A less than happy anniversary to the Hirst decision

By MADILYNNE CLARK  | 
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Oct 6, 2017

Happy October 6th! Or it can also be said, “Wishing you a less than happy anniversary to the Hirst decision.”

A year ago, today, I was still getting my sea legs with Washington Policy Center. Then a policy issue out of left field quickly disrupted my new routine and became a predominant focus of WPC’s new Initiative on Agriculture. This policy issue was Whatcom County v. Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board (called the Hirst decision).

Hirst effectively banned permit-exempt wells in Washington state, halting rural development and leaving many families stuck in the middle of building a home, with now worthless, undevelopable land. Other consequences are unfolding and rural Washington will bear the costs of a “solution” championed by urban advocates who don’t offer to share the burden.

After a year Washington has not made any progress in solving the problems of Hirst. Instead, the Washington State Legislature held three special sessions only to end on July 20th without a capital budget or the necessary Hirst Fix.

Now, rural communities are left to bear the burdens of this policy decision by the Washington State Supreme Court. The Building Industry Association of Washington estimates that our state will lose $6.9 billion dollars in economic activity annually due to Hirst. Other costs of Hirst include $452.3 million in lost wages, $37 billion in lost property values, and $400 million in lost state and local taxes.

Earlier this week 10 state employees were laid off because the capital budget was not adopted as part of a Hirst fix. Having experienced job loss, I understand the painful consequences this has on families, but let’s put the consequences of the missing capital budget in perspective.

BIAW’s study estimates that 9,300 people will lose their jobs because of the Hirst decision. So far, the capital budget has resulted in 10 lost jobs -- 0.1% of the impact on employment in Washington state compared to the consequences of Hirst.

This is important to remember when the impact of permit-exempt wells affects less than 1% of Washington state’s total water use. Why would urban advocates impose such a high cost for so small a benefit? It should be noted, that Hirst was orchestrated and backed by Futurewise, an urban-growth advocacy organization who works to limit rural development.

The frustrations of this anniversary are many:

  • Consequences of Hirst are brushed aside by advocacy groups who want to impose their urban enviro-imperialist notions onto Washington’s rural communities;
  • Dismissed by politicians who refuse to see the consequences of Hirst;
  • Belittled as “just a water issue” when compared to the politically desired capital budget; and
  • No legislative solution has been provided to Washington families who are enduring the unfair consequences of the Hirst decision.

Hopefully, in a year I won’t need to write a piece commemorating Hirst’s second anniversary. People need a solution, not just postponing the consequences, as advocated by the governor’s office and House Democrats.