COUNTY PASSES REGULATIONS FOR FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT - follows the lead of Clallam County for buffers

By Mary Duncan
Shelton-Mason County Journal - 2/28/02

Without discussion at their evening meeting February 26, the Mason County
commissioners unanimously approved amendments to land-use regulations to
protect fish and wildlife habitat.

Twice the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board has ruled the
county's fish and wildlife regulations are invalid and noncompliant, first
on December 1, 2000 and again on March 14, 2001.

The hearings board ruled the setbacks on saltwater shorelines and lakes
larger than 20 acres out of compliance with the state's Growth Management
Act guidelines, directing the county to establish a range of setbacks based

In December, community development department staff presented revisions
written with assistance from other state agencies, including the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Washington Office of Community
Development. After reviewing the recommendations, the Mason County Planning
Commission and the Mason County Shorelines Advisory Board submitted a
counterproposal reducing stream buffer widths and waterfront setbacks from
those in the draft developed by county staff.

However, the staffs stream buffer widths were approved by the hearings board
in its December 2000 findings and order.

After considerable testimony at a series of public hearings held earlier, a
third alternative, prepared by county staff, was approved by the county
commissioners Tuesday night. It establishes a 75-foot natural vegetative
buffer setback, plus a 15-foot building setback along most marine shorelines
and large lakes, and increases the setbacks from 75 feet to 100 feet in
areas designated as conservancy shorelines.

It does not contain any reductions in stream-buffer widths, as recommended
by the citizens' advisory groups.

Bob Fink, planning manager, presented the staff report identifying seven
reasons the county staff "believes the proposal is appropriate to Mason

He said the proposed setback standards "can be effectively implemented and
administered" since they are "easily understood by the public and fair to
all properties."

A standard setback affords more overall environmental protection of the
resource, Fink continued, and falls within the range of BEST AVAILABLE

"The county contends BEST AVAILABLE SCIENCE does not lead to the conclusion
that there is only one specific setback distance. In fact, the science
portrays a far less than clear picture and justifies a fairly broad range of
possible actions," Fink reported.

The proposed 75-foot setback is supported by a recent hearings board
decision in a Clallam County case and the BEST AVAILABLE SCIENCE went into
that decision, he added. The hearings board approved 50-foot rural stream
buffers "based in part on the rationale that the rural area was composed of
five-acre and larger parcels," Fink said. "One of the environmentally benign
effects of this is a low level of impervious surface."

He said the community development department tried to work with state
agencies and the Skokomish Tribe regarding smaller buffers in very limited

"We were not able to reach any agreement. We ran out of time to take that
kind of shift in approach," he explained. "WE WOULD NEED MORE TIME TO PUT
TOGETHER A RECORD THAT WOULD OVERWHELM FISH AND WILDLIFE'S DISAVOWAL OF THE SCIENCE. Maybe Clallam County was lucky." The state department recommended a
100-foot shoreline setback.

For feeder bluff areas, described as steep, unstable slopes, the regulations
provide for additional buffer and setback requirements. "This provision
complements other landslide hazard and critical area provisions that address
the issue of stability and erosion at and above the shoreline," Fink said.

The proposal also addresses specific concerns expressed by the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife in its letter of December 10, 2001, he said.
Changes to clarify the language in several sections of the text "were made
at the request of WDFW to parts of the ordinance which were not remanded by
the growth-management hearings board. "This was done in recognition that it
is not just the width of buffers but other factors that affect the
preservation of the values and functions of the resource," he explained.


Fink said the county weighed both larger and smaller buffers and noted the
record of BEST AVAILABLE SCIENCE indicates that many other factors beside
the buffer width are "very important in resource protection."

The county has tried to balance what Fink called "the four most applicable
goals" of the Growth Management Act: environment, property rights, public
participation and coordination and permitting.

"The county considered the uncertainty in the science that does not provide
any golden number as an answer, the strength of public opinion against
over-regulation of property rights, the comments of the resource agencies
and the need to protect the functions and values of the resources," Fink
said in recommending approval to the commissioners.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site