Vote For Bob Burr

Endorsed by Whatcom Democrats and Green Party

Vote Bob Burr for Bellingham city council!
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There are not a great many issues in this campaign. The chief issue is who is best able to serve the public interest now and into the future.

The incumbent serves industry more than he serves the public. I will stress the Public part of Public Utility District. Unlike the incumbent, I would have never signed a letter with Craig Cole and others urging the State to cut back on planned studies of the aquatic reserve off Cherry Point so that a coal terminal could move ahead more quickly. And, I most certainly would have voted against extending the rights to 5.33 million gallons of water a day to Pacific International Terminals for 30 years so that it could water down acre upon acre of three story high coal piles. It is not in the public interest to aid and abet the shipping of coal to China. The Public Utilities Commission should have waited for Environmental Impact studies to be completed. Its decision to waste its water rights in this way was irresponsible.

The County has huge issues in regards to water rights and potential water shortages. Everything is pretty much in limbo right now until Federal courts quantify the instream Nooksack River water rights of the Lummi Nation and the Nooksack tribe. The Public Utilities District hold huge amounts of unused rights Many local farmers are vulnerable because they never had rights or have lost them (use it or lose it is State policy). I want to be on the Commission to represent public interest when it comes to divvying up potentially scarce water supplies.

I have called the Public Utility District the most important governmental body that most people have never heard of. Part of the reason it is invisible is that it holds its Commission meetings at 8 am in a remote location. I will attempt to move the meetings to night so that working people can attend, as well as make the location more convenient when important matters are being discussed.

This rest of this section is in Question and Answer format. For the most part, the questions asked and the answers have been published online in local news media.

From the League of Women Voters:

What do you think have been the most important contributions of the Public Utility District (PUD) to the economic and environmental health of Whatcom County in the past six years?

The Public Utility District provides economic value to its ratepayers at Cherry Point who are among the largest employers in the County. That helps maintain living wage jobs. It has assisted existing industries at Cherry Point in significantly reducing their water consumption. And, it has provided modest funding for salmon habitat restoration in the Nooksack river basin.

It is also guilty, however, of aiding and abetting the potential coal terminal at Cherry Point. The Commission asked the State to cut back on its studies of the aquatic reserve off Cherry Point and unnecessarily and unwisely extended water rights held by the proponents of the coal terminal. These rights to nearly 2 billion gallons of water a year (5.33 million per day) were set to expire in 2015, but last year were extended for 30 years. In an era when climate change threatens water shortages, this was shortsighted and irresponsible. It was a major factor in my conclusion that the District needs new leadership.


What do you view as the PUD's role in efforts to resolve complex issues of access to water for multiple purposes, including fisheries, agriculture, cities, existing and new residences, and industrial development?

It is a prime-time player because it holds huge rights to Nooksack River water that are largely senior to all but the tribes and the City of Bellingham. And, over half of those rights are not now being exercised. In fact, unused or unallocated rights, now exceed total county water usage during the winter months. While the rights of the tribes are senior, they have not been quantified. The tribes are seeking such quantification in federal courts. Until they get it, a settling of other water rights is in limbo.

The PUD was established to meet the needs of the community. It has been serving the needs of Industry more than community, in essence being an IUD not a PUD. I want to put the Public back in the Public Utility District. Clearly, we, as individuals, and the farms that feed us must come first. And, existing entities--whether residential or industrial--must take precedence over newcomers.

The PUD has provided water and electricity to Cherry Point industries for decades. In your view, what – if any –impact would expansion of industries in that area be to those services elsewhere in the county?


The PUD should be able to provide for the electrical needs of new or expanded industry at Cherry Point without detriment to other constituencies in the County.

The impact of water provision is a lot more iffy. We all await federal adjudication of tribal rights to in-stream flow. "On average", we don't have a water shortage in Whatcom County. But, on average is worse than meaningless--it is misleading. The problem is that water supply is highest in the winter months when demand is lowest and lowest in the summer months when demand is highest. And, in-stream Nooksack flow is often insufficient under current standards in peak demand months. It would be best if new industries at Cherry Point were not water-intensive. Clearly, that is not the case with the coal terminal to which the PUD has committed two BILLION gallons a year. Agriculture could be in trouble if the Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal is permitted.

The PUD works with government agencies at all levels to address the county’s resource management needs. If elected, what existing programs would you recommend expanding or new ones you’d support initiating?

I would like to see District continue its involvement in the Watershed Management Project of WRIA1 (Watershed Resource Inventory Area No.1) as well as in the North Whatcom County Regional Source Feasibility Study.

Agriculture has traditionally been underrepresented in county discussions of water allocation. There is lots of opportunity for the PUD to expand its role in assisting water associations in planning, and in co-venturing with the new Water Irrigation/Improvement Districts (WIDs) that may be established.

The PUD should be a strong advocate for the County's update of its Watershed Management Plan to be less superficial than planned, while placing a greater emphasis on environmental sustainability issues.

What do you view as the role of the PUD in maintaining or improving Whatcom County’s water quality?

