School's Out

The first day of summer might not be until next week but you can feel it in the air. The sun is shining, the Mariners are winning (honestly! Not far from the Rangers!), and Sophie and Tess are counting down the minutes until the end of school.

When school is out, we try to keep our daughters busy.  Whether it’s summer camps, day trips, or bike rides in the neighborhood, we try hard to avoid hearing the perilous refrain: “Mom, Dad – we’re bored.”

For our family, the great outdoors are a “go-to” answer to summer boredom. That means getting out and enjoying the beauty of our region.

It was with those thoughts in mind that I joined others last week in marking the 110th anniversary of the Antiquities Act. Now, some may be asking, “why should we care about a law that’s been around for more than a century and literally has ‘Antiquities’ in the title?” But this law is actually a big deal. Since 1906, this law has given Presidents the authority to designate national monuments and protect some of the most extraordinary natural landscapes.

In fact, this law was central to the creation of Olympic National Park. Can you imagine our region without the park? I grew up visiting Hurricane Ridge and other highlights of the park.  In fact, countless families have visited for some hiking and camping there. In addition, the park has given opportunities to entrepreneurs who started restaurants in Grays Harbor, tour guides in Clallam County, and hotel and B&B owners throughout the region.

Interestingly, this week in the Appropriations Committee, we’ll be considering the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill which – you guessed it – funds our national parks (among other critical investments). Stay tuned for updates on the good, bad, and ugly of that bill in my next newsletter.

To me, these are reminders that laws passed in Washington D.C. (even some passed 110 years ago) can have positive impacts for future generations. With that in mind, I’ll keep pushing to get this Congress back to work so we can make sure all of our kids can have a good summer break – and a brighter future.

Read on for what I’ve been up to in the past two weeks!                                    

Protecting Programs that Matter

About once a month I do a video in which I open up my mailbag and answer a question from one of you. These “Ask Derek” videos are a great way to provide more details on issues you care about. For this edition I took a question from Lakebay regarding the importance of protecting programs for seniors.

This is important because Social Security and Medicare are two of the most critical public policy programs in the history of this country. Millions of seniors and people with disabilities would be much more vulnerable without these programs. This isn’t a theoretical policy discussion to me. It’s personal.

Last night my kids and I visited my grandma (aka “Oma”).  She’s 106-years-old.  Oma has lived with dignity for the last few decades with the help of Social Security and Medicare. I’m committed to ensuring that Oma and other seniors receive the benefits they’ve earned and can retire with dignity.  Check out this “Ask Derek” video to learn more about what I’ve been working on to keep that commitment: 

Protecting Our Waters

I’ve talked a lot recently about my work to stop the spread of toxic stormwater runoff into Puget Sound. As a cofounder of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus, it’s one of my biggest priorities. That’s because when heavy rains hit our cities and towns, the pollution that washes into nearby waterways becomes a toxic mix that hurts salmon as well as the overall health of our waters. In fact, the Seattle Timescovered some of the research into this problem, including a video that demonstrates the issue. You can check that out here.

Locally, there are some great things happening to stop these pollutants before they reach the Sound like our new stormwater facility at Point Defiance Park. I attended the grand opening with my colleague Rep. Denny Heck and while there, we announced our one-two punch to make sure Congress supports innovation like this.

We’ve recently introduced two bills to promote the use of Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) – including rain gardens, natural filtration systems, permeable pavement, and natural vegetation – to filter out the worst pollutants from stormwater. Our first bill would allow local communities to access dedicated funding within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for water quality projects that utilize GSI. The second would establish a new federal tax credit program to allow homeowners and businesses to recover up to 70 percent of the costs related to installing and maintaining GSI. This support from the federal government can help advance efforts at the local level.  Stay tuned for updates on our bills.

Here is a report from KING 5 on what’s happening at Point Defiance!

Progress on the Peninsula

As we get deeper into June many folks that live in Mason County are also reminded of a recurring problem that needs fixing. Staircase Road, a key access point to Lake Cushman and Olympic National Park, becomes very dry in the hot summer months leading to dusty driving conditions that make it less safe. This is a problem for homeowners in the area or travelers looking to get to their favorite trail.

After a lot of encouragement, the Federal Highway Administration has approved an award for the U.S. Forest Service to make long-term improvements to the road. The investment will go toward a contract to survey, design, and make permanent improvements to Staircase Road. In the meantime, Tacoma Public Utilities, the Forest Service, and Mason County are working on measures to reduce dust while the work is being completed.

This means we can finally address this problem and make the road safer while ensuring that we reduce the impacts on Lake Cushman and the surrounding environment.  

Being a Good Neighbor  

Over the past year, I’ve heard from a lot of folks who want to make sure that the Navy and other federal agencies listen to local residents when considering projects in our region. I think that’s reasonable.  For decades, servicemembers at key installations like Naval Base Kitsap and Joint Base Lewis-McChord have been our neighbors. I want to make sure federal agencies act in a neighborly manner.

With that in mind, I’ve been working to ensure that when the federal government is planning something in our neck of the woods, they take the time to hear from folks who live here. It was on my mind when folks in Forks raised concerns that a decision regarding a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers clean-up project did not have enough public input.

Over the past couple years, the Army Corps has conducted tests to determine if prior Department of Defense activities at Naval Auxiliary Air Station Quillayute released any hazardous substances into soil and groundwater. The Corps has reported there is no elevated risk to people or the environment at the site and have recommended no further action. That being said, I’ve heard from a good number of people who feel that the public has not had enough time to review this decision and share their opinions on it.

So, after I reached out, the Corps announced an extension of the public comment period until July 15th so they can better include views of folks who live in the area when making a final decision. If you want to add your comments about the decision making process please follow this link: http://tinyurl.com/QuillayuteFUDS

These issues are something I’ve been passionate about. When plans for additional Navy training on the Peninsula failed to properly engage the public last year, I called on the Navy to hold more public meetings to explain what they were trying to accomplish and to take public questions and comments. After they held these additional meetings, I also wrote to the Defense Department to express my interest in ensuring that these proposals comply with the National Environment Policy Act (aka NEPA).

NEPA is the big law that says all federal agencies must consider environmental impacts when planning operations in regions like the Peninsula. Unfortunately, we’ve seen instances where the announcement of comment periods are not adequately publicized and the duration of those comment periods are less than 30 days.

Again, I think part of good public policy making (and good neighborliness) requires hearing from the public. The public should have an opportunity to engage and the time to do so thoughtfully.

Working for You

That ethic of wanting to hear from the folks I represent shapes how I spend my time back home when Congress isn’t voting on things. During the last “District Work Period,” I was busy in our region.

I had a great day in Mason County, visiting Olympic College and meeting with local employers including Belco Forest Products and Sierra Pacific. 

I got the chance to meet with the staff at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma. We had a great discussion about their role as the national center for the Red Wolf Breeding Program and their plans to open a new aquarium in the next couple of years. Exciting stuff happening at Point Defiance.  (Another good summertime activity for the Kilmer girls!)

I would like to extend my thanks again to Clover Park Technical College for inviting me to speak to their graduating veterans. It was an honor to celebrate their successes and their service to our nation as they embark on their next mission. Congratulations!!

I also had the chance to meet with members of my Veterans Advisory Council to discuss the latest developments in the other Washington and to get their insight on pertinent issues facing our troops, veterans and our nation. As always, thanks for taking the time to meet with me.

OK – that’s all for this update. If I can ever lend a hand to you or someone you know, please give my office a holler.

As always, it’s an honor to represent you.

Derek Kilmer