Additional Testimony of Robert Benze on the Kitsap County SMP

Kitsap Alliance additional comments on the Kitsap Shoreline Master Program Update

The purpose of this letter is to provide additional comments demonstrating the County’s failure to correctly develop the science that underlies the dramatically increased restrictions on the use of shoreline residential property, including huge buffers, found in the proposed SMP update. 

Background:

Over the last two and a half years, the Kitsap Alliance has submitted written comments critical of the science being used by the County in support of its Shoreline Master Program update. Information provided to the County clearly shows it does not meet the requirements of the Washington State Master Program Guidelines, WAC 173-26 or the County’s own Scientific and Technical Information Policy for the Shoreline Master Program Update approved by the Commissioners on February 16, 2011.

Now, additional troubling information related to the science has come to light in emails recently provided to the Kitsap Alliance as a result of the Alliance’s public records request letter of January 24, 2012. These long delayed emails were finally made available on October 30, 2012. It is not possible to fully analyze the 6403 pages on the CD in the five days before the November 5th comment deadline (today), but a cursory review of 2010 email traffic already reveals the following:

The “hidden” establishment of a scientific “technical team”.

As you know, the County, as a part of its public participation process, appointed twenty people to a Shoreline Master Program Task Force, to review, comment on, and make recommendations to the County related to the SMP update. The first meeting was held April 22, 2010 and they continued through January 23, 2012. A Kitsap Alliance representative, the undersigned Mr. Benze, an Environmental Engineer, with significant environmental protection scientific background, participated throughout.

The County’s summary of the Task Force’s August 5, 2010 meeting stated: “A couple of members wondered about assistance from a “technical team” and when that might occur in the Task Force process, noting that it would be helpful to hear from technical experts on issues such as buffers. Susan (Donahue) replied that the County has a list of possible technical advisors for the process, but that a specific “group” has not yet been formed. Technical expertise will be brought in to the Task Force/SMP process as needed.” “A member responded that it would be helpful to have this advice sooner rather than later –before we get overwhelmed with technical information.” This statement does not agree with fact and appears to be an outright untruth on the part of Ms. Donahue – which was not corrected by other county employees in the room who knew the facts.

In point of fact, in early 2010, the County initiated quarterly meetings with the local Tribes. Susan Donahue’s email of February 24, 2010 provided formal minutes for the February 18, 2010 meeting – attended by representatives of DCD (including Ms. Donahue), The Washington State Department of Ecology, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Suquamish Tribe, the Point No Point Treaty Council, and the Port Gamble – S’Klallam Tribe. The minutes contained the following:

“SMP Take Away Tasks or follow ups are listed below:

  • An SMP Technical group list is being initiated. Alison O’Sullivan, Chris Weller, Steve Todd, Paul Dorn, Jessica Coyle, Katie Knight and Doris Small have been added to this Technical group that will provide review, information and advise as requested through out the SMPupdate. If comments are requested, provide adequate review time.
  • Recommendation: Provide technical group and tribe members with notices regarding need for technical reviews or information updates. The tribes were requested by KC to review the factual information within the Inventory and Characterization Report derived from the Limiting Factors Analysis.
  • Recommendation: For taskforce discussions, include a discussion on science and the element of uncertainty, Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda review, Treaty Rights and Review a historical perspective of changes occurring in the marine shoreline.
  • Recommendation: Provide taskforce workshop opportunities for review on-going pertinent studies”

Thus, an SMP technical committee, consisting of four tribal biologists and technical people from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, was firmly in place to review SMP technical information in February 2010 – six months before Susan Donahue denied a technical committee existed. Shortly thereafter, Randy Lumper of the Skokomish Tribe and Hugo Flores of the WA Department of Natural Resources were added to the committee. Susan Donahue appeared to be a key player – yet, in the above noted SMP Citizens Task Force meeting of August 5, 2012 she is on record in a transcript of the meeting as saying: “We have not made any move to form a technical group yet. If it’s necessary, and if we discuss it, we can form a technical group.”

While information on the deliberations of the citizen’s SMP Task Force appears to have been freely shared with the SMP Technical Committee (Jessica Coyle actually served on both), no information from the technical committee, not even its existence, was shared with the citizens SMP Task Force. Indeed, although further Technical Committee meetings were scheduled, including sessions for April 29, 2010, July 29, 2010, and October 28, 2010, the county appears unable or unwilling to provide minutes of these meetings, or any conclusions or recommendations reached concerning SMP science. And public money did flow to the tribes for the SMP update. The original budget indicated $56,748 in Ecology grant funds would be provided to tribes and other cities to participate in the county SMP update.