At present, the role is minimal. It treats the water it withdraws from the Nooksack River largely to remove sediment before it is supplied to Cherry Point industry; but, that water is not for drinking purposes. Recently, it has started to use its grant receiving authority to buy equipment to lease to some smaller water associations that have water quality problems. These associations could not have received grants on their own.

I believe that the PUD could and likely will play a larger role in tackling the nitrate problem existing in North County well water--perhaps, even to the extent of becoming the water supplier.


What are your goals for assuring everyone adequate electricity and reasonable rates through your PUD?


Compared to other PUDs in Washington, the Whatcom County PUD is a very small-time player in electricity provision The large Cherry Point customer who currently receives power through the PUD is evidently satisfied or it would seek electric power directly from Bonneville or through Puget Sound Energy (PSE).

The PUD does have the authority to become a large scale provider of electrical power in our county. It has a cooperative rather than a competitive relationship with PSE. Philosophically, I strongly prefer cooperation to competition. My problem with PSE relates not to the adequacy or reliability of its power or even its rates, but rather to the source mix of its power. The electricity that it channels to Whatcom County depends too heavily on its coal-powered plant in Montana and it has been intransigent about phasing this source out.

I would like to see the PUD partner with others--possibly even PSE--in developing solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy for our County.

What is your perspective on the issue of climate change and what, if anything, do you think the PUD should be doing about this issue?

My perspective is that climate change is not an issue. The science is clear. It is man-caused, tragically real, and likely to lead to mass species extinction unless the world acts quickly. Coal burning is the chief culprit. Climate change will lead to severe water shortages in many parts of our nation and elsewhere in the world.

Will Whatcom County be spared from the effects? The PUD has never studied what the effects of climate change might portend. It should and it plans to do so next year. I want to be involved in that study.

The decision to extend water rights to the proposed coal terminal for another 30 years was a mistake. Not only would it be a criminal waste of water, it indicates a degree of obliviousness to climate change.

And, as mentioned above, the PUD should be a player in clean and renewable energy development. Other PUDs in the State have left ours in the dust in that respect.

From the Bellingham Herald Voter Guide:

What are the biggest issues facing the PUD today?

Water rights, whether or not it has been serving the public interest, and what it wants to be when it grows up.

The PUD has an enormous amount of unexercised water rights and will be a, if not the, key player in resolving the water rights mess that now plagues the County. In transferring these rights, it must be mindful that it was originally established to meet the needs of the community. It has been serving the needs of Industry more than community. I want to put the Public back in the Public Utility District..

Being an advocate to the State for cutting back on studies of the aquatic reserve off Cherry Point to facilitate development there was not serving the public interest. Nor is aiding and abetting the non-permitted coal terminal by contracting to provide it nearly 2 BILLION gallons of water a year each year for the next thirty years.

The PUD has been reactive rather than proactive.during its lifespan. Should it not get involved more in renewable energy? I think so.

How are you qualified to fill this position?

My Research and Development background which included leading Planning and Analysis staff is solid. I am well-educated, intelligent, innovative, principled but pragmatic and public-spirited. I have handled budgets larger than that of the PUD and served on many industry boards. I grew up in a Water and Power family. I am a frequent commenter at local governmental meetings. I care.

I helped the Corporation for whom I worked explore and launch several new lines of business. Our PUD needs explore the possibility of wind and solar power generation and of providing wholesale telecommunications services.

How do you think the PUD could best address water rights in the Nooksack River basin?

There is a lot of overlap between this and the next two questions. While awaiting Federal Court quantification of the rights of the Nooksack Tribe and Lummi Nation in regard to stream flow, the PUD should continue its dialog with all involved parties. It should continue to work with its existing clients on water conservation. It should not commit large amounts of water to new clients until the in stream flow question has been settled..

Agriculture should be prioritized. Crops and livestock that are the lest water consumptive should take precedence over more water intensive farming.

Right now, of course, there is an inverse relationship between demand for Nooksack River water and the amount of water in the river.. Demand is least when flow is greatest and vice versa. More storage possibilities need to be explored.

How could the PUD best address other watershed planning issues?

Of particular importance is working with other major governmental players to gain a better scientific understanding of the dynamics of the water supply. A key variable--the relationship between groundwater and surface water--is poorly understood and an adequate inventory of groundwater needs to be made.

It should continue to assist smaller water associations with their needs including serving as a conduit through which the State Department of Health can channel funds to address localized water quality issues.

Next year, the PUD will begin an overdue study of the effects of climate change on future water quantity and quality, as will the County.

How should the PUD, in its role on the joint board, work with the recently reinstated Whatcom planning unit?

In a single word, closely. The PUD will be a key player not only in the planning unit, but also with the broader WRIA-1 group not represented on the Planning Unit. Water Planning has been ignored too long in Whatcom County. The Coordinated Water System Plan is badly in need of an update, State expertise will need to be heavily drawn upon. Cooperation and coordination is vital. The PUD should pretend that it has no veto power over recommendations, Meetings of the reinstated Planning Unit should be transparent and opportunity for public input extensive. Otherwise, the public is apt to distrust the process and thus the results.

If you agree and want to see these ideas represented in  the Whatcom Public Utility District 1, then GET INVOLVED!