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Critical Areas, Eminent Domain, Wetlands and the Supreme Court

WA Farm Bureau News for 6/20/06

JEFFERSON COUNTY COMMISSIONERS AGREED TO DELAY ADOPTING A NEW critical areas ordinance for at least 90 days after the North Olympic Counties Farm Bureau organized a protest outside the courthouse in Port Townsend Monday morning. (Kitsap Sun, June 20) Dozens of farmers and other property owners, many driving tractors, showed up at 7:30 a.m., after spending the night at a staging area at the county fairgrounds. The proposed ordinance calls for 450-foot “default” buffers for wetlands and waterways. Roger Short, president of the county Farm Bureau, said property owners learned only recently about an agreement between the county and the Washington Environmental Council that called for the ordinance to be adopted by July 18. The Jefferson County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 21, at the Washington State University Learning Center in Port Hadlock.     

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS HAVE USED OR THREATENED TO USE EMINENT DOMAIN on more than 5,700 homes and businesses to make way for private development over the past year, according to a report released today by the Institute for Justice and the Castle Coalition to mark the first anniversary of the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London. (Greenwire, June 20) The court ruled that government has the right to seize property under eminent domain for private redevelopment as long as the development has some public benefit. The new statistics underscore the importance of passing state and federal legislation to curb such powers by local governments, the groups said in the report, "Opening the Floodgates: Eminent Domain Abuse in the Post-Kelo World." The report cites 117 projects involving the use of eminent domain for private development since last June. That is in addition to more than 5,400 threats of such actions if the owners do not sell and 354 condemnation actions authorized by local governments. For a copy of the report, go to http://www.castlecoalition.org/kelo/index.html.

A PROGRAM THAT PAYS FARMERS TO CONVERT MARGINAL CROPLAND TO wetlands would get a boost in legislation approved by a Senate panel today. (Greenwire, June 20)  The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee approved a bill that would lift a cap on the Wetlands Reserve Program and authorize full enrollment at the 250,000-acre level established by the 2002 Farm Bill. The full committee will consider the measure later this week. The WRP assists farmers who want to plant native trees and vegetation to convert marginally productive farmland into wetlands habitat. However, Congress has consistently held spending below levels set by the Farm Bill. Meanwhile, demand has exceeded available funding, with five farmers on the waiting list for every one who gets a contract, according to Ducks Unlimited.

THE U.S. SUPREME COURT MONDAY NARROWLY UPHELD THE GOVERNMENT’S ability to regulate wetlands under the Clean Water Act, but only if there is a “significant nexus” between the wetlands and a navigable waterway. (AP/Everett Herald, June 20) In a 5-4 decision, the court said regulators may have misinterpreted the Clean Water Act when they blocked two Michigan landowners from developing property they own. Those cases were sent back to a lower court. However, in a separate 5-4 ruling, the court said the Clean Water Act may apply to wetlands even miles from a navigable waterway if there is a significant hydrological connection. The justices were so splintered by the case that they wrote five separate opinions covering 100 pages.   

2006 Washington Farm Bureau. Washington Farm Bureau NewsWatch is a periodic update on news of interest to agriculture. Contact Dean Boyer , director of public relations, 1-800-331-3276 or, send e-mail to dboyer@wsfb.com to receive NewsWatch by fax or e-mail.


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