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Critical areas ordinance draws crowd in Hadlock

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

PORT HADLOCK, WA — In a room full of angry residents, farmers and business people, Jill Silver found herself in an unpopular position.

A watershed program manager and an evironmental scientist with the 10,000 Year Institute, Silver barely flinched as she read her statement supporting Jefferson County's much-maligned critical areas ordinance proposal.

"Recently reported inflammatory statements accuse the Washington Environmental Council of threatening the viability of local farmers and instituting Draconian 450-foot buffers on wetlands," said Silver.

"In fact, existing agricultural lands are exempt from the (critical areas) requirements."

Silver also supported the county commissioners' settlement agreement with the Washington Environmental Council. Silver was the only Jefferson County resident to come forward during a county Planning Commission public hearing Wednesday in favor of the ordinance.

150 showed up

Some 60 others spoke against the proposal.

In all, about 150 showed up to make their case before the commission in the Washington State University Learning Center.

After four hours of public remarks, the planning commission decided to indefinitely extend written public comments on the critical areas proposal.

A question-and-answer forum is also to be scheduled later, said County Planning Commission Chairman Jim Hagen.

Land use exemption

The ordinance's author, Josh Peters, county Development of Community Development senior planner, also emphasized that the county proposal came with an agriculture land use exemption for existing farms.

"You can continue to plow fields regardless of the crops you have," Peters said.

Hagen, however, expressed his delight in the public input.

Only two people registered comments at a public hearing a week ago, he said.

"We've got a few more tonight," he said, drawing laughter.

That was one of only a few light moments Wednesday night where the intensity of emotion ran high over proposed buffers in critical areas.

It was a night dominated by those protesting government regulation, with many voicing their general distrust of government's ability to govern.

"This should have been more promoted and advertised than what it was," said Mike Belenski, a Mats Mats Bay resident.

"This is not really about wetland issues. It's a county credibility issue."

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 to 150 feet, but the county, with the state Department of Ecology's recommendations, proposes 100 percent increases — from 50 to 300 feet.

Part of agreement

The proposed critical areas ordinance was part of an agreement struck with Washington Environmental Council, an environmental state lobbying group that went before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board last year.

WEC argued that the county failed to comply with the state Growth Management Act regarding critical areas, such as wetland, salmon migration channels and flood zones.

Preston Drew, a former logger and vice president for Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, said, "What this is is an assault on your freedoms and property rights."

Port Townsend/Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or jeff.chew@peninsuladailynews.com.

Farmers skeptical

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Try as they may, supporters of Jefferson County's critical areas ordinance are falling short of convincing many skeptical county farmers that their land use is exempt from proposed expanded stream and wetland buffers.

"Think of it as galloping goalposts," said Norm MacLeod, who learned to drive a tractor when he was 12 and who raises horses these days.

"Every time the county has one agreement, they will change it, moving the goalposts further ahead."

That is not the case, a Washington Environmental Council spokesman argues.

"I guess our statement would be that we've had the same position all along since 2001," said WEC outreach Director Tom Geiger.

Agricultural uses, even lawn and garden maintenance, are exempt under the county's proposed critical areas ordinance, Geiger said Tuesday.

"If it were some developer putting up three-story condominiums, that would be a different question."

Part of the agreement, Geiger said, "is to respect agricultural uses throughout the county. We feel strongly that agricultural uses can be done at the same time as environmental protections."

MacLeod, a founder of Olympic Water Users Association and a voice for water and property rights in the county, fears that this agreement with WEC — the second in two years — heralds more to come — and that all will take rights from the county's farming community.

Roger Short, who has banded about 250 Jefferson and Clallam County residents in a lobbying group called North Olympic Counties Farm Bureau, a chapter of the Washington State Farm Bureau, agrees with MacLeod.

Answers demanded

Monday, farmers parked tractors in protest at the county courthouse steps and Real Estate agents and residents demanded answers from the Jefferson County commissioners about the proposed ordinance they said threatens private property rights.

Geiger said WEC specifically negotiated with county leaders to include farmers' exemption.

Geiger said he fears "people are going to say anything to get their agenda across," referring to Initiative 933, a measure that would require fairness when government regulates private property.

WEC is campaigning against I-933.

West End residents at a disadvantage?

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

PORT HADLOCK — Carol Young, an Oil City Road resident since 1982, politely reminded Jefferson County Planning Commission members at a Wednesday public hearing that West End residents live in the county as well.

West Jefferson County residents came to the Washington State University Learning Center in Port Hadlock from as far away as the Hoh River Valley Wednesday night.

Many of them complained about a lack of notice and information about the county's proposed critical areas ordinance.

"We are at a disadvantage on the West End in that there is no courthouse, no county commissioners," said Young.

"Everyone where I live gets the Forks Forum."

No Jefferson County legal notices or Jefferson County news are published in the Forks Forum weekly mailed to readers.

"There are no (Jefferson County) legal notices in the Forum, where there is no Leader," said Young.

The county legal notices travel no farther than East Jefferson County because The Leader, a Port Townsend weekly that has the county's legal notices contract, rarely circulates to the west side of the county.

Young presented a petition with 16 signatures of West End residents living as far south as Clearwater Road who disagreed with the proposed critical areas ordinance.

"We only found out about it because a friend was sent a flier from the farm bureau," Young complained.

"Had we known about it, we probably could have gotten signatures from everyone out here."

Port Townsend/Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or jeff.chew@peninsuladailynews.com.


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