$15 million proposal to buy Glacier mine shouldn’t be environmental priority

— Todd Myers is environmental director at the Washington Policy Center, a Seattle free-market public policy think tank, and was communications director for former Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland.

Each year on Earth Day, politicians emerge to tout their “green” credentials, pointing to policies and funding they claim protect the environment. This year, one such project is the proposal to use $15 million of state funds to help buy the Maury Island gravel mine.

Contrary to politicians’ claims, the mine, and the dock associated with it, do not merit that lavish investment of scarce funds. The gravel mine is not on the list of priority Puget Sound water quality projects. Spending millions on a project with little environmental benefit is emblematic of an environmentally destructive trend — politically popular projects receive funding, diverting resources from critical efforts that actually promote environmental sustainability.

The proposed dock on Maury has been the target of environmental activists and neighbors who oppose the mine. Politicians like Lands Commissioner Peter Gold-mark and County Executive Dow Constantine seized on the issue, seeing its political value. Both held campaign fundraisers on the Island, promising to take action to stop the mine.

Scientific assessments, however, do not rank the mine as an environmental threat. The Puget Sound

Partnership’s (PSP) priority list doesn’t even mention the mine. The reason is simple—no honest, independent scientific assessment of the dock and mine shows they warrant the attention or the money.

Other public agencies support this assessment. The state Department of Ecology and state Department of Fish and Wildlife both issued environmental permits for the dock. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also approved the project. The recent U.S. District Court ruling against the dock did not address environmental concerns, but was based only on process.

At the same time, there are legitimate water-quality concerns on Vashon/Maury Island in need of attention. It is widely acknowledged that Quartermaster Harbor has serious problems. The PSP specifically identifies the bay for attention. King County and the PSP recognize that failing septic tanks are seriously impacting the water quality. Funding and results to deal with the problem, however, are in short supply.

There are many other projects that would benefit from funding. Abandoned fishing nets across the Sound have environmental impact. Stormwater runoff is perhaps the most serious threat to salmon and the health of the Sound, and there are many projects that don’t have necessary funding. Thousands of miles of salmon hab-

itat could be opened by fixing blockages on state roads, but funding is low and the state is literally decades behind schedule.

Instead of funding water quality problems scientists agree are serious, politicians chose a high-profile, but scientifically dubious, project. They will undoubtedly brag

about their success. And $15 million is the down payment, with additional tens of millions needed to actually purchase the mine.

Water quality isn’t the only area we see this environmentally damaging trend. Gov. Chris Gregoire cut funding for toxic cleanup and air quality monitoring to pay for her anti-global warming push after the Legislature rejected her ideas. The Legislature mandated that schools meet “green” building requirements, even though these buildings use more energy than schools built before the rules.

This Earth Day we should ask which direction Washington’s environmental policy should take. Will we continue to let politicians choose eco-fads that enhance their public image, or will we use science and make the right decisions for environmental sustainability? If the Maury Island decision is any indication, future generations will lament our foolishness.

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