Realtors tussle with county commissioners over Dungeness
PORT ANGELES -- Clallam County commissioners Monday accused Sequim-area Realtors of trying to pack a meeting on the Elwha Dungeness Watershed Plan with panicky property owners.
Realtors responded that commissioners were giving up local control of land use to the state.
The heated exchange came as commissioners received a staff briefing Monday on Watershed Resource Inventory Area 18, or WRIA 18, that included plans for a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Sequim High School cafeteria, 601 N. Sequim Ave.
The meeting -- and one at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Roosevelt Middle School, 106 Monroe Road, Port Angeles -- will be the latest in a series of sessions at which water planners explain details of the proposal to interested parties.
WRIA 18 is one of 23 areas across Washington where the state will try to balance -- with local input -- the water needs of people, salmon and wildlife.
The effort has squared off Realtors and developers against conservationists in the four years it has been discussed, especially as the plan nears implementation by county commissioners.
Monday was no exception.
``I hope people will be coming with suggestions for changes,'' said Commissioner Mike Chapman, R-Port Angeles.
``Are the Realtors ever going to come up with suggestions, or are they just going to complain?''
Water plan talks heat up -Commissioners, Realtors feud over private wells
Commissioner, Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, challenged Realtors in the audience about a flier they sent to Sequim-area property owners urging them to attend the meetings and protest WRIA 18.
Threats to private wells?
The flier claimed the plan could interrupt private wells during drought for the sake of salmon and that “portions of the plan threaten your ability to develop your land.”
Neither possibility is likely, according to WRIA 18 authors.
“Don’t you think there’s some misrepresentation here?” Tharinger asked the Realtors. “Do you think this will move the discussion forward?”
Marguerite Glover, a Realtor with Peter Black Real Estate in Sequim, countered that WRIA 18 sets impossible goals for stream flows, rates that haven’t been seen in 60 years.
“Why would you set an unrealistic goal?” she asked.
“That goal has never been met. This is having a really big impact on development.”
Tharinger, however, pressed his point.
“There is some thoughtful discussion that needs to be done. This (flier) does not add to that. This type of thing does not add to that solution.”
Chapman said the Wednesday meeting in Sequim will be a work session that will set, in the words of county groundwater specialist Anne Soule, “very specific stakeholder concerns.”
"You can’t just pack the room and have mob rule again,” Chapman said, referring to public hearings last autumn where Sequim-area landowners and developers dominated the discussion.
But Mike McAleer, a Realtor with RE/MAX Fifth Avenue Realty in Sequim, said the early planning process on WRIA 18 excluded real estate dealers and developers.
“Maybe all the stakeholders weren’t there,” McAleer said.
“The Realtors were not stakeholders (in the eyes of water planners).”
Tharinger called the claim a “a red herring. We begged for representation.”
Chapman agreed: “I’m not going to listen to ‘you’re shutting out the Realtors,’ I spoke with Realtors, and they declined. “We’re never going to make you guys happy.”
For the past four years, conservationists, tribal fisheries, environmentalists, health workers, water planners, and other public and private individuals hammered out the water resource plan.
Commissioners may adopt the plan, reject it or send it back to planners.
The last choice is not a likely option, they have said, except for very specific changes.
The plan for the Elwha and Dungeness Rivers and their tributaries should go into effect in the spring of 2006.
If county commissioners have not adopted a local plan by that time, the state Department of Ecology may impose its own plan on the county.
The flier, signed by Clallam County Realtors and North Peninsula Builders Association, claims that WRIA 18 sets limits on the number of wells that can be drilled in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.
“Should the county commissioners approve the plan as written,” the flier said, “they are obligating themselves to enter into an agreement with area tribes and the Department of Ecology to regulate private wells in an unprecedented manner, possibly abrogating their sovereignty to plan for the future development or rural areas of our county.”
Even as commissioners and Realtors squabbled over WRIA 18, the planning process continues on WRIA 2O, The Sol Duc-Hoh basin on the west end.
That process probably will miss its June deadline by six months. The state Department of Ecology has approved an extended schedule but not extended funding for completing the plan.
The schedule currently calls for developing issues for WRIA 20 from now through May, drafting it in June, taking and resolving public comments from August through November, adopting it in January 2006.
Presentations tentatively have been set with groups including the
West End Business and Professional Association, Forks Chamber of Commerce,
West End Sportsmen’s Club, the Clallam Bay/Sekiu Chamber of Commerce,
and the Makah, Hoh, and Quileute tribal councils.
County schedules WRIA workshops
Watershed planning is back on the political menu this week, as county officials hit the road for the next round of discussions over a controversial planning document.
Last fall, county commissioners were bombarded with comments over the WRIA 18 watershed plan, a hefty document that outlined ways the county could manage water resources for the Dungeness and the Elwha watersheds in the decades to come.
The plan came under fire from developers, well drillers, realtors and average citizens, who questioned the necessity of the plan, and expressed fear of the regulations that could result. Supporters included representatives of the tribes and other jurisdictions who had worked for the past 4-years to develop the proposal.
Faced with the controversy, commissioners opted to fall back and punt, telling staff to go out and meet with local organizations, service clubs and business groups to see exactly what needed to be fixed. That’s happened over the past several months. Now, the county has scheduled a couple of workshops this week and next to get more suggestions.
County Commissioner Mike Chapman says the meetings are workshops, and not formal public hearings, which are designed to gather specific suggestions and recommended changes for the WRIA document.
The first is set for Wednesday night, starting at 6:30pm in the Sequim High School Cafeteria and will deal with “groundwater supply”. The second will be next Tuesday night, February 8th at the Roosevelt Middle School gym and will focus on “instream flows”.
Chapman says the meetings will split the audience into work groups, with the goal of getting specific suggestions and recommendations on how the WRIA plan should be changed. Then, if commissioners decide to remand the proposal back to the multi-agency planning group they will have detailed areas to work on.
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