Jefferson County moves forward with Critical Areas Code discussion
January 22, 2007
Report from Norm McLeod
Port Townsend, WA - The Jefferson County Critical Areas Committee has entered a very active phase in its process, and contrasting viewpoints are coming forward.
The January 18 meeting was held at the Quilcene Community Center, and more than a hundred people came to see the committee in action and to weigh in with their comments. The personal stories that were told, along with the reactions to the committee discussion, carried landowners' concerns for their futures with an eloquence that is often absent from the policy-making process.
As we work our way through the Jefferson County CAO update, we are learning a lot about how other counties are doing things, what kinds of policy approaches they've used that have passed muster with the Growth Management Hearings Boards, and what they've done that didn't work out. We are also learning what pieces were missing when policy efforts were turned down. All of this new knowledge will be used in developing the committee's recommendations for the planning commission.
At the moment, two areas of the CAO are noteworthy for their contentiousness. One revolves around wetland buffers, and the other concerns channel migration zones.
Wetlands buffer widths were one of the main issues that concerned many people when the initial draft of Jefferson County's CAO update was published last May. That document called for buffers of up to 450 feet for wetlands that had not been previously categorized and delineated.
Dr. Kenneth Brooks is a member of the CAO committee, and amongst his many qualifications is his extensive experience in delineating wetlands in the Pacific Northwest. So far, he's done more than 400 throughout the region.
Dr. Brooks accomplished an independent review of the Department of Ecology's best available science (BAS) package as it relates to wetlands. He then provided supplemental peer reviewed BAS to better inform the delineation policy recommendations he has made available to the committee in draft form.
You can download a copy of that draft from the list of resources on the right side of the home page of our web log, located at
The draft recommendation includes a discussion of Ecology's BAS and Dr. Brooks' supplemental BAS, which he uses in designing his refinements to the buffer setting process.
We've also made the draft Appendix 1 document available for your review, mainly because of the way it illustrates how a minority of the buffer subcommittee feels about what they would prefer to see.
Dr. Brooks feels that Jefferson County should adopt an approach that ensures protection of wetlands functions while respecting the rights of landowners to use and enjoy their property. Monitoring would ensure that the often narrower buffers are effective in protecting water quality, and that there would be an adaptive system for modifying the buffers if water quality results demonstrated a need for a wider buffer to correct an identified problem.
Because some of those who reviewed Dr. Brooks' work questioned his qualifications, he made his CV available for review, and we've included it as a link from our resources section on the home page of this web log (address above). Please feel free to download it and learn more about this superlative professional.
Channel migration zones
One of the areas addressed in the Second Settlement Agreement between Jefferson County and the Washington Environmental Council was channel migration zones (CMZs). These are not directly addressed in Washington's Growth Management Act, but are briefly mentioned in the Shoreline Management Act. Nonetheless, WEC insisted that Jefferson County adopt regulations for CMZs as part of the CAO update.
The environmental activists on the CAO committee want the county to include CMZ regulation in the CAO update, but other members of the committee question the wisdom of doing so until and unless required through amendment of the GMA or some other statutory requirement.
To that end, a brief statement was made during the meeting, followed by a motion regarding channel migration zone regulation:
Under the requirements of the Second Settlement Agreement between the Washington Environmental Council and Jefferson County, the committee is discussing the regulation of channel migration zones. We have been made aware that such regulation is not required under the provisions of Washington’s Growth Management Act, and is only tangentially addressed in the state’s Shoreline Management Act.
With the exception of the requirement set forth in the Second Settlement Agreement, inclusion of a regulatory framework in the Critical Areas Ordinance for channel migration zones is an optional exercise of powers on the part of Jefferson County.
The addition of regulatory provisions regarding channel migration zones in the Critical Areas Ordinance will have significant impacts on a significant, but as yet undetermined number of private property owners who live and/or conduct business within the boundaries of Jefferson County’s channel migration zones.
We can presume that the vast majority of those landowners are not fully aware of the intent to regulate their use of their property, and in particular that they are not aware that such regulation would be promulgated in the absence of a state mandate under the Growth Management Act.
We can further presume that the potentially affected landowners have a vital interest in any discussions regarding the possible regulation of their use of property under the provisions of the resulting Critical Areas Ordinance update.
Because any regulatory recommendations we send forward from this committee have great potential to materially affect the lives and dreams of channel migration zone landowners, we must assure that they have ample opportunity to participate in any decision-making process that affects their futures. To do otherwise would be a great disservice on our part.
That this committee not make a decision on recommendations regarding channel migration zones until the county:
· identifies all privately owned properties in Jefferson County that would be affected by channel migration zone regulatory provisions, to include those properties potentially falling into any buffer zones set beyond the actual channel migration zones.
· Provides a complete list of the identified properties, their parcel numbers, and the names and contact information for the property owners to this committee.
· Notifies, by letter, each potentially affected property owner of the intent to regulate under the provisions the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance, and that regulation of channel migration zones is not required by the Washington Growth Management Act, but is a requirement of the Second Settlement Agreement between the Washington Environmental Council and Jefferson County.
· Invites the participation of potentially affected property owners in any process that could result in regulation of their property under provisions of any ordinance relating to channel migration zones.
After some discussion centering primarily around whether the motion was timely, it was tabled for the moment. Once the committee enters into more active discussion about channel migration zones, the motion will once again be brought forward, according to the committee member who introduced it.
We'd like to invite you to take part in the CAO committee's meetings, which are held on Thursdays at 7:00 PM. The venue is generally at WSU's Shold Business Park facility, but occasionally take place in other locations to allow more people the opportunity to observe the process in action.