Yet the existence of this Technical Committee and its meetings were not advertised, the meetings were not open to the public, and the technical information and expertise represented was not made available to the citizens Task Force, despite the task force’s expressed desire for SMP technical information.

The record regarding Dr. Flora and his scientific work:

A particularly egregious document found in the Kitsap County record related to SMP science is the October 19, 2009 email from James S. Brennan of the Washington Sea Grant Program titled “science from Dr. Flora”. Mr. Brennan was responding to an email of the same date from Doris Small of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It relates to Dr. Flora’s statistical analysis of data underlying the East Kitsap County Nearshore Habitat Assessment that found that the supposed stressors actually demonstrated no significant effect on habitat – as claimed by the County. Mr. Brennan’s response was addressed to a list of 21 people including government employees, consultants and tribal members. It reads as follows:

“Doris et al:

I’ve read Don Flora’s “analysis”, but hadn’t seen the news release from KAPO. Contrary to KAPO’s claim that his work is “peer reviewed” and credible, I find that it is an inappropriate and very sketchy use of information, with invalid conclusions. I am not a statitician (sic), but have asked someone who is to provide their review of Flora’s analysis. This and previous writings by Don Flora are heavily biased, do not follow standard scientific protocols and procedures, are not scientifically valid, and are an insult to the scientific community. This is very dangerous stuff that distorts the truth and undermines our ability to provide good science, inform the public and decision-makers about what we do know and consequences of our actions, and efforts to make progressive steps toward the protection and restoration of Puget Sound in the public interest and for future generations. I hope other scientists and managers will join me in shining a light on this pseudo science to put a stop to the myths and fallacies being promoted by Don Flora and others. I don’t enjoy spending valuable time on this, but I also don’t want silence being perceived as consent.

Maybe Ron Thom would be willing to write a response (or maybe be part of a collective response), since he is coauthor of the Bainbridge Assessment? I hate to ask anyone to spend time on such folly, but….

Cheers,

Jim Brennan”

This outrageous critique of Dr. Flora and his work borders on libel. Mr. Brennan’s email is the actual insult to the scientific community. Nowhere is Dr. Flora’s statistical analysis reviewed or found lacking. Indeed, when Dr. Vincent Gallucci of the University of Washington analyzed the East Kitsap data set, Dr. Flora’s conclusions were upheld.

Yet, curiously, the County has taken no action to investigate or repudiate Jim Brennan’s false assertions. They have not asked for an independent review of the data. They have apparently uncritically accepted Mr. Brennan’s conclusions (and those who signed on to a similar letter authored by Mr. Brennan).

Dr. Flora’s scientific credentials are impeccable (see the short CV below), as are those of Dr. Kenneth Brooks and others who reviewed Dr. Flora’s work. On the other hand, Mr. Brennan’s credentials do not extend beyond a masters degree. To our knowledge, the statistician who Mr. Brennan asked to review Dr. Flora’s work never revealed his findings – likely because they would have validated it. Neither did the principal author of the East Kitsap study, Ron Thom, respond. (It is worth noting that Mr. Brennan declined to participate in a Kitsap Co. SMP Task Force information session on buffers when he was informed that Dr. Brooks, a recognized expert, would be presenting. This resulted in the County cancelling the presentation and the Task Force being denied important scientific information.)

Donald F. Flora, Ph.D.

BS from University of Washington in Forestry and Geology. MS and PhD from Yale in Forestry. 40- years research experience in the natural sciences. Researcher-in-Charge of several forestry research laboratories in Northwest, Oregon and Alaska. Former technical editor, Journal of Forestry. Former head of National Fire Danger Rating System Research. Former head, National Timber Harvest Issues Program. Former affiliate professor, University of Washington. Former Director of Keep Washington Green Association (forest fire prevention), and 80-year family history and experience of Puget Sound shoreline ownership and stewardship. Current area of study involves the review of 3,500+ research papers on buffers, riparian zones, beach functions, and fisheries.

Conclusions and recommendations:

We would suggest that this stonewalling of valid citizen concerns related to the scientific aspects of the SMP update, and the County’s unwillingness to entertain any real discussion of the science, which is the foundation of the entire update program, compromises the entire SMP update – to the point where the County’s only real option is to bring in fully-qualified, credentialed, independent scientific experts (not the tame consultants typically employed) to review the work accomplished to date and to independently assess the criticisms levied against it.

Additionally, because of the County’s lateness in providing public records for review, we request the SMP public comment period be extended one week to allow time to review the documents.

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One response to “Additional Testimony of Robert Benze on the Kitsap County SMP

  1. And sadly these bozo’s were reelected. Its hard to understand what blind faith of there’s is driving this. Appreciate your efforts to their accountability. Thanks, TF

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