Whatcom County CAPR

Citizens Alliance for Property Rights

Wind Power and Rural Lifestyles in Whatcom County

Written By: Jack Petree - May• 20•12

An interesting juxtaposition of recent events where I live serves to illustrate how convoluted the politics of the pop environmental movement can sometimes be.

Bellingham, Washington, where I reside, proudly proclaims its “green” orientation having won awards for the fact that all the power purchased by the city to run its operations is “green” power.

It is mildly amusing and indicative of how things work in the pop environmental movement to note the EPA Green Power website regarding Bellingham documents a remarkable “108.3%” of the power consumed by the city is green.

Even as it pursues a green image, the city involves itself in planning issues, especially planning issues outside its own urban growth area boundaries; for environmental reasons, of course.

Recently the city, one of its functionaries, a few citizens and a downtown Seattle based environmental watchdog group called Futurewise (also a promoter of “green” power) challenged Whatcom County (Bellingham is the county seat) in the legal venue regarding growth allowed outside the growth boundaries of the cities on private lands not set aside for the preservation of agriculture, forestry or resource extraction.   The lands, designated “Rural” under the auspices of Washington’s Growth Management Act are land defined by the act as, among other things, areas:

  • In which open space, the natural landscape, and vegetation predominate over the built environment;
  • That foster traditional rural lifestyles, rural-based economies, and opportunities to both live and work in rural areas;
  • That provide visual landscapes that are traditionally found in rural areas and communities;

It should be understood that rural lands, as defined by the Growth Management Act, do not include lands already set aside by a jurisdiction like Whatcom County for large scale (some call it factory farming) agriculture.  Rural lands are the lands set aside to provide for small scale family farms and other traditional lifestyle choices generally found in rural areas.

In Whatcom County, because so much of the land is owned by government, a bit less than 10% of the County is even available for small scale family farms and traditional rural lifestyles; zoned for rural uses.  86% of the county is reserved for larger scale agriculture, forests, national parks and other uses precluding development.

In general, over the years, the discussion in Whatcom County, with a cadre of Bellingham City Council members, residents of the city, the urban based group Futurewise and others leading the charge, has been that large scale farming is good while traditional rural lifestyles based on small acreages are bad (they call it rural sprawl).

One big issue with allowing people to live on small family farms or other small acreage homesteads in the county has been the idea that allowing too many people to choose to live in the County radically changes, and thus destroys, the traditional rural views city folk have come to expect as they traverse the county on the way to the ski slopes or to their condos in the mountains.

The County’s Comprehensive Plan waxes poetic in its description of what rural life in Whatcom County is to be:  “Rural,” the plan proclaims, is, “ a middle ground between urban/suburban settings and true wilderness, consists of large spaces, low-intensity uses, and environmentally fragile areas. Rural evokes images of fields and crops, farm buildings, rolling hills, great sweeping valleys, wooded ridges, wide inspiring views, peace and quiet, and a sense of small town community. Often associated with these images is the fragrance of fresh cut hay, spread fertilizers, and plowed earth. These are all characteristics not normally associated with more urbanized communities.”

No one reading that lofty language would be surprised that more than 70% of the oversight committee for the plan were city residents.

In short, at least to city dwellers, large scale farming is more picturesque and allow for more open views of the hills and trees than all those icky little farms and rural dwellings do.

So consider the photo here:

The photo was taken near rural Thorpe, Washington.

In the foreground are all those icky little farms (rural sprawl) the City of Bellingham, some of its residents and Futurewise so despise and are working to eliminate.  Notice how all those little farms ruin the view.

On the ridge overlooking the view despoiling farms are 400 foot tall behemoths busily helping to provide the “green” energy the City of Bellingham consumes and actually pays extra for in order to allow the building of even more of the beautiful structures.  Each of those structures consumes between one and three acres of ground (pasture, cropland, wildlife habitat depending on where it is located) and, requires a road system capable of allowing semi trucks and heavy equipment to traverse the hillsides for construction and maintenance.  Each of the structures is nearly twice as tall as the tallest building in Bellingham from the ground to the top of the propeller.

If you peek through the wall of windmills you can see, the “wide and inspiring views” of the Cascade Mountain range, views like those the challengers to the rural element in Whatcom County say must be preserved near Bellingham.

Bellingham and Whatcom County illustrate almost perfectly why terms like NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) come into the vocabulary.

What they also illustrate is the willingness of the pop-environmental movement to impose the consequences of life in the modern world on other communities; “I need the electricity, just make sure I don’t have to watch it being made; and when I go for my Sunday drive, I have a right to see wide open vistas without all those icky rural people cluttering up the view.”

Find more at: http://www.jackpetreeontheenvironment.blogspot.com/

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