Envision Skagit 2060 - A Critical Appraisal

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By Gary Hagland          

“I have to admit, creating a fear of naturally occurring phenomena like the weather and temperature in order to achieve power while providing a justification to steal both money and freedom is medieval, but conceptually brilliant.” Doug Powers


Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. “ Charles Krauthammer


Most people in Skagit County probably have little to no idea what Envision Skagit 2060 is, although it’s been an important county initiative for several years.   Those who do know about it, and are proponents, will more than likely explain that it’s a far reaching plan to help Skagit weather the vicissitudes of the future through smart planning and targeted development, less we lose open spaces, farmland not in the flood plain, opportunities for recreation and the unique character of the valley.  However, this plan, if implemented, will require significant sacrifices on the part of Skagit County citizens, or at least on the part of their heirs.  And those sacrifices will not only affect material well-being, but fundamental freedoms we all take for granted.    

Between 2008 and 2010, Skagit County actively sought and subsequently received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fund what became known as the Envision Skagit 2060 planning process.  The grant totaled $1.4 million.   The county was required to contribute the equivalent of a third of that, although the contribution could take the form of staff and volunteer time spent in working on the project.  It’s assumed that much of the taxpayer money obtained from the federal government went to pay consultants from the environmental advocacy groups, consulting firms and academics that provided the studies and technical advice. 

The studies, and presumably the advice, were amazingly uniform in viewpoint and content.  Possibly that was just the luck of the draw or possibly it was the realization that when money is given, the grantor has certain expectations.  And the grantor was Obama’s EPA, known for its war on carbon based energy, its higher level bureaucrats bragging about creating submission among energy company execs in metaphorically the same manner as the Roman Army subduing unfriendly populations and the odious act of fining an unassuming Idaho couple $75,000 per day for attempting to build on their own property after getting all necessary permits. 

Beginning in late 2010, a citizens committee of 12 specially selected members met periodically and eventually drafted a report, drawing on information and advice from a technical advisory committee and taking into account the responses of over 400 Skagit Valley residents, who, above all else, overwhelmingly wanted “to preserve diverse agriculture and local food production, access to outdoor recreation opportunities, and the innate value of healthy, functioning ecosystems.”

The report was presented to the commissioners, members of the Skagit Council of Governments, and the public in the spring of this year.  Within were recommendations on how best to achieve those goals by dealing with what was perceived to be likely scenarios that Skagit must address in the next 50 years. Government officials were encouraged to incorporate the recommendations into city and county planning as well as mesh them into the existing Skagit County Growth Management Act. 

Two assumptions drove the entire Envision Skagit 2060 process; (1) the effects of humans altering climate patterns, specifically, the inevitability of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), and (2) a doubling of the existing county population in the next half century.  Of all the people involved in the process, from the original steering committee to the technical committee made up of academics and consultants, to the carefully chosen citizens committee, there was apparently unquestioning agreement with those assumptions.

Although the threat of AGW is rapidly losing credence with the general public in the United States and elsewhere, it is the foundation for the analysis contained within the Envision Skagit reports.  In addition, a growing number of scientists and researchers are questioning the validity of the concept itself, either asserting that emissions from human activity don’t affect the climate or have negligible impact.  They point to a combination of natural phenomena, including solar activity, periodic changes in major ocean circulations, alternating El Nino and La Nina patterns and possibly the slight variations in the tilt of the earth itself as primary drivers of climatic conditions.  They also lament that very little money is granted to those who want to study the natural side of the climate question. The vast majority of government and private funding goes to those who claim CO2 emissions are significantly heating up the planet and lifestyles must be altered or downsized to prevent climate catastrophe.

One of the tenets of the Envision Skagit reports is that Skagit residents must reduce their emissions.  Skagit County committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 prior to joining the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), a UN sponsored organization, in 2009.  ICLEI’s stated goals include promoting UN programs like the Framework Convention on Climate Change and Agenda 21 to local governments.    

The historical climate record bolsters the skeptics’ position.  Thanks to improved research techniques, we now know that the earth was warmer in the past without the corresponding increase in atmospheric CO2.  The Medieval Warming Period (MWP) (950 – 1250 AD) was warmer than today.  That is when the Vikings farmed parts of a large island they named, “Greenland.”  Today, it could be called, “Whiteland.”  The  MWP was followed by a significant cooling period referred to as the Little Ice Age, which lasted until the mid-19th Century.  The planet is still warming up from that.  Also, the earth was warmer than the MWP during the Roman Warming Period of 2000 years ago and warmer still during the Minoan Warming Period of 3400 years ago and the  Holocene Climatic Optimum of 7000 years ago.  Again, all had levels of CO2 lower than today. 

