Congressman Denny Heck had a stark message for participants in today’s meeting of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus in Tacoma. The health of the Puget Sound ecosystem “is getting worse every year faster than it is improving,” he told the group, signaling a renewed urgency for the caucus that Heck started with Congressman Derek Kilmer in 2013.
The meeting was held at the Center for Urban Waters and was meant to build collaborations between tribes, agencies and other groups. The congressmen also outlined a series of goals for their proposed Puget Sound Coordinated Recovery Act, which they hope to release as a bill in the coming months.
That legislation would seek greater federal recognition for Puget Sound as a water body of national significance, increased coordination and accountability among federal agencies, and greater inclusion of the Native American Treaty Tribes in the ecosystem recovery process, according to the congressmen.
To start the meeting, Congressman Heck held up a photo of the late tribal leader Billy Frank as an inspiration for the group. “This man began his career of advocacy for treaty rights and civil rights by getting his head busted open and being arrested—count them— 59 times,” Heck said. “And that was important, and I honor him for having done that. But I honor him as much for how he ended his career, which was to bring people together.”
Heck called for the groups to reach across “the wide chasms of our siloes.” Otherwise, he said, “we will be sitting in this room ten years from now and somebody, my successor or somebody else, will be saying to you we are still going backwards more per year than we are going forward. We have an obligation to that body of water to figure out how to work together. And that is what we are here to do.”
The congressmen are also seeking increased funding for the region, pointing out inequities in funding between Puget Sound and one of the the nation’s other large estuaries, Chesapeake Bay. “While Puget Sound by water volume is larger than the Chesapeake, overall the Chesapeake has received three times the amount of funding,” said Kilmer. Chesapeake Bay has received nearly double the funding per square mile since 2014, he said.