The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Endangered salmon put damper on construction in the Puget Sound area

Friday, April 21, 2000


REDMOND -- Sick of sitting in traffic?

Can't find an affordable apartment?

Maybe you can blame it on salmon.

Thirteen months after federal officials declared Puget Sound chinook and eight other struggling salmon runs protected under the Endangered Species Act, a paperwork blizzard is stalling road-construction and efforts to build affordable housing, local officials told a U.S. Senate subcommittee yesterday.

None of the witnesses appearing at the Redmond hearing blamed the fish. At the heart of the problem, they said, is Congress' failure to provide enough money for the National Marine Fisheries Service and other agencies to deal with requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

"The amount of paperwork has just been stunning," Pierce County Executive Doug Sutherland told the Senate's interior appropriations subcommittee. "Even the simplest projects, it takes time for someone to take a look at it, make a determination and then move it to the next agency. . . .

"Just volume alone is enough to give you a pretty good case of constipation."

King County established a special office to deal with the law and loaned the fisheries service four workers. The state sent over seven extra people. Still, construction and road projects are slowed by the bottleneck. King County budgeted $86 million for road projects last year but could only get $53 million worth permitted, said King County Executive Ron Sims.

"Because of the extraordinary growth we're having here," Sims said. "What we're finding now is that federally funded affordable and low-income housing projects that are going through the for-profit and non-profit sectors (are) all being delayed."

Salmon once teemed in local waterways. But they have been reduced to a fraction of their former abundance by a variety of insults visited on them by civilization. Chief among them is pollution of clean, cold, fish-friendly streams with dirtier, hotter water.

That happens because of the way we build cities. Trees that once cooled streams are cut. Plants whose roots helped filter water gurgling into streams are replaced by streets and parking lots, where the water mixes with transmission fluid, oil and other impurities.

Listing salmon as "threatened" triggered automatic reviews of all construction involving federal money. The idea is to look for ways to minimize salmon-unfriendly building practices.

"When these projects get delayed, you're sitting in traffic," said Dan Klusman, public outreach manager for King County's endangered species office. "It's a good tradeoff -- you're sitting in your car a little longer to help fish."

Federal money is common in local construction projects, particularly when it comes to roads. For example, Sutherland said, the fisheries service had to review installation of a Puyallup stoplight that is a full mile from the nearest stream.

The same thing is happening all over Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, officials said. Add a turning lane to ease traffic congestion? The fisheries service has to look it over. Build a home for battered women? The fisheries service has to get a gander.

"It has had a fairly big effect on one project we're doing up in Bothell," said Tom Donnelly, a planner for Habitat for Humanity of East King County.

Habitat is building a shelter for battered women and some adjacent duplexes for low-income people near a stream in Bothell. It was one of the first projects to be reviewed under the new rules, Donnelly said.

"They were trying to figure out what they're doing. They had no structure," he said. "They didn't know what questions to ask us, so we didn't know how to respond. . . . The upshot of it all is, yes, this has been a fairly large delay."

Habitat and the county started wrestling with the situation in December and finally figured out a way to untangle it about two weeks ago, Donnelly said.

Will Stelle, regional director of the fisheries service, said the Clinton administration requested $30 million to help deal with the endangered species listings of West Coast salmon and similar fish, but Congress came up with only $9 million.

"We're continuing to ramp up slowly, but the funding is not there to get the job done," Stelle said.

It doesn't help that the fisheries service -- which specializes in managing fishing in the vast oceans -- must review construction in a sprawling metropolitan area.

"There's a significant learning process among all the agencies and jurisdictions," Sutherland told the subcommittee.

Private developers working without any federal money also face rules designed to protect salmon, but the rules are still being negotiated by the federal government and Pierce, Snohomish and King counties.

Agreement on the rules was expected before April 1, but the talks fell behind.


Sims and Sutherland say the National Marine Fisheries Service didn't have enough people to conduct the negotiations.

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