Landowners organize to protect rural rights -


by Dean A. Radford
King County Journal Reporter

Washington State - Frustrated and angry, rural residents from Enumclaw to Carnation are rising up and opening their wallets to protect their property rights. It's a flexing of rural power that hasn't been seen since the 1990s, when equally frustrated supporters of a new Cedar County tried to throw off King County's political yoke.

On the Eastside, the Rural Conservation Coalition has raised $5,000 or so as a down payment on the $60,000 to $100,000 it needs to fight an update of the county's Critical Areas Ordinance, according to member Preston Drew, who lives in the Carnation area.

The ordinance is the new lightning rod for rural anger because it could impose larger setbacks on wetlands, streams and rivers, placing even more land off limits to development.

Such restrictions are needed to save salmon and keep water safe to drink, politicians say.

They ask, ``Don't you want to drink clean water?''

``Of course we do,'' say rural residents.

But they want some ``just compensation'' for their financial loss, or for sacrificing the enjoyment of their land.

Those are catch phrases that property rights activists use. They say they have the state and federal constitutions on their side.

About 125 rural residents filled the Enumclaw Livestock Pavilion last week to form a property rights political action committee. They left $5,000 behind to get it off the ground.

They met again Thursday night. Their goal is to oust from office those politicians who don't support their cause and to elect those who do. They hope to go statewide.

Others plan take a more down-to-earth approach. They won't say when or how, but May Valley residents are planning something ``really big'' in Seattle, which they say is home to the politicians who control their future.

The residents in May Valley, between Renton and Issaquah, want to dredge May Creek to prevent annual flooding that leaves their land encrusted with mud.

``Some of the mud needs to be shared with these people,'' said Rick Spence of May Valley. ``I think they need to know what we live with every day.''

Ron Mariotti, who is hosting the meetings at his livestock pavilion, isn't advocating lawlessness. Nor is he necessarily against regulations. He's against the loss of property rights.

``One inch is pushing too far. It's our property. It's not the county's property,'' he said.

He would accept greater setbacks, and maybe even the $10,000 he pays a year to help manage runoff, if they were the result of a vote of the people.

``We are the government. The government don't run us,'' he said.

County Council member Kent Pullen of Kent, himself an outspoken protector of property rights, briefed rural residents last week on how they could make a difference.

``This looks to me like it could turn out to be one of the most important political movements I have seen in my political career,'' Pullen, a Republican, said in an interview. He represents the Enumclaw Plateau on the council.

He points out that the same complaints from citizens have been heard for years, even when Republicans controlled the County Council.

``Their concern is the infringement of constitutional guarantees,'' Pullen said. ``They are willing to put in their time and their money to win the war.''

These advocates of rural power are not necessarily judging a politician based on his or her party label. Spence applauds Seattle Democrat Larry Gossett for his integrity. He says Bellevue Republican Jane Hague is ``asleep at the switch.''

Hague, who chairs the council's growth management committee, this week said she thought May Valley's flooding problems were solved with the adoption of the May Valley Basin Plan.

But even though the plan was adopted, the county and valley residents are at odds over whether the county is doing what the plan says to do to control flooding.

Hague defends her record protecting the rights of rural residents and their economic livelihood.

Her committee will hold hearings on the Critical Areas Ordinance this year. A new chair who is ``not as friendly toward property rights'' could head the committee next year when the ordinance is adopted, she said.

But much of the resident's wrath is saved for Seattle Democrat Larry Phillips, who ironically is the longtime chair of the Cedar River Council and has been involved with efforts to preserve farmland and the rural lifestyle for years.

Preston Drew says Phillips is a frontman for ``elite preservationists'' in Seattle and doesn't recognize the interests of the rural areas or its economic needs.

``I am not a front person for anyone,'' said Phillips. ``I am an elected representative on the King County Council.''

Then he adds, ``nice try.''

Phillips, who is vice chairman of the council's growth committee, said counties are required by state law to protect sensitive areas, such as wetlands and streams.

Perhaps more significantly, such efforts are the result of a ``hue and cry to protect ecological lands'' after years of filling wetlands, clearing sensitive areas and straightening and dredging creeks and rivers, he said.

``The consequence of that is we diminished our quality of life substantially,'' he said.

He's less eloquent about providing ``just compensation'' for property owners, saying the Critical Areas Ordinance already provides for ``economic gain.''

He recognizes that every cause needs a political bogeyman. But his chairmanship of the Cedar River Council is proof that ``I am not the caricature they like to paint,'' he said.

While Phillips is just one player in this drama, Drew sees ``a whole bunch of frustrated people are who looking to get their concerns heard by King County.''

He supported efforts to create a new Cedar County out of the eastern reaches of King County. Those efforts failed when the state Supreme Court ruled that only the state Legislature could form a new county.

``Nothing has changed,'' he said. In fact, he said, ``I think in a lot of ways it has gotten worse.''

Dean Radford covers King County. He can be reached at or 253-872-6719.

To get involved

Anyone interested in getting involved with the political action committee can call Ron Mariotti, owner of the Enumclaw Livestock Sales Pavilion, at 360-825-3151.


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