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Battle over wetlands buffers develops in Jefferson County

Peninsula Daily News

CHIMACUM, WA -- Roger Short looks out to his 300-acre farm on Center Road, peppered with grazing cattle and divided by Chimacum Creek.

He sees control of the land slipping through his fingers.

About 75 percent of his farm, Valley View Dairy, is a peat bog and considered wetlands.

Because of this, Short fears he might one day find the land rendered useless for future development under more stringent wetland buffer guidelines.

The Jefferson County Department of Community Development on May 17 drafted a critical areas ordinance defining the new buffers, and the department is now accepting public comments on the proposal.

Existing county buffers range from 25 feet to 150 feet, but the county, with the state Department of Ecology's blessing, proposes 100 percent increases of those boundaries -- from 50 feet to 300 feet.

``This ordinance will basically take everything,'' said Short.

Farm within buffer

His farm, from where the wetland stops to Center Road, will fall within the proposed buffer area.

The proposed ordinance states that if a landowner wants to hire a specialist to study the wetland and delineate its exact boundaries, wildlife habitat and ecological functions, the wetland buffer will fall somewhere in between 50 feet and 300 feet based on these factors.

The cost to hire a specialist to survey the wetland can be thousands of dollars.

For those who don't want to or can't afford to hire a specialist to delineate the boundaries, the proposed ordinance states that buffers of 450 feet will be effective, said Al Scalf, director of the county Department of Community Development.

January settlement

The amendments to the county's current buffers came about from a settlement agreement in January with the Washington Environmental Council, which had petitioned Jefferson County for not using the ``best available science'' to delineate wetlands and buffers.

``[Jefferson] County will work with Washington Environmental Council to ensure that appropriate criteria are adopted,'' the agreement says.

``Monitoring will be used to evaluate whether non-regulatory actions are protecting existing functions and values of fish and wildlife habitat in and adjacent to streams on lands that sustain existing and ongoing agriculture.''

The state Department of Ecology issued a technical manual on the rating and management of wetlands in 2005, which county Community Development personnel used when drafting the proposed ordinance.

Commissioners' deadline

The Jefferson County Planning Commission was given the proposal May 17 to make recommendations to the county commissioners, who have a deadline of July 18 to adopt the ordinance.

A Planning Commission public hearing took place June 7, but with only two people attended. The decision has been made to add a second hearing and extend the period for public comments.

The second hearing will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Washington State University Community Learning Center, 201 W. Patison St., Port Hadlock.

Public comments will be accepted up until the conclusion of the hearing.


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