Governor refuses to save DNR's executive plane - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

UPDATE>> Gov. Gregoire Responds

Governor refuses to save DNR's executive plane

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OLYMPIA, Wash. - Usually when environmentalists talk about flying and climate-change the discussion focuses on getting rid of executive aircraft, not saving them. However when it comes to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 8-passenger King Air, Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark asked Governor Gregoire to save his airplane, in part due to climate-change.

Under legislation in the 2009-11 state operating budget signed by Gregoire, DNR must sell the plane by June 30, 2010. The legislation reads, in part:

Section 308(8) ESHB 1244

(8) The department of natural resources shall dispose of the King Air aircraft it currently owns. Disposal of the aircraft must occur not later than June 30, 2010, and the proceeds from the sale of the aircraft shall be deposited into the natural resources equipment revolving fund.

In response to this, Goldmark sent Governor Gregoire a letter on demanding that she veto this forced sale and save his plane.

In the letter Goldmark says that getting rid of the plane would threaten the state's ability to fight wildfires and respond to natural disasters.

The plane, according to Goldmark, is dedicated to providing rapid response capabilities for priority passengers and cargo in the event of a wildfire or natural disaster. This, says Goldmark, is essential to preventing loss of life and property.

"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," said Goldmark.

This claim caught the attention of former DNR Communications Director and current Washington Policy Center Environmental Director Todd Myers.

"Two problems. First, the plane in question isn't an air tanker. It is an executive aircraft that is not part of the ‘emergency-response infrastructure' in any real sense," said Meyers. "Second, his claim about needing the plane to address an increasing number of ‘climate-change-related storms' is contradicted by scientists."

Goldmark says that keeping the plane and reducing it's use will save more money than the plane would sell for.

"I have already reduced the use of the aircraft by 50 percent. This reduction will save the agency $300,000 this biennium,' writes Goldmark. He says the plane would only net about $230,000 from its sale, an amount he says is the fraction of the cost of a home that might burn if the agency could not respond as rapidly.

Recently the plane has been instrumental in efforts to rapidly control and suppress wildfires in Spokane. Goldmark says King Air was used to transport mechanics to get the agency's fire fighting helicopter fleet up and running when they were down and essential to fighting fires.

The Governor refused to veto the sale of DNR's plane when she signed the budget on May 19.

The Governor's Office released a statement Wednesday concerning the decision not to veto the sale. That statement is as follows:

"Given the tough economic times, the state Legislature had to look at all options - including selling the state planes - to save the state money. This was a difficult budget year for our lawmakers that required sacrifices from each and every agency to balance the budget.

"The State Patrol planes are used several times a year to reach natural disasters in rural areas like floods or wild fires, as well as for other uses. However, the Legislature passed, and I agree, that the state doesn't need three passenger planes on stand-by. That's why the Department of Natural Resources has been asked to sell its passenger plane. The state has kept two planes in its fleet, which all agencies still have access to. The Legislature, in its budget, asked the Department of Natural Resources to sell its plane by June 30, 2010. This gives us ample time to review how this compromise will best suit DNR crews and State Patrol troopers who need to get to emergencies quickly."

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