Jefferson commissioners fine-tune critical areas ordinance for passage
By Erik Hidle, Peninsula Daily News
PORT TOWNSEND, WA — 3/11/08 - The Jefferson County Commissioners on Monday night fine-tuned a controversial 42-page proposed critical areas ordinance that has been debated since 2006, bringing it into a final form that they expect to approve next Monday.
The three commissioners agreed in principle to revisions to be made to the proposed ordinance, which will regulate construction near Jefferson County's streams and wetlands through the creation of development buffer zones intended to protect water quality and the environment.
"We all agreed up there," said Commissioner David Sullivan, D-Cape George.
"I would say it has a very good chance of passing," said Commissioner John Austin, D-Port Ludlow.
County staff will finalized the proposal before the next commissioner meeting on Monday. Commissioners face a Tuesday deadline to approve a critical areas ordinance.
Consideration of the document will be included on the consent agenda. It will be taken off only if one of the commissioners decides that the topic needs more deliberation.
Debate over the proposal generated a split between property rights supporters and environmental interests.
The meeting, which lasted 3 hours 23 minutes, consisted of the commissioners discussing the clarity of the wording — aiming for simple and understandable language — making corrections and finalizing sections of the 42 page document with county staff who have worked on the project.
"Clarity is the issue throughout this whole document," Sullivan said.
Reduced a buffer zone
One of the most significant decisions made came from a request by the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe: to reduce the buffer zone on non-fish bearing, seasonal streams from 75 feet to 50 feet.
Several members of the community left early during the meeting.
Bud Schindler of Brinnon left after two hours of listening to the commissioners work through the document.
Schindler was the author of a Planning Commission subcommittee minority report on the proposed law.
He said he felt that the minority group had lost.
"I thought they would have made some bigger changes and dealt with bigger issues," Schindler said.
"This was all small stuff.
"I am disappointed they ignored a lot of the minority recommendations."
Philip Siemion of Quilcene also left after about two hours.
"It seems that they are crossing all the t's and dotting all the i's," Siemion said.
"I am in the process of buying some land and want to know what I can do with it.
"I probably could have just come in, grabbed the drafts they had out and left," he said.
"All I did was read them during the meeting anyway."
Said