Inslee conveys that our rural areas’ concerns aren’t very important

Our state’s rural areas have been left in the lurch by the state Supreme Court’s 2016 Hirst decision that greatly raises costs on wells for homes. Critics of the decision have complained that the court has stepped beyond its proper role and is acting like a policy-setting body.

The court’s decision effectively halted homebuilding in many counties’ rural areas. Families who invested in land and building materials have been stopped by county officials.

Contractors and construction workers have been idled. Property values have plunged because of the uncertainty over well approval.

Inslee’s comments unhelpful
Legislators from rural areas are anxious to pass a bill that would fix Hirst and clarify for the court how wells can be approved. Gov. Inslee threw cold water on their efforts last week.

He may have been trying to emphasize that K-12 funding comes first for legislators. The way he chose to make that point, however, came across to rural leaders as Inslee saying a Hirst fix isn’t important.

That impression is exacerbated by the fact that Olympia Democrats have not been eager to discuss Hirst (and a House bill on the topic didn’t even clear committee). That might be due to their allies’ preferences. The fact is, some environmental groups love Hirst. They want to stop any growth in rural areas, and this court decision effectively does that.

For them, a Hirst fix certainly is not a priority. Inslee is close with these groups. Will he act as governor for all of Washington, or simply stick with his political allies?

Some just shrug their shoulders
All of Washington’s 39 counties have rural areas, but not all counties are equally affected. Hirst is especially bad news for primarily rural counties, which have limited tax bases. The Spokesman-Review editorialized, “People who purchased property under the old rules now face the prospect of not being able to build on it. Plummeting property values would also impact builders, lenders and county tax collections.”

Hirst isn’t just unfair to families currently trying to build homes. In one fell swoop, the decision severely devalued many people’s properties, but thanks to the usual property valuation cycle, those property owners could end up paying taxes on outdated higher valuations. Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax) pointed out in a radio interview:

“What Hirst has done is that, you may have gone out, Glenn, and bought a piece of ground and paid $100,000 for it, going to build a house out there. All of a sudden you find out, now you can’t put an exempt well on your property.

“That value now, instead of $100,000, may only be 20 [or] 10 thousand dollars, because you can’t build. It’s unbuildable on that.”

Schmick has a bill that would require all county assessors to do new valuations on Hirsteffected properties, but it shouldn’t have to come to that. This decision’s impacts are far out of whack with the amounts of water we’re talking about here. Madilynne Clark of the Washington Policy Center notes, “The cumulative effect of Washington’s permit-exempt wells, during the most water intensive time of the year, amounts to less than one percent.”

Legislators ought to come to an agreement that protects water users without unduly burdening families or halting all rural growth. Yes, education funding is important. So is this, Gov. Inslee.

We all know serious budget negotiations involve just a handful of the 147 legislators. Maybe a good chunk of the rest of them could use that time to hammer out an agreement to remedy the unfortunate consequences of this court decision.
-Rob McKenna

The following two tabs change content below.
Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.
  • What if my property already has a well on it?

    • Steve

      If the well has never been used then you are out with the rest of us. Nice huh?

      • My well is in use now and has been since we bought the land, we live there.
        But knowing the power grabs that the western part of the state likes to pull, it is a concern.

        • Dean Riccitti

          Same with me, I live in Lewis county. Would it be cheaper to buy bottled water for the cattle? City people don’t think about where they get their meat and produce, just about raising taxes and making idiotic laws.

    • CementCityBoy

      Then they are ready to charge you per gallon, and of course a meter fee..

  • Irving Mortensen

    Water conservation given potential climate change and over drawn water tables in many areas leave many rivers and streams unable to support the salmon and all that goes with the salmon. We all need to work toward conservation of water if we are going to preserve the Northwest we all love. Also… local farm land should be preserved for the future wherever possible… over development is just that from my point of view. Livability of our environment is very important. The governor is not to blame for the realities of government and water conservation… this is an issue in Clallam County where I live and while I have some sympathy for the property owners/developers/realtor/investors it really is not a new issue for most.

    • Missy Moo

      I’m sure you’d feel differently if it was your land that was being devalued. You have a very “I’m all right Jack” attitude. Since when is a salmon more important than a person? We are not talking about a lot of water here and it hasn’t stopped raining for months!!

    • Morgan Picton

      I would like to invite you to Chelan County and show you the unintended consequences of the Hirst decision. And while you’re here we can also discuss the mother of all legislative mistakes, the Washington State Growth Management Act.

    • Darrell Thompson

      Your governor is once again proving that he only cares about the groups that will contribute to his political warchest or his personal wallet. He is not the governor of the whole state, only his special interests groups.

      • Steve

        Our Governor will be the cause of the 51st. State.

    • Al King

      Not a new issue? Did you even read the article? It totally changes the whole equation for water use. LESS THAN 1%! Which is NOT going to affect the salmon or any other wildlife or our livability. It affects the people who live in rural areas 99%. But then maybe you don’t really care about other people?


      Radical liberal agenda 101.

      “preserve the Northwest”, “conservation of water”, “local farm land should be preserved for the future”, “Livability of our environment” and to hell with the people out there in the sticks. Now, Irving, please define for us rubes the meaning of these high sounding generalities and enumerate the cost of each. I’ll bet it’s just what we have to do “to save the planet”. Another generality.

    • Steve

      You are so full of it. Explain how a 200′ well affect the Salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

  • hytrek

    This is all a part of the NWO plan to control water.

  • donholmes1

    I warned this would happen 20 years ago. Thomas Jefferson said If the government ever controls the water, they will also control the People.

  • Steve

    Governor Inslee is a traitor and terrorist.

    • Dean Riccitti

      Inept is the word that come to my mind.

  • hartzy

    The article would be much improved by giving Inslee’s quote within this article, not just relying on another link.

  • Daniel McCoy

    I think another decision is in order. Lets force this stupid court to stop any more wind mills on any land that is visible from any roadway. That ought to go a long way keeping our countryside pristine. Why should they discriminate between air and water?

  • CementCityBoy

    Although I felt like I was shooting myself in the foot for voting for you, at least you recognize how much of a problem this is. I sure hope if we can split this state off of King county you can stay and lead there Rob.

  • Dean Riccitti

    This is why the democrats lost the Presidency, if they would get rid of mail in voting we could get rid of them in this state.

  • Jan Fuller

    Where/what is the specific evidence fact based science pertaining to each parcel affected? Generalized “best available science” means little or nothing if not specific to each property. Let the facts determine merit, not Political ideology. Referring to Inslee as a traitor and a terroist is a pointless answer to a comprehensive subject.

  • Sue Lani Madsen

    From the linked article: “Gov. Jay Inslee outlined his legislative priorities Thursday for the last weeks of the session, a list that doesn’t include responding to the state Supreme Court decision that has closed rural Washington to new domestic wells.

    “I think it would be most helpful in many, many places to find some solution to it, but it is not as important as funding the McCleary decision,” said Inslee, referring to the court’s order to spend more on education.”

    Or to paraphrase Marie Antoinette pre-guillotine, “Let them drink wine.”