Gathering for environmentalists turns ugly - Pro-growth forces clash with activists at forum

Thurston County, WA - 6/7/02 - A forum hosted by environmental groups critical of how Thurston County officials enforce environmental law was all but torpedoed Thursday night by a show of force from the other side.

The crowd of 100 or so was dominated by builders, private property rights advocates and people who offered examples of questionable land-use regulations.

The clash of political agendas was in part the work of Thurston County Commissioner Kevin O'Sullivan, who rallied some of his supporters to attend the "Quality of Life and Environmental Compliance" forum led by the South Puget Environmental Education Clearinghouse, an environmental group.

"Darn right I invited them," O'Sullivan said. "I deal with these people every day. They're environmental extremists trying to do away with jobs in this county."

The goal of the forum was to take the pulse of the community toward the county's role in environmental compliance and develop recommendations on how the county could do better, SPEECH President Krag Unsoeld said.

"We're not coming together tonight to complain about the job the county is doing," he said at the onset of the meeting.


Environmentalists at the meeting showed restraint. But some questioned whether county elected officials and bureaucrats have the courage to enforce environmental laws on the books.

Gary Cooper, a former environmental review officer for Thurston County, pointed out that a 1999 county survey of 359 bulkheads on Summit Lake found 12 had the necessary permits for construction under the county's shoreline rules.

"The county has not been effective in enforcing our environmental codes," he said.

Tom Badger, an engineer and geologist, said the county needs someone on staff trained to better scrutinize projects proposed on unstable soil and steep slopes.

"Senior decision-makers at the county should adhere to the science," he said.

At times the testimony was angry and hostile from the pro-growth and property rights side of the room.

South county homebuilder John Hinkle labeled the forum organizers "environmental terrorists."


"The real agenda at this meeting is anti-growth, not environmental compliance," former county commissioner candidate Mike Pettit said.

Others charged county planners with using junk science to support proposed land-use restrictions.

Littlerock-area resident Nancy Nelson said her property was included in a proposed Salmon Creek drainage basin plan to reduce flooding, even though her property drains into Bloom Ditch, away from Salmon Creek to the Black River.

"Scientifically unsound regulations run the risk of a backlash that causes us to lose both the baby and the bathwater," said Nelson, a fisheries biologist and financial planner.

The meeting got off to a rocky start. Forum moderator and former Thurston County Commissioner Les Eldridge left the meeting shortly after the ground rules he established for the testimony were cast aside.

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