Andy Haub presented information about the future prospects for downtown Olympia in regard to climate change caused sea level rise. And Keith Stahley presented information about the comprehensive planning process, and about how citizens who care about climate change and sea level rise in relation to the future of Olympia can make sure that considerations about sea level rise are made part of the updated Comprehensive Plan.
Andy explained how the City is paying attention to information from the UW Climate Impacts Group, which indicates, first and foremost, that sea level rise is not a phenomenon of the future, but instead that sea level rise is actually a present day reality. During high tide events, water can already be seen rising up through some storm drains in low lying areas.
A statewide assessment put out by the UW group says that "Adaption is necessary because impacts will be large." So there is a real urgency to figure out what to do about it now. The other aspect of this is that no one knows, even the most qualified expert climatologists/oceanologists, when the waters will rise high enough to cause serious problems, nor how high the waters will rise.
Andy talked about the effects of sea level rise for Olympia, first we would see sea water flowing up into low lying areas of downtown from the storm drain system. Efforts are already underway to counteract this problem, by reducing the number of outflow pipes, and restricting inward flow into the pipes from the sea. Andy said that the City has a high level of technical understanding about how rising sea level would impact the city, in various phases - considering the various potentials for increasing sea level.
The City is approaching the problem from two perspectives, one near-term and one long-term. In the short term, there is thinking about raising floor elevations (a concept incorporated into the model for the new City Hall.) Other short-term objectives include: increased monitoring (the City is talking with the Port about installing a tide gauge for intensive monitoring of sea level,) consolidating stormwater outfalls, preparing for tidal gate and/or pump installations, and the heightening of shorelines.
Longer term, the City is considering changes to climate change goals and policies. This is where the Comprehensive Plan comes in. The Comprehensive Plan itself was a subject of criticism, as former Mayor Bob Jacobs chimed in, the planning document doesn't have any real authority over the real actions of the City, although this was debated by other members at the event.
People in the audience asked a lot of questions and made a lot of comments, more on that below.
Keith talked about the Comp Plan itself. For one, it is a legal requirement according to the Growth Management Act (RCW 36.70A). Keith also talked about how the document is idealistic, and is "infused with the concept of sustainability," and how citizens can get involved in the update process.
In a Comp Plan survey, 87% of people were concerned about economic development, while only about half or 2/3rds where concerned about climate change (precise statistics are available on the City website.)
The Comp Plan process, which started last November, will continue through this year, and culminate at the end of next year, in 2011. The next phase will include a series of "neighborhood meetings" although they're not neighborhood specific, and all people are welcome to attend any or all of them. The first one will be at Roosevelt Elementary, on Wednesday, January 27, at 6:30 PM. People are also encouraged to use the Imagine Olympia City website to submit comments regarding the Comp Plan electronically.
A draft plan will be produced for December 2010, this draft will be reviewed from January to May 2011. There will be a public hearing in the summer of 2011, and the updated plan will be adopted toward the end of 2011.
People had a lot of great questions and comments. I will try to list a few, and I believe that Olympia Climate Action will also present a report from the meeting to the City.
• One question was about peak oil; how will the updated plan account for peak oil, and are City Planners and City Council and Staff aware of peak oil? Will this issue, and related issues of food security, be part of the plan?
• People mentioned the concept of social justice, and being a global citizen, and the need to reduce consumption so as to be a good global citizen and neighbor.
• The concept of Permaculture was mentioned more than once.
• Questions were asked about the possibility of daylighting Moxlie Creek. There was some discussion about this item, and concern that due to the depth at which the creek flows under the currently filled in downtown area, that it would require too much land area to be practical.
• The concept of abandoning downtown to the rising waters was also mentioned. The problem of asking downtown residents to just pack up and leave was also mentioned. If the shoreline were to be restored to a natural condition, how would existing residents be asked to leave. However, no one asked about how members of Nations of First Peoples were forcibly relocated and pushed out of this area by settlers.
There were other great comments that I didn't get down in my notes, as well as certainly some others left unsaid, so please keep in mind that this is far from an exhaustive or complete account.