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Jefferson County Farmers' Tractor Protest Gets Results - County commissioners extend deadline for critical areas ordinance

By Julie McCormick, jmccormick@kitsapsun.com
Kitsap Sun

June 20, 2006

Port Townsend, WA - Dozens of Jefferson County farmers and other rural landowners
brought their tractors and their anger to the county courthouse Monday morning.
tractors head for courthouse
Jefferson County farmers head to the county courthouse on their tractors to protest proposed land-use regulations.Photo supplied by Norm MacLeod

They were fired up over proposed land-use regulations that snuck up while nobody was looking and had e-mails flying over the weekend as organizers rallied the troops. They also were steamed at a legal settlement between the county and the Washington Environmental Council that no one had seen until late in the week.

On Monday, they showed up at 7:30 a.m., many chugging in at 8 mph on big-tired farm rigs from an overnight staging area at the county fairgrounds.

Protest leaders said they only learned about the seemingly draconian 450-foot buffers for certain wetlands days ago, with the planning commission set to hold a public hearing and close public comment on Wednesday.

It was just the kind of thing to set off Roger Short, whose family has farmed in the Central Valley near Chimacum for generations. He’s farming 300 acres, including parcels along Beaver Valley Road, the main highway into Port Townsend.

The way Short reads proposed revisions to the wetlands portion of the county’s critical areas ordinance, any change in current use on agricultural land with a wetlands component would trigger the so-called "default" buffer of 450 feet.

Kitsap County’s recently adopted critical areas ordinance drew fire from property rights activists and environmentalists. It includes a 250-foot buffer for some high-quality wetlands.

With Chimacum Creek running right through the center of Beaver Valley through an ancient peat bog, a farmer couldn’t decide to build a greenhouse or go from crops to cows without losing use of a huge swath.

"This affects all of my farm," said Short, who’s also president of the North Olympic Farm Bureau. He has long been active in land-use issues and he’s convinced the county’s agricultural regulations achieved by locals a few years ago should stand.

The devil is in the details, said Jim Tracy, attorney for Fred Hill Materials. Tracy attended the meeting but said the gravel company’s land is likely not affected.

The hot-button buffer issue may not mean exactly what protesters believe, Tracy said, but similar revisions are raising hackles in counties throughout the state in response to a legislative mandate approved two years ago.

That’s where the county’s settlement with the Washington Environmental Council comes in. Legislative language called for counties to review ordinances, and revise them if necessary based upon "best available science."

The state Department of Ecology was supposed to provide that science, but work was delayed.

Jefferson County commissioners decided to wait beyond the legislative deadline for more information. The environmental group petitioned the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, charging the county violated the law.

A settlement agreement reached in January but not publicized promises the county will complete its work by July 18.

Language in the low-profile settlement agreement sounded to a lot of people as if county commissioners were letting an outside group dictate the future of their land.

Not so, said County Commissioner David Sullivan of Cape George, who declared to loud hoots from skeptics that the agreement gives over no power or authority.

Faced with the hostile crowd demanding answers, commissioners quickly adjusted their agenda, unanimously approved a 90-day extension for the rule-making process and more public participation, then opened their meeting up for what became a freewheeling series of heated accusations.

Marilyn Lewis, who traveled 100 miles from her farm in the Hoh River Valley to make the meeting, called any buffer on the meandering river that sometimes floods and takes her land, sometimes recedes and gives it back, "a taking, a stealing."

The audience applauded.

County Planning Director Al Scalf said he expects the Washington Environmental Council will agree to an extension of the deadline.

Commissioners also could decide to request the state hearings board allow the county another year to review based upon the county’s own "best science," rather than state guidelines.

Critical Areas Hearing

The Jefferson County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on proposed revisions to the critical areas ordinance beginning at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Washington State University Learning Center, 201 W. Patison, Port Hadlock. Details are available on the county’s Web site, www.co.jefferson.wa.us.

Copyright 2006, kitsapsun.com. All Rights Reserved.


Related Story:

Port Townsend: Farmers protest possible change in code

June 20, 2006

Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND, WA-- Angry area farmers parked a convoy of sign-toting John Deere tractors in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse on Monday, June 19, as they protested proposed action that they said would infringe on private property right.

More than 50 residents packed the County Commissioner chambers in protest of proposed amendments to the Unified Development Code that would extend buffer zones for wetlands.

Among them was Bob Pontius, a Port Ludlow Republican running for county commissioner, who asked, ``If this is implying that you're going to take our property, then how are you going to compensate us?"

Answered county Director of Community Development Al Scalf, ``You have to look at the Legislature in Olympia. The laws are changing yearly. It is our professional duty to bring this forward to the public.''

Outside, one of the farmers' signs read, ``Property isn't safe while the Legislature is in session.''

Others merely said ``no'' to the critical areas ordinances and the same for the Washington Environmental Council. (More on this story, click here)

Related news:

from Port Townsend Leader:

Port Townsend farmers protest critical areas ordinance
Jefferson County farmers and property owners turned out at the Board of County Commissioners meeting Monday morning to protest changes to the county's critical areas ordinance that are under consideration by the county planning commission. The commissioners agreed to extend the public comment period by 90 days, after which the planning commission will send its recommendations to the board of commissioners for consideration. - Photo by Kasia Pierzga




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