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Balance needed in wetland laws

June 21, 2006

Editorial by Fred Obee
Port Townsend Leader

Port Townsend, WA - Tractors showed up in front of Jefferson County Courthouse on Monday as part of a protest of proposed land use rules that would, among other things, increase buffers around rivers, streams, and wetlands.

A hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wedmesday, June 21 at the Washington State University Learning Center, 210 West Patison St., Port Hadlock. We encourage anyone with questions or opinions about these proposed regulations to attend.

After a review of the maps available online at


it is easy to see why some people might be alarmed by the proposal. The maps show large swaths of Jefferson County that will come under regulation if the proposal is approved as written. Of course, a property owner would have to go further than the maps to determine what the real impact would be. There are lots of different kinds of wetlands and streams, and not all carry the strictest protections. And, of course, current regulations protect many of these areas now, and it would take more than a few minutes for any property owner to determine just how the proposed changes will alter current regulations on a particular parcel. That lack of certainty has always been the place where growth restrictions have faltered.

On the other hand, there are real costs to all of us from poor land stewardship. Strictly from a logical perspective, it makes sense to prohibit development in areas that are prone to floods and to stop people from filling in wetlands. Keeping development away from natural wetlands not only provides great habitat for animals, birds and fish, but it assures that downstream groundwater that people rely on isn't contaminated. Unfortunately, pure logic cannot always rule because people's lives and livelihoods are inextricably rooted in some of these areas. We should be open to ideas beyond setbacks that will protect the environment we all cherish.

The county planning commission is in the process of balancing all of this information and will then present recommendations to the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners for consideration and additional public comment. The county commissioners are expected to make a final decision in September.

The tractor staging and the mobilization of landowners against the ordinance are somewhat reminiscent of the early days of growth management planning in Jefferson County. Then, there were rallies on the courthouse lawn, hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on legal wrangling, crowds jamming commissioner meetings and more than a few harsh words. It would be good if the county can avoid that kind of rancor again.

Fred Obee



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