Judge sides with Clallam County’s ag exemption

By COOKSON BEECHER Capital Press Staff Writer


PORT ANGELES, Wash. — Agriculture cannot be singled out from other pre-existing and ongoing uses in Clallam County’s critical areas zone, a Superior Court has ruled.

The June 2 ruling by Clallam County Superior Court Judge George L. Wood overturns a 2001 decision by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board that would have curtailed exemptions for agriculture under the county’s ordinance.

The county appealed the hearings board decision, which had also faulted the county for several other parts of its 1999 critical areas ordinance, among them buffer sizes along certain types of waterways.

“The Growth Management Act contains no mandate directing the county to expel pre-existing and ongoing uses from critical areas,” Wood wrote in his decision.

He zeroed in on the underlying reason the two environmental groups challenging the exemption had singled out agriculture. He noted that they recognized that if every home, business or other use that had existed in the county’s critical area zone before the state’s Growth Management Act was enacted more than a decade ago had to conform to best available science, there would likely be “no use whatsoever” in that zone.

“. . . (T)here is no basis in the language of the Growth Management Act to single out agriculture over any other pre-existing use,” Wood wrote. “To do so, would call for a rewriting of the statute, a result well beyond the power of this Court or the GMA Board.”

Under that law, counties are required to protect both agriculture and fish in areas near waterways and wetlands.

Although the board found that the county had ignored best available science in exempting pre-existing agricultural use, Wood sided with the county’s argument that the board failed to consider the local circumstances and the impact of the policy. Wood went one step further, saying that the hearing board’s decision would “essentially result in a taking,” which goes against a goal of the law.


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