Some background on Hirst
Nothing has highlighted the urban-rural divide in Washington recently quite like the issue known as Hirst. What sounds like a boring battle of bureaucratese has actually upended the lives of so many in rural areas and threatens to hold back our state’s economy (outside the tech bubble, which has had its own rude surprises of late).
It all started with a state Supreme Court ruling last year that overturned decades of water law and common practice. Previously, the state Department of Ecology certified water availability for new wells. The court said this was illegal; under the Growth Management Act, counties have to do that.
So what does that mean? It means counties have effectively ceased issuing new permits to build in rural areas. The decision stalled economic development and left families in the lurch. A new BIAW report estimates that Washington will lose $6.9 billion in economic activity annually if these new rules stay in place.
While Eastern Washington is feeling Hirst acutely, this isn’t merely an East-West divide. Rural areas in Western Washington are suffering too (the case actually originated out of Whatcom County).
Gov. Inslee may talk of “One Washington,” but when it comes to solving Hirst, he’s remarkably blasé. The rumor in Olympia is that House Democrats decided not to pass a Hirst fix because tribes and environmental groups won’t let them.
For urban lawmakers, the response to Hirst is overwhelming complacency. They just don’t care. So we asked for your stories about how Hirst is affecting you. Here’s what you had to say.
You shared your stories
We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of stories, simply too many to share. One couple with 20 acres in Western Washington said Hirst is putting them under tough financial pressure, unable to sell their property. “It has been in limbo, as no water, no houses built, and no sale. It has been a very long ordeal. We need to sell as we need the money.”
That was a common theme, people under pressure who cannot get adequate money for their property. The same couple’s daughter in Eastern Washington is in a similar situation, and Hirst is adding to the woes of even people trying to buy within city limits. “Now the price on existing homes have gone up a lot, and are priced out due to smaller available housing.”
Plummeting values are a problem for many:
“I own and have owned 50 acres in Ellensburg. I cannot put a well on it and this year the value of my property dropped nearly $50,000. This was going to be our retirement home but now we are unsure what to do with it. We are not the only ones affected by this decision that the Democrats are afraid to address.”
Many reported that they live in temporary arrangements, their dreams put on hold because property they bought in good faith is now unusable. One man wrote:
“I am a 28 year retired combat veteran and have served in the Marine Corps and Army. I finally bought my dream property, 10 acres with an existing well, and cannot get a building permit due to the Hirst Decision. Most of my belongings are in storage and I am renting a small apartment until this issue gets decided.”
Larger acreage with intended farming purposes won’t get you around Hirst. One couple with 60 acres “and only one person close to it” in Eastern Washington want to build a small farm but “we need a well without the extra costs.”
Looking for a solution
A couple with 20 acres in Whatcom County noted that Hirst’s effects go beyond rural homeowners:
“This loss of property value will have a negative effect on our local rural school district as there are many parcels of undeveloped land. This will also shift the property tax burden to homeowners and I don’t think they realize the negative consequences for them. Many people think the Hirst decisions is only for new wells. Not true. We have repeatedly called and written the legislature to no avail.”
That desire for a permanent political solution was echoed throughout many of your responses, and it’s left a bitter taste for some. “With the Legislature and Governor being unwilling to address the issue we know where we are in the pecking order,” a pair of retirees wrote in.
One man noted that the decision is about so much more than just water access:
“After spending nearly 50 years in Seattle, I purchased land in Eastern Washington to develop as a homestead for retirement, emergency preparedness and a slower, more conservative lifestyle than what the cities have become. I do not complain about the way others choose to live provided they also accept my choice to honor God and the heritage that is America. That is the same America that I served in the military to honor and keep.
“We are now faced with unbelievable water rights costs, restrictions, limitation, red tape, and bureaucracy.
“We have marijuana plantations within a few hundred yards of our property yet we are struggling to get through the necessary hoops to build a simple retirement homestead.”
Jon Higley says
It seems only logical that, as word spreads about this, those who’ve not yet been caught up in this quagmire/nightmare and are considering doing anything similar, will be smart to consider another neighboring state to retire in. I can’t help but wonder if this is the overall objective of the environmentalists pushing this in the legislature.
