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Eye On Olympia

Wed., May 20, 2009, 1:21 p.m.

No reprieve from Gregoire: Dept. of Natural Resources will lose its plane…

As the Washington Policy Center's Jason Mercier points out, Gov. Gregoire's list of line-item vetoes in the state budget yesterday did not save the Department of Natural Resources' plane.

That was despite an 11th-hour appeal from new Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, an experienced pilot who used to use his own small (private) plane to get from his Okanogan County ranch to meetings and campaign appearances.

In DNR's case, Goldmark wrote to Gregoire earlier this month, the agency's eight-passenger King Air plane helps state officials and crews deal with wildfires and other disasters. The agency has operated an airplane for 51 years, he wrote.

"I have already reduced the use of the aircraft by 50 percent," Goldmark wrote. "This reduction will save the agency $300,000 this biennium. In addition, the aircraft saves me and my staff hundreds of hours of staff time otherwise spent 'on the road' for unavoidable travel."

The plane has ferried helicopter mechanics to work on DNR's fire-fighting helicopters, he said. And two years ago, it was key in monitoring severe flooding in southwest Washington.

"This is the wrong direction for maintaining our emergency response infrastructure while climate change is causing increased frequency and severity of wildfires and major climatic events causing floods, landslides and utility damage," he wrote.

Mercier colleague Todd Myers -- who was also the campaign spokesman for the incumbent whom Goldmark ousted last fall -- is skeptical that the plane is crucial to firefighting.

"...The plane in question isn't an air tanker," Myers said. "It is an executive aircraft that is not part of the `emergency-response infrastructure' in any real sense."

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