship on the part of citizens.

Cami Apfelbeck, COBI’s Water Resources Specialist, deserves a great deal of credit for managing all of the monitoring and information-gathering work, and for doing the lion’s share of the work on a Water Resources element that is truly comprehensive in its goals and policies, and a deep pool of information that all concerned citizens should find useful.

After completing work on Water Resources, the Planning Commission will pivot to focus on Housing.  Some time ago (was it two months, or longer?) we had an excellent workshop session devoted to the issues and objectives that need to be addressed in the Housing element.  I gather that in the interval since the workshop, further work has been done that will contribute to our updating of goals and policies.  The Planning Commission meetings on April 28 and May 12 will be devoted, in large part, to the Housing element.

Something else is in the works that’s of great interest to me.  I’ve known about the Island Power project for some time, without knowing enough to call myself well-informed.  Thanks to a recent Saturday morning meeting, I’m better informed and cautiously optimistic about the possibility of saying NO to an electrical system that provides us with ‘dirty’ power.  In the future, electricity will only become more important in our daily lives, and it had better be less dependent on fossil fuels.

By some time in May, the Council and the public should have a report on the feasibility of negotiating with Puget Sound Energy to purchase the local electrical infrastructure, in order to assume local control and obtain our power from a relatively clean source, the Bonneville Power Administration.  I’ll have more to say about this when I know more.

There’s Poetry in the title to this post, but none so far in my prose.  Now for some word-play: earth, art; EARTH; earth, heart; eartHeart.  The Earth Art Bainbridge project, which extends through the month of April, has been very well publicized, so you must know something about it already, and perhaps you’ve already encountered some of what’s going on in several locations around the Island.

Beth Robson, the originating imagination behind this month-long festival, has done something amazing.  Not by herself, of course; she has tapped many local talents, and I trust she will also find an appreciative audience.

For more information, don’t rely on my monotonous blog, but go to the Earth Art Bainbridge website and the blog that’s part of it: you’ll find an abundance of images and information, designed to delight and also to sharpen your awareness of climate change, the life-defining of our time and our future.

The Earth Art Bainbridge website includes a calendar of activities and events spread across the month.  Two are of special interest to me.  Keenings, on April 23 (Earth Day, by the way), will be a staged reading of a suite of poems by Bobbie Morgan that arose out of an awareness of extinctions, around the globe and across the web of life.  This will be at the Dayaalu Center, between 7:30 and 9 p. m. on the 23rd.  No tickets are available in advance, and space will be limited, so arrive early.

The other event is on the last day of the month, and I expect it will provide a fitting climax to the festival.  ArtiFact Pattern will be a multi-media performance piece, being presented at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art between 7:30 and 9 p. m. on the 30th.

For this, advance tickets were available, and I believe it’s been sold out, but BrownPaperTickets.com has tickets for an “Encore performance” on June 18, at SpaceCraft, at Rolling Bay Hall.

ArtiFact Pattern will, I expect, be impossible to describe even after it’s happened, and the information I have about it raises high expectations.  The principal creator/coordinator of the “fact pattern” is Janet Norman Knox, whom many Islanders know: a poet and a scientist, a citizen activist—need I say more?

I’ll end with an excerpt from the ‘Distilled Synopsis’ provided by the Art Museum: “What if naturalist David Attenborough collaborated with artist Meredith Monk, satirist Tom Lehrer, and storyteller Spaulding Gray to describe Climate Change and the human species in it?”

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