Jim Cole says
The Progressive Left is like a swarm of Locust. They destroy everything they touch. Their ideology is the end in itself. They don’t care who gets hurt because after all country people are simply ignorant. If they were any smarter they’d live in the city
If the government wont step up and do their due diligence to make this right, property owners will just have to take matters into their own hands and punch their own wells. I’m sure this is the last thing local government or environmentalist want but it’s what is going to start happening if the don’t get busy!!!
The “government” we have elected thinks this is right,
No, the “government’ the big city liberal progressives elected thinks this is right. Whole different thing. We need something similar to the electoral college at the State level to prevent the metro areas from overwhelming the votes of the rural areas and smaller towns in each county and Statewide.
File a class action lawsuit and sue the state of WA and the counties for denial of due process. If that does not work, file an inverse condemnation against the counties/state for damages due to unreasonable delays and the taking of land rights without just compensation having been paid. Perhaps the tribes should also be named as defendants in the lawsuits.
Their was no denial of due process. We had public meetings, the court house was full, people actually got on their knees and pled. They the urbanites voted the same folks in. There is little you can do when the government legally ruins you.
Denial of due process can be something as simple as the governing authority did not sufficiently study the science of the water effect claims. Government almost always denies due process in little things that are important to the little people. Also, there is a case called “Thibodo vs the State of Main” where a bureaucrat was personally allowed to be sued for denial of due process…perhaps this tactic will get individuals their due process when the government workers fear legal retribution from property owners. Then, if the above do not work, convince one affected property owner to file an inverse condemnation action suit claiming damages and force the government into court to support its claim that the property owners have no rights violated and have suffered no damages.
So, decisions on local water rights have been taken away from unelected bureaucrats in faraway Olympia, and returned to county officials. That sounds like a small-government solution conservatives should love.
It appears the only problem here is that small-government solutions don’t actually work, which is why we here in booming Seattle don’t choose them. Oh well.
Any word on getting local county officials to, um, do their jobs?
Chris Young says
Actually, the Department of Ecology has the appropriate resources and staffs offices at each County Seat. Having the policies directed from a single source with distributed implementation (county office of the Department of Ecology) provided a consistent application of the standards across the state.
The GMA says that the counties must have a development plan (all do at this time), it does NOT say that they must participate in EVERY decision in the process. The Courts created this requirement “out of thin air”, there is nothing in the law that mandated this change.
As it now stands, the counties alone can take action to resolve these complaints. If the counties have the state-supplied resources to do this, then the problem lies with them, not anywhere else.
I agree returning to one agency setting policy would be best, but it’s not essential. The counties can act now if they want, and as their inaction is the source of all the complaints here, all blame should go to them.
Chris Young says
Duplicating the resources at both county and state level creates another level of bureaucracy, more costs and more conflicts between county rules, regulations and interpretations of law. While county level sounds good and looks good at first glance, a single regulator/coordinator makes it easier to navigate the system.
Duplicating the resources at both county and state level creates another level of bureaucracy,
Actually, it doesn’t, because counties already have land-use and permitting departments, and the county office of the Dep’t. of Ecology on-site to assist.
…more conflicts between county rules, regulations and interpretations of law.
That is actually what will eventually happen, forcing the legislature into stepping in and creating a coherent set of rules. Meanwhile, we get another example of small-government, local autonomy failing to solve problems, which is fine with this liberal.
It was always in the hands of Whatcom county council, They failed to do what the state legislature mandated them to do. And you are correct in Whatcom county our urbanites do not care,
Ismail Arslangiray says
The problem is many of this so called progressive people may not even be eligible to vote but they still vote. I think state of Washington has one of the highest voter fraud location
I would like to think that, but in Whatcom county that is not so. My friends and neighbors voted for this council, This is what they want to happen in our county, I can no longer give any of them an excuse. They didn’t know, they forgot to vote, they didn’t have time to research. They have always been a democrat. Whatever other lame excuse they use to ignore the damage they are responsible for,
The judges on the Washington State Supreme Court are elected. If they make faulty decisions do not re-elect them. This is not hard folks.
It appears our legislature is working to fix the problems caused by the Hirst decision:
Republicans and Democrats on the Washington Senate Agriculture, Water & Natural Resources Committee — including two key Senate Republicans—unanimously recommended approval of a compromise bill on the so-called Hirst issue Thursday afternoon.
Why, all it took was for the fake, obstructionist majority coalition, which was created to block the will of us voters, to get dissolved by the recent election in the 45th District. Thanks to the voters there for shifting the conversation in Olympia!