The acknowledged source document for the analysis and assertions in the Envision Skagit reports is the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report 4 (AR4), which was published in 2007.  That report has come under withering criticism for extreme bias and poor methodology.  Representatives and past employees of environmental advocacy organizations such as Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund and the Climate Action Network edited portions of the report.  In addition, up to 30% of the source documents were not peer reviewed, but taken from sources like magazine articles and graduate student research papers. 

Adding to the loss of the IPCC’s and AGW advocates’ credibility was the involvement of primary AR4 contributors in the Climategate scandal.  Those individuals were found to have manipulated and deleted data, suppressed research that didn’t conform to their opinions, tried to harm the careers of those who disagreed with them, and stonewalled FOIA requests in the U.S. and U.K. 

Finally, there’s the fact that the average temperature of the planet hasn’t risen in 12 to 15 years, while CO2 levels continue to rise.  Although we’ve experienced a mild winter and hot summer in the U.S. this past year, in Europe and parts of Asia this winter was extremely cold and the summer was cool.  It is unfortunate for AGW enthusiasts, who base their dire predictions entirely on computer modeling that the climate is not cooperating with their projections. Despite erroneous computer models, a temperature record that won’t cooperate and a serious discrediting of the IPCC process, AR4 remains the foundation for much of Envision Skagit 2060.  

The second major assumption underlying Envision Skagit 2060 is the belief that the county’s population will double in 50 years, thereby increasing the stress on infrastructure and the environment, and resulting in the loss of precious farmland.  However, there is no evidence to support population doubling.  There is only the expectation that the population will double because it doubled in the last 50 years.  An admission by a member of the county planning department at the very start of the process was that the state “does not do 50-year population growth forecasts for counties, in part because such forecasts become increasingly unreliable the farther out they go.”  So instead, in utter disregard for that unreliability, it was decided to use a consultant study designed for water use projects. 

One of the conditions for population growth has to be a reason for people to relocate to that locale.  That reason typically is economic opportunity.  Another factor is a robust birth rate.  Neither applies currently to Skagit County.  Nearly half of working residents are employed outside the county and the local school systems are worried about dropping enrollment.  What’s more, the birth rate in the U.S. is barely at replacement level. The dramatic increase in population in Skagit County within the last 50 years was a factor of the I-5 corridor being completed, as well as expansion of Boeing in Everett and expansion at NAS Whidbey Island.  Similar factors are not likely to be repeated in the next 50.

The citizens’ committee recommendations were divided into eight main categories with specific goal statements under each.  A ninth category was to be included, which was a detailing of the impacts of climate change, but the University of Washington study was not yet available at the time the final report was drafted and presented.  Even so, the impetus for many of the recommendations within the completed report was the belief that changing climate patterns would alter the future. 

The first broad recommendation was to create a “regional alliance” beyond what exists at the present time.  The Skagit Council of Governments (SCOG) currently acts as the mechanism for countywide cooperation.  The alliance is intended to provide a “unified” approach to county growth, development and conservation of natural resources and the environment.  Specific goals under this recommendation included countywide sharing of tax receipts and the merger of Burlington and Mt Vernon.  The mayors of those two cities agreed there could be some consolidation of services, but they were adamant in opposing an outright merger.  A concern about such an organization is the lack of accountability which is a problem currently being experienced with the SCOG. 

The second, third and sixth recommendations dealt with conservation issues relating to farmland, the environment, and water resources.  A doubling of the farm legacy program was suggested, although no source of funding was designated other than property tax payments.  Another suggestion was to remove farms and residences from the floodplain.  Residences in the town of Hamilton and the Cape Horn area were specifically mentioned for relocation.  This would be accomplished by purchasing the properties, but again there was no proposed funding source other than tax dollars. 

There was anticipation that because of AGW, sea level rise would encroach upon farmland in the delta, thus making the soil unfit for agriculture.  The Envision Skagit technical report projects a potential sea level rise of up to 7 feet.  If and when that happens, the recommendation is to restore the land to tidal salt marsh or wetlands.  Although inundation is a fear among numerous AGW proponents, the sea has not risen since the early 1990’s by more than 1.5 inches.  Since 2006, it hasn’t risen at all.  Sea level rise, like dramatic temperature rise, seems to manifest itself only in computer projections and Al Gore’s movie.        

Other recommendations included widening the Skagit and Samish river corridors and establishing green infrastructure, open spaces and “green ways,” which are interconnected undeveloped tracts of land where agricultural, commercial and residential use is prohibited.  Ideally, a person could hike or bike from one end of the Skagit to the other without encountering the vestiges of civilization. 

Another issue is a fear of declining water volume in the Skagit and Samish and its stream tributaries based on usage and the climate changing to dryer conditions in certain seasons.  Ironically, the same report predicts the increased likelihood of floods based on Cascade glaciers melting.  A 30% increase in 100-year floods was predicted by the year 2040. However, studies show that snowpack has increased by an average of 28% at 36 sites in the Cascades in the last 30 years.  Also ironically, the amount of water that the Skagit River puts into the ocean is the third most on the West Coast behind the Columbia and the Sacramento.  Be that as it may, recommendations included adopting serious water conservation measures and allowing innovative approaches to wastewater and fresh water systems. 

The stated reason for water conservation measures and much of the attempt to prevent property owners along the rivers and streams from building and digging wells on their land is to restore salmon populations.  Restoration of the salmon populations is a worthy goal, but a more effective measure might be to get the tribes to stop the mass netting of fish during the migrations of salmon back to their spawning grounds.  At certain points, gill nets are often stretched most of the width across the Skagit.  As long as the nets are in place, few fish escape. 

Another Envision Skagit 2060 recommendation deals with the funneling of people into existing cities and towns at a ratio of 90% being housed in urban areas and only 10% living outside.  This supposedly prevents further loss of farmland and wildlife habitat, and is considered necessary even though the current settlement rate for new residents is 80% urban/20% rural.  To accomplish this goal, zoning laws need to be changed to allow higher multi story buildings, more mixed use neighborhoods and denser concentrations of residents.  Ideally, nearly everything a person requires would be within walking distance of where he or she lives.  Stores and other businesses would be on the ground floors and apartments and condos on the upper levels.  “Detached dwellings,” or what we know as single-family homes, will be discouraged or not allowed.  The people of the future will experience a heightened sense of community as they are treated to their neighbors’ arguments, music preferences and cooking odors. 

Along with packing people into dense urban areas, transportation options would also undergo a transformation.  In order to reduce Skagit’s carbon footprint, privately owned vehicles would be replaced with passenger rail service between cities and a fleet of passenger vans, called “colectivos,” an Argentinean term, would run along the narrow SR20 corridor.  The colectivos could also be employed to run around town.  If a high- speed rail system for greater distances didn’t materialize, then bus rapid transit and river transportation should be considered.  In addition, non-motorized transportation needs to be emphasized.  Bike lanes should be increased and improved, and facilities for pedestrians should be built into the road network. 

Affordable housing is also addressed in the citizens report; “Integrate affordable housing into the fabric of our communities, not isolated in low-income enclaves.”  An additional recommendation was to develop a pilot project to demonstrate that “affordable housing can be combined with quality design and green building and low impact developmental technologies.”  The report failed to mention any expected trend in the crime rate or the problems emergency responders encounter in densely packed living conditions.              

Finally, the report contained a very brief and vague section on economic vitality.  Skagit County should encourage sustainable businesses that enable people to work without long commuting distances and which make sustainable use of sustainable resources, especially in the eastern part of the county and other rural areas.  Also, broadband service at urban rates should be provided to those areas allowing people to work from their homes and negating the need for travel.  

“Sustainable Development,” a term purposely undefined by environmental alarmists, is a central theme of Envision Skagit 2060.  Perhaps sustainable development is like pornography, no one can define it, but they know it when they see it.  Professor James Lovelock, a luminary of the environmental movement and known by some as the “Godfather of Global Warming Alarmism, recently recanted his doomsday predictions, admitting he had been wrong.  He may have completed his apostasy with the declaration that sustainable development was “meaningless drivel.”   

The citizens’ report as well as the entire Envision Skagit 2060 initiative is a left wing, radical environmentalist, social engineering vision supposedly tailored for Skagit Valley, although its recommendations look amazingly similar to “Envision” type projects in other parts of the country.   The American Dream of having one’s own property, owning one’s own home, and self-determination are summarily dismissed.  Based on the preferences of the county planning department, the citizens committee and the opinions of 400 Skagit residents, which is only 3/10th’s of 1% of the county’s population, people are to be confined to living in what are essentially human ant colonies or asphalt plantations and their mobility restricted. Property owners will still pay taxes, but not enjoy the use of their land.  This, of course, flies in the face of what we know of the underlying factors necessary for genuine prosperity, which is an energized, mobile population with people seeking opportunity in hopes of bettering their economic condition and business owners willing to start up or relocate because of a favorable business climate.  Envision Skagit 2060 recommends exactly the opposite and will result in a static and ultimately a permanently stagnant local economy.  But at least people will be able to ride their bikes along the entire Skagit River, although bicycles may be all they’re left with. 

TheEnvision Skagit 2060 Citizen Committee Final Recommendations can be found here.


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