Campaign proposed to end 
critical areas ordinance

by Dan Ross, Sequim Gazette Staff Writer
       Property rights activists are mounting a campaign to have the county's Critical Areas Code repealed.
       Bob Forde, of Sequim, is awaiting approval from county elections officials to begin gathering signatures and place a local initiative on the November 2001 ballot calling for the end of the Critical Areas Code.
       "We believe the Clallam County Critical Areas Code is contrary to wise environmental practices, that it creates dangerous high densities on our lands and artificially restricts the best use of land," Forde wrote in the petition to repeal the ordinance.
       All Washington counties are required under the 1995 Growth Management Act to highlight the critical areas of the county and develop regulations to protect those areas.
       Critical areas are described as wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, geologically hazardous areas, frequently flooded areas and critical aquifer-recharge areas.
       Over one-half of all property in Clallam County falls into one or more of the critical areas categories, and Forde said he believes the county is overzealous in its interpretation of what the state requires.
       "We are hearing new cases every day where people cannot build on their own land because of the staff's interpretation of the code," said Forde.
       Bob Martin, director of the county department of community development, said the code and the county's enforcement of the code, are proper.
       Bob Martin
       "It does what the state requires us to do," said Martin. "We developed an ordinance with two main parts; one, to identify critical areas and two, to develop an ordinance to protect those critical areas."
       Code enforcement officers, Martin said, do property inspections when complaints are filed by county residents, but they do not patrol the county looking for illegal building or construction in a wetlands or along a creek or river.
       Commissioners debate the code's merits
       County Commissioners Mike Chapman, R-Port Angeles, and Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, appear to be setting up on opposite sides of the debate whether the critical areas code, as it is written, is good for county residents.
       Chapman was elected last November on a platform that heavily focused on private property rights. He said during the campaign he believed the county places too many restrictions on how property owners can develop their land. His views remain the same now that he is one of the three county commissioners.
       "In some areas I believe it goes too far, and this gives another chance to debate," said Chapman. One of the troubling areas in the code, Chapman said, is a requirement for buffers of 50-200 feet along each side of most county streams, creeks and rivers.
       The Western Growth Management Hearings Board ruled earlier this year the county needs to add buffer zones for "Type 5" streams, something Chapman described as streams with no fish and without year-round water flow. "Like a ditch out in Forks. I cannot support that kind of requirement," Chapman said.
       The hearings board requirement, Chapman said, goes too far in what it asks of Clallam County. He feels the code is already one of the most restrictive in the state, and additional restrictions are unnecessary.
       "Maybe this is a good place for the county to draw a line in the sand and say, this is going too far," said Chapman. "We have one of the most comprehensive ordinances on the books, maybe it is time to say no, enough is enough."
       Tharinger said the hearing board consensus was that except for a few areas like the buffers, Clallam County has done an excellent job developing the ordinance.
       "It seems we are on the right track," with the code, Tharinger added.
       He said the county is being asked by the hearings board to come up with reduced buffers in areas of minor development and the additional buffers for Type 5 waters.
       "We have an (agricultural) exemption and we need to tighten that up," said Tharinger.
       Martin and other county planning and building department officials have stated they are pleased with the code and that Clallam County was one of the first counties in the state to meet the growth management area requirements for a critical areas code. Chapman said he believes the county does not need to be a state leader in developing property rights codes.
       "As a rural county, do we need to take the lead on this?" he asked.
       The state requirements for protecting critical areas in Clallam County do not disappear if Forde's group is successful in repealing the critical areas code. A new code would need to be developed, something Chapman is very interested in being a part of.
       "I would like to work on something that is less restrictive," said Chapman. "I do believe you cannot have nothing when state law says you have to have something."
       The challenge, Chapman said, of developing a new code, is balancing property rights with protecting the environment.
       A January 2001 appeal to the Growth Management Hearings Board came from environmental groups Protect the Peninsula's Future and the Washington Environmental Council, claiming more restrictions are needed on building in or near critical areas. The attempt to repeal the code is coming from property rights activists, claiming the code is too restrictive.
       "One side says it went too far. One side said it does not go far enough," said Chapman, "And there may not be a compromise that all people can live with. I think a vote of the people is not a bad way to go."
       Tharinger agreed a middle ground needs to be found between environmental and property rights groups in the county.
       "It is the environmentalists who want the buffers, and they need to step up and help the landowners," said Tharinger.
       He said the county is receiving grants to purchase conservation easements from landowners throughout the county. This, he said, can help landowners who feel the right to develop their land is being taken away by implementing the critical areas code.
       "If a person is being unduly impacted, they can get some compensation," Tharinger said, for not being able to use all the land on their property.
       Although he campaigned on a platform of private property rights, Chapman said he is avoiding any work with Forde's group, the Committee to repeal the Critical Areas Code. He does support their efforts to repeal the code.
       "It seemed a little bit of a conflict of interest now that I am a commissioner to be a part of that committee," said Chapman. "I represent the people, but I am not a champion of initiatives. I am not a big fan of elected officials endorsing or opposing ballot initiatives."
       Forde needs to gather about 3,200 valid signatures of registered Clallam County voters, or 10 percent of the people in the county who voted in the November 2000 election, to qualify his initiative for the November 2001 ballot.
       If Forde is successful in gathering the signatures, commissioners can put the initiative into effect by their own vote, or by not acting, the initiative goes onto the November 2001 ballot.
       Chapman has indicated he would bring the initiative to a vote of the commissioners if Forde is successful.
       "If 10 percent respond, I think that is a lot of people speaking out."
       Forde's goal is to come with at least 4,000 signatures, if not more. He is planning a kickoff rally for the petition at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, in the Port Angeles City Council Chambers.
       "I would like to walk into the commissioners' office and drop 10,000 signatures on them," said Forde.

Forde can be reached at 360-681-6955, days or 360-681-3023 evenings.

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