Plans announced Wednesday to streamline how state natural-resource agencies deliver services to the public did not include consolidation of any state agencies.
Instead, an executive order signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire calls on the state agencies to share resources, scientific data, regional boundaries and office space whenever possible.
The order also will create a one-stop-shopping approach for citizen access to 98 environmental permits and licenses and the 80 environmental grant and loan programs administered by state agencies.
Another piece of the reform plan asks the 2010 state Legislature to merge the three state Growth Management Hearing Boards into one and the five state environmental appeals boards into two. Another measure would eliminate agency reviews that duplicate appeals to environmental hearings boards.
“These reforms are to help us weather this economic storm,” the governor said. “There will be a savings; we don’t know what. We’re also trying to save the public time and money.”
She said the measures won’t compromise natural-resource protection or reduce the public’s ability to appeal land-use and environmental decisions by government entities.
“The environmental community is comfortable with most of the package,” said Bruce Wishart, policy director for People for Puget Sound. “We support increased efficiencies, provided we don’t sacrifice the effectiveness of the agencies protecting natural resources.”
“So far, so good; there’s probably more that can be done,” said Eric D. Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association. He said the proposed streamlining of the environmental appeal boards is a positive move.
The six-month review of how natural-resource agencies conduct business and manage their resources included a look at consolidating the state Department of Natural Resources, state Department of Fish and Wildlife and state Parks and Recreation Commission into one agency.
It was rejected for legal, political and practical reasons.
“The three state agencies include a statewide elected official and two commissions; they don’t report to me,” Gregoire said. “There wasn’t a consensus on how to merge the agencies, and the costs outweighed the benefits.”
The three agencies have agreed to greater cooperation in certain areas, including:
—Parks and Fish and Wildlife will develop a combined plan to market wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing and boating activities on their lands.
—Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers will help DNR officers responding to timber theft and other violations on 5.6 million acres of DNR lands. In return, DNR will provide real estate, survey and records-management service to Fish and Wildlife.
The governor’s executive order also creates a natural-resources Cabinet that will meet regularly to coordinate the efforts of natural-resource agencies.
“I’m pleased they’ve created the Cabinet,” said Scott Merriman, deputy director of the Washington State Association of Counties. “It’s a place where the counties can discuss issues that affect them.”
For more details about natural-resource reform, go to www.governor.wa.gov/priorities/reform/naturalresources.asp.