Interpretation and enforcement of Critical Areas Code creates a burden upon the people

Guest Commentary by John C. Kaufmann

Clallam County, WA - 7/8/01 - There is a wolf at our door, and he is wearing a disguise as a public servant!  Most of you are fully aware of the Washington State’s Growth Management Act, under which Clallam County has crafted the “Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO)”.  When I sat in on one of the citizen committees (years ago), it sounded like we were on the right track.  I have always had a deep appreciation for all creation and do take stewardship of my land VERY seriously.

But did you know that interpretation and enforcement of the increasingly burdensome and complex CAO is up to unelected officials? 

Further, their stance has been, not only may you not touch or use your land (even in current existing HISTORICAL usage!!) that they have determined contains “critical” areas (usually they have not even set foot on said areas! – they go by topo maps, old aerial photos, etc.)

But, now, the county wants all critical areas restored to “PRE-MAN” condition!  You may not even know you have such areas on your land – you may even be paying “highest and best” tax use, and yet are unable to use the land.  Such “discretionary” power can be easily abused, and at best, is very, very dangerous.  What all this means, is that you may not even be aware that activities, and usage patterns by even previous owners, may affect YOU!

You may, by current interpretation and enforcement of the law, be liable to “restore” the land to the “pre-man” condition that THEY DETERMINE!

Are you scared yet?  Several years ago, I was working with the Clallam County Conservation District to work up a “Best Management Plan” for my 18 acres (only several thousand feet from the city boundary).  I found that the County had designated about half of my land as “critical”, and that it had been that way for three years, all the while I had been charged “highest and best” tax use – and of course, no refund for me.

I was outraged!  I was overcharged, uninformed, and out of luck.  I was told that to maintain the mandatory buffer, I would need the County’s written consent to do any “significant” activity within the critical area AND the buffer.  This included mowing the pasture, or even pruning the branches on the trees.  So I told the planner they would see me every January for their permission to prune my apple trees.

When I turned to the  State, I was told that this was nonsense, and if I wanted to thin the timber, all I needed to do was to apply for a Forest Practice Application (FPA) through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which I did.  The DNR gave me a “determination of non-significance” and took “lead agency status.”  As a part of the process, DNR mailed out copies of my FPA to ALL the entities, tribes and departments.  The county’s response was to tell me they would fine me if I proceeded!  The DNR could not believe what the planning division was trying to pull!!!  The state forester told me, “They are bluffing.  Follow our rules, and KEEP a copy of the permit and you will be all right.”  The county gave up after several more tries to scare me.

As it stands now, my family of six lives in a tiny two-bedroom house on 18 beautiful acres, on which we desperately want to build a new house.  I am scare to even START the process!  Please, Please Help!  This land was bought with my blood from a terrible car accident when I was a very young man.  I have plans for it that would benefit far more people than my family or myself.  I desperately want to make it a place of community resource for food production and as a place of learning.

We must repeal this flawed, complex and cumbersome ordinance that affects ALL of us!  Let’s put the rights and responsibilities back in the hands of those with a real vested interest in what happens to the land our Creator has loaned us.

John C. Kaufmann lives in Port Angeles, WA

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