House bill could get Chinook up to speed

"A bill requiring environmental review for some ferries is more subtle, but just as dangerous as the one that would exempt ferries from review entirely, said Rich Passage landowner Karl Duff.Rep. Phil Rockefeller introduced a bill Monday that applies the State Environmental Policy Act to new kinds of ferries, new routes and new route-vessel combinations.Even if historically the ferry system has not had to consider environmental impacts, it should not be legal to ignore them, Rockefeller said. His bill creates a standard for triggering when SEPA should apply, and he believes it will minimize the risk of litigation by ferreting out potentially environmentally harmful actions. This is a big departure from Sen. Betti Sheldon's bill exempting vessels from environmental review, which met stiff opposition from landowners last week.But Duff didn't buy it. He believes Rockefeller's bill undercuts the landowners' position in court; it would allow new vessels to run for six months while an environmental review is completed and it wouldn't affect the Chinook, he said, because the boat isn't new to the route anymore. Duff wants SEPA done before potentially damage-causing boats hit the water.It appears to us that the bill provides three means of exempting the Chinook from SEPA, Duff said. He believes the bill is aimed not at future environmental responsibility, but at exempting the Chinook from current scrutiny.Duff's comments were rebuffed by Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis. This is actually a workable solution to protect you and your land, DeBolt said. The self-proclaimed private property rights-supporter said landowners should expect liabilities that go with living along a transportation route.But Duff said the bill is no protection against environmental harm if the state Department of Transporta-tion is in charge of overseeing its own environmental reviews, and if the review isn't completed before running a new vessel.Rep. Ruth Fisher, D-Tacoma and House Transportation Committee co-chairwoman, reigned in a great deal of testimony that was presented to the Senate Transportation Committee by three landowners from the Shoreline Conservation Alliance. They planned to present similar testimony to the House committee but Fisher interrupted the speakers with, You're off on the court case again. Would you speak to the bill, please?Rockefeller said he changed his bill from its original incarnation that exempted vessels from SEPA because I realized that whatever the decision the court makes, we still need a framework to rebuild public trust. That framework is the SEPA-triggering criteria in the bill.We don't want to limit the right of property owners to seek damages, to have their day in court, Rockefeller said, but this should ensure the ferry system behaves in a way that minimizes risk.Rep. Beverly Woods, R-23rd District, also sponsored the bill. I feel that this bill addresses the environmental concerns of Rich Passage property owners and the economic needs of Kitsap County, she said."

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