The Water Police are Coming

by Sue Forde

Sequim, WA - A”pre-regulatory hammer” may soon be visiting you. 

Within the next couple of weeks, the Department of Ecology (DOE) will be sending out  a “recon” inspector (reconnaissance water quality inspector) to do drive-by surveys of properties of small acreage parcels - especially mini-farms - to determine whether landowners are  in violation of watershed planning rules  – and there are many from which to choose.  A landowner could be in  violation of the Clean Water Act or the Shorelines Management Act. 

Or a landowner, like Jerry Levesque, who had a travel trailer on his property and is letting a disabled veteran  live there, may unknowingly violate the Critical Areas Ordinance, or one or more of many other rules and regulations now in place.  And the response such a violation would be, as Clallam County Code Enforcement Jeannine Sofie said, “I can sympathize, but it’s illegal.”

Another landowner, Perry Bolster, who recently removed a stump from a buffer zone, was required to plant nine new trees, (which would remove his water view) revegetate the buffer, and bring it to its “natural state,” a term frequently found in the many rules and regulations now in place.

The “recon” team will coordinate with the county enforcement staff in the effort to police Clallam County for rule violators.  They will write up any potential violators, and DOE will send letter to farm owner regarding “infractions.”

The Clallam Conservation District, which recently received a $50,000 grant from the County Commissioners, will be responsible for “helping” landowners bring their property into compliance.   They  will be required to issue a report to advise how many people they’ve talked to about implementation.  “It’s a landmark agreement” said County Commissioner Mike Doherty, regarding the agreement between the conservation district and the county.

Termed by Steve Tharinger as the “pre-regulatory hammer”, the Conservation District will contact the landowner to “educate” about what has to be done with the land to bring it into compliance.  For those landowners who do not comply, the prosecuting attorney and code enforcement officer, will step in to offer a little persuasion, by way of a variety of fines – from $1,000 to $25,000. 

Fines not stiff enough?  That’s okay – Eloise Kailin of “Protect the Peninsula’s Future” has been consistently lobbying for tougher enforcement and higher fines, as high as $100,000.  They have been lobbying the local “watershed council”, the Dungeness River Management Team (DRMT), for tougher controls.  Ironically, County Commissioner Steve Tharinger is the chair of that council, which just received a $250,000 grant to implement more rules and regulations.  (The DMRT’s last year grant was $7,397.) 

Meanwhile, the North Olympic Land Trust (NOLT) is busy trying to negotiate with landowners to either deed their property outright, or give conservation easements to the Land Trust.  The nongovernmental organization (NGO) is working in tandem with the County to purchase and/or obtain easements on property, especially along the Dungeness River Greenway.  The county, NOLT and other NGOs are working with so-called "willing landowners", but the question arises as to whether the landowners may be convinced to offer their property instead of having to pay the high fines required by the Critical Areas Code.

NOLT currently owns 90 acres outright, has 354 acres in conservation easements, and more than 170 acres at various stages of conservation easement completion.

A second inspector will be covering the Chehalis area.

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