Water rights, education top new BIAW president’s priority list

Water rights and education are among the top priorities for the new president of the Building Industry Association of Washington.

Ted Clifton recently stepped into the leadership position of the Olympia-based association that represents member companies in the home-building industry.

He was in the Tri-Cities last month to make sure he heard from local members about their concerns, because “it’s a different world than in Western Washington.”

Clifton, 61, who lives in Coupeville on Whidbey Island, said the state association has 7,500 members, down from the 13,000 it had before the economic downturn. He joined the agency in 1993.

Some members were lost from attrition, he said. “So much of our industry is 60-plus,” he said.

That’s why training a younger work force is critical, he said.

“We have kids looking at their devices saying, ‘I want to build one of these someday,’ and not looking up at tall buildings and saying, ‘I want to build one of these someday,” he said.

Among his goals as president of the state organization is to improve the organization’s builder education program. More than 2,400 people attended 230 classes offered through the BIAW education program last year.

“One of my pushes is to get our education aimed at the worker. The more my worker knows, the less I have to explain three times,” Clifton said, who also said that when you “train a work force, you can start being profitable.”

Clifton said BIAW is very concerned about the state Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Whatcom County v. Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, known as the Hirst decision.

It’s a major blow to the residential building industry, he said.

At the heart of the court ruling is water access in rural communities under the Growth Management Act.

Prior to the case, the Legislature established that up to 5,000 gallons of water per day could be withdrawn from new wells for domestic purposes, according to Dave Main, BIAW’s immediate past president.

“If they met the threshold, new wells were exempt from permitting and water right requirements for new homes, among other uses. While the law still exists, the Supreme Court decision issued on Oct. 6 effectively erases the exemption from the law — and brings the construction of rural homes to a standstill,” wrote Main in a recent issue of the agency’s magazine “Building Insight.”

Clifton isn’t sure what the solution is but he doesn’t think there’s one to be had in the state.

“There are too many morons in a position of power,” he said. “You can quote me on that.”

Clifton expects appeals to reach the federal level.

“Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness… it was put No. 1 for a reason. Water is life. It is the most fundamental building block. The federal government gave unto itself certain powers but not to regulate water … It was passed on to the states. The states can regulate water but cannot deny water. I believe we can win that case in federal court,” he said.

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