Reports differ on county's plans for critical areas
By Evan Cael
Peninsula Daily News
May 4-5, 2007
PORT HADLOCK, WA — The Jefferson County Planning Commission heard three different suggestions for a revised critical areas ordinance at its meeting this week.
The three reports were a majority view that recommends minimum wetlands buffers with some voluntary aspects, a minority view that sets larger buffers to err on the side of caution and a critique of both those reports.
All exempt agriculture from the ordinance.
The reports were developed by an 18-member critical area ordinance committee that has met weekly since last August to make recommendations based on best available science to update the county's ordinance.
Wednesday was the first look the full Planning Commission has had at the committee's views.
"This represents a ton of work from a lot of people," said Planning Commissioner Peter Downey, District 2, speaking before about 60 people at the Washington State University Learning Center in Port Hadlock.
Downey was elected chairman of the commission at Wednesday's meeting.
He replaces Planning Commissioner Bud Schindler, District 3, who was elected vice-chair.
On May 17 last year, the Jefferson County Department of Community Development drafted a critical areas ordinance update, which — in some cases — required 100-percent increases in wetland buffer zones, the largest being 300 feet.
That change was part of an agreement with the Washington Environmental Council, an environmental state lobbying group that appealed the county's critical areas ordinance before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.
WEC argues that the county had failed to incorporate best available science in its ordinance, which is a requirement of the Growth Management Act regarding such critical areas as wetlands, salmon habitat, channel migration zones and flood zones.
Public outcry when the revised ordinance went before the Planning Commission in June prompted the formation of the review committee.
It consists of four planning commissioners and about 15 citizens.
The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the county commissioners, who are scheduled to make the final decision by Oct. 18
"The update we have in front of us can support a healthy relationship between the government and our citizens," said Norm MacLeod, who presented the majority report.
He stressed compliance versus defiance, saying people may begin to defy regulations they perceive as being too stringent.
"With any ordinance, you want to have willing compliance," MacLeod said.
Otherwise, "the folks simply stop observing the statutes of the ordinance."
He said the majority report aims to provide land owners with maximum flexibility in protecting critical areas.
But he emphasized that, "We're not saying no regulations."
The buffer zones recommended by the majority range from 7.5 feet to 150 feet, depending on the type of wetland.
A voluntary extended buffer for wildlife areas is also a component of the majority's recommendations.
Committee member Jill Silver presented the stricter minority report, with larger wetland buffers.
Silver said the minority report — backed by three citizens on the committee and Planning Commissioner Henry Werch, District 2 — was aligned with state Department of Ecology recommendations.
Therefore, she said, it should not be subject to legal challenges because the best available science is not questionable.
The recommended wetland buffer zones range from 25 feet to 300 feet, depending upon the type of wetland.
Silver said the recommendation is not because the group doesn't trust current landowners to be responsible stewards, but because of "an enormous amount of people who will be moving into the county soon."
"I don't have mistrust about long-term land owners in Jefferson County," Silver said.
"I don't trust new land owners coming in."
Many people will be coming from California or other states who are unaware of the unique environment in Jefferson County and won't know how to maintain it or will be purchasing land to sell it, she said.
Therefore, Silver said, the ordinance should err on the side of caution.
"The reality is that, in the absence of regulations, individual financial gain will often trump land use and management decisions," Silver said.
Robert Crittenden presented his own dissenting report that criticized both the majority and the minority.
"The general approach proposed in both reports may reasonably be expected to result in the opposite of what they aim to achieve, because they penalize those property owners who have protected their critical areas and reward those who have degraded or eliminated them," Crittenden said.
His report proposes exemptions for sustainable living.
Do no harm, suffer no regulation," Crittenden said.
A few reasonable restrictions would be placed on compost heaps, driveways and stormwater management, he said.
". . . my recommendation is that the Planning Commission adopt the minority report as a basis, add an exemption fo sustainble living, reduce its excessive regulation, and, also, add any ideas from the other reports, or from elsewhere, that are worthy of inclusion.
"There are many ideas in there that should be incorporated."
A special Planning Commission meeting has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to conclude the committee report presentations.
Most of this week's presentations laid out the philosophical approaches of each report.
When the presentations are continued next week, more of the substance of the reports is expected to be heard.
The Planning Commission will call for public comment on the recommendations for the critical areas ordinance update sometime this summer.
At the conclusion of Wednesday's meeting, during general public comments, Chimacum farmer Roger Short apologized to the Planning Commission for making a threatening comment at the April 18 meeting.
The threat led to Jefferson County Administrator John Fischbach positioning two sheriff's deputies outside the county commissioner's April 23 meeting.