WA State Senate Considers GMA Reform

from WA State Farm Bureau

Olympia, WA - 1/31/03 - A fundamental goal of the Growth Management Act (GMA) is to maintain and enhance natural resource-based industries, including productive timber (and) agriculture, and to encourage the conservation of&productive agricultural lands.

In fact, the opposite has occurred. Local land use plans are subject to the approval of Growth Management Hearings Boards, each consisting of 3 appointees who are not subject to Senate confirmation. None of these board members is accountable to local voters, as they are not required to stand for election. Yet they wield enormous power over land use decisions.

Many counties have spent tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars in attempts to gain approval for their local land use plans, only to be left in limbo because of challenges that are continually brought under the GMA. Skagit County has already spent approximately $2.5 million in litigation costs. (See Misuse of Science story on page 2.)

Hearings boards often require large buffers on agricultural lands, mandatory compliance programs, and deference to state desires for local land use plans. Consequently, farmers cannot comply with regulations and be profitable.

When the GMA was first passed in 1990, hearings boards did not exist. A 1991 amendment created the boards and gave them authority to review only procedural compliance, such as whether appropriate notice and hearings were included in the local plan adoption process. In later years, the reach of hearings boards was expanded to give them almost complete authority over local land use decisions.

Numerous GMA bills have been introduced this session, including several from one of the original GMA sponsors, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island. Haugen expressed her continued support for GMA, but told the Senate Land Use Committee this week that changes need to be made to correct unintended consequences. SB 5354 gives additional deference to local land use decisions. Washington Farm Bureau supports this bill, which has already been passed out of committee. Haugen has also introduced bills to require agencies to compensate landowners for damage caused by Hydraulic Project Application permit requirements (SB 5346) and to protect the ability to operate and maintain ditches and tide gates (SB 5345, 5349).

SB 5282, a bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam) that would clarify terms in the GMA and eliminate the hearings boards entirely. SB 5308, sponsored by Sen. Joyce Mulliken, R-Ephrata, reverts hearings board authority to procedural review steps only. Mulliken has also introduced SB 5309, which would require Senate confirmation of hearings board appointees. WFB supports SB 5282, 5308 and 5309.

For more information, see the bill tracking sheets or contact Dan Wood at Washington Farm Bureau. E-mail Dan at dwood@wsfb.com or call 360-357-9975 or 800-331-3276.


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