The time period availabe to work on hydaulic projects in the waters off of the San Juan Islands could be reduced to the dark winter months of November - March 15 now that the Marine Resources Committee has contacted the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The county Council was not informed until after the letter dated December 5, 2012 was sent and a reply dated December 19 was received from the WDFW.
Currently the work closure window is March 15-June 14. The MRC informed the WDFW juvenile salmon are present from March through October and in its original draft requested the time period work is not allowed be extended to March 15-October 31. After objections, from two members of the MRC, the specific dates were not included in the letter. MRC members.
The WDFW wrote: "The Department is currently working through the process to update the hydraulic code rules, including the prohibited work times in saltwater areas. As part of the rulemaking process, we consider best available science such as the study on fish presence you provided."
The letter states: We are writing to ask that WDFW and the San Juan MRC work together again to revise the work window closure period under the Hydraulic Code Rules to better reflect the time that juvenile salmon are actually in our waters. In our role as the Salmon Recovery Citizens Advisory Group for WRIA2 (Water Resource Inventory Area 2) we have been looking at this matter ever since the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan was developed in 2005. The current work window closure is March 15-June 14, which is based on migration timing information in estuary areas far from the San Juan Islands. Recent local research documents that juvenile salmon are present in our area at least from March 15 through October 31. Therefore, we request that WDFW revise the work closure people to better reflect the conditions in the San Juan Islands.
The council discussed what they consider an action which violates the advisory role the MRC has. Council member Rich Peterson attended the December 5 meeting the MRC discussed the letter. The minutes:
Letter to WDFW re work windows:
Copies of the revised draft letter have been circulated. Currently, in-water work is precluded from March 15th to June 14th to protect juvenile salmon. However, those dates are based on research from mainland estuaries, and likely do not reflect the period of time that juvenile salmon are present in the San Juan Islands.
Recent local research documents that juvenile salmon are present in our shallow marine habitats of SJC at least from March 15th through October 31st; juvenile Chinook arrive in the San Juan Islands by April and remain relatively high in abundance through October, while juvenile Pinks and Chum remain until August. The current window opening occurs just when the juvenile salmon presence is peaking here.
Motion: Rawson moved, and Tina Whitman seconded, that the letter be approved for sending. Barbara Marrett reiterated that it is unrealistic to expect that marine-related work be done during harsh winter weather (November – January).
Michael Durland added that it took him 2.5 years to get a permit for work on Orcas and it will be very difficult in the dark of winter months to do the work and contain sediment.
There was discussion on the letter's request for WDFW to set the work window closure at specific dates.
After discussion, the MRC amended the letter to include the new data along with a request for WDFW to attend a future MRC meeting for further discussion and to eliminate the request for specific dates.
Amended motion: It was moved that the letter be approved as amended. The motion passed unanimously.
Instead of presenting the letter to the county Council for approval, the MRC sent the letter printed with MRC letterhead directly to Phil Anderson Director of WDFW.
At the January 8, 2013 council meeting, the first meeting of the year, Peterson brought up the problem of letter.
"I think we need to reel in the reins and see if they are within the bounds," Council member Bob Jarman said," I don't particular agree with it. (MRC's recommendation) See why they are formed and what their purpose is."
Council member Marc Forlenza said, "We should take another look at the MRC because they seem to be their own entity. If indeed they were created by the council. This is ex post facto."
Council member Rick Hughes said, "I don't know if you want to get as granular in picking out a specific committee like the MRC. I think we should look at it as a bigger perspective. If there is an entity making a recommendation that even has a inference or implication to the council that we should be at least brought and presented to, especially if it comes with a land or water use or usage issues. We should let the committees know if they are representing the county they should let us know what is going on. I don't think an after-the-fact memo works.
"Just as a quick background," Council member Jamie Stephens said, "Before the MRC was created, the federal govenment was going to take control of the waters around here. The county came up with a better idea. I like what Rick said, we need to take a look at all of these committees. I think what you said, Rich, about the liason is really important."
"I agree we need to take a look at all committees, but taking a look at the MRC is really important. They know, it's been articulated by this council and previous councils some of the concerns they have been over reaching their bounds. They are choosing to ignore the sensitivity the council's have expressed as far as them over reaching their bounds. The resolution says they are to advise the BOCC." said Council member Patty Miller said. "It doesn't say to advise state agencies...We don't need to entirely single them out, but we need to have a face to face meeting with some members of the MRC. We need to get this ship back in shape."
"The old council passed that motion on Lopez about NOAA closure issues. It was a pretty direct message, I thought, saying we were the ones that speak for the county on policy, said Peterson. "Maybe we need to craft a new letter that says, make no mistake about this anything that has to do on policy is our turf...It's hard to clip their wings without maybe damaging their ability to do what they are supposed to be doing. It's a sensitive discussion."
Stephens suggested they follow Miller's suggestion and see what results. The council agreed to have three members meet with the MRC's executive council in a public meeting.
The next MRC meeting is at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, January 9 in Islanders Bank Administrative Building in Friday Harbor.