Bill exempts existing farms from state regs

By David Wilkins - Daily World Writer

Grays Harbor, WA - 4/5/02 - In a major coup for opponents of proposed revisions to the Shorelines Management Act, Gov. Gary Locke on Tuesday signed into law House Bill 2305, which exempts existing agricultural uses from shorelines regulation.

"This gives the agriculture community some certainty as far as any new shoreline regulations go," said Rep. Brian Hatfield, D - Raymond, the bill's prime sponsor. "The hardest fight for us wasn't in the Legislature. We always had the votes there. It was in convincing the governor and the environmental community that it was in their best interest to cooperate with the agricultural community."

The new law exempts existing agricultural uses from regulation under the Shorelines Management Act, and mandates that the Department of Ecology explicitly spell out exemptions for agricultural uses in any future revisions of the act.

"This gets it in writing," said Grays Harbor County Commissioner Dan Wood, who has opposed the revisions since before his election to the commission in 2000. Wood was previously a field manager for the Washington Farm Bureau.

"The governor and state agencies have promised for the past couple of years that the shoreline rules would not harm existing agriculture," Wood added. "We challenged the agencies to put it in writing, but they refused. So the Legislature did it and the governor agreed. Now we can have discussions based on assurances and trust."

The Shorelines Management Act revisions have been the source of considerable controversy over the last three years. The Legislature originally passed a mandate for the Department of Ecology to revise the act in 1995. However, when the proposed revisions were circulated in draft form by Ecology in 1999 and 2000, citizens and lawmakers alike in rural communities complained that the agency had gone far beyond the legislative mandate, making the rules unreasonably restrictive.

Pacific County's Community Development director, Bryan Harrison, another vocal critic of the Shorelines revision process, hailed Tuesday's signing as a "great thing for farmers."

"I think it was a pretty well crafted bill," Harrison said. "It fairly clearly exempts existing and ongoing agricultural activity on existing farms from additional regulations under shorelines. It clarifies what the state contested as merely a 'misunderstanding.'

"I think it's a strong assurance to farmers that new shorelines guidelines won't be used to diminish their ability to operate their existing farms," Harrison added.

Ecology's program manager for shorelines, Gordon White, said the legislation presents "welcome clarification" to the Legislature's mandate, but added that many rural counties (including Grays Harbor and Pacific) will have to change their shorelines master plans now to conform to the new law.

"It's good to have this in statute," White said. "It's been the department's practice for many years. We've never required a buffer around an existing farm."

Not everyone is thrilled with the new law, however. Pacific County farmer Doug Camenzind, who vehemently opposed the revisions and dubbed the Department of Ecology "environmental communists" during public hearings in 1999, said Wednesday that the new law doesn't go far enough.

"We're happy with the exemptions from the shoreline revisions, but Ag buffers are coming at us from another direction," Camenzind said. "Just like Forest and Fish, there's going to be Ag and Fish. So it's more of the same mentality, divide and conquer, and we believe in private property rights for all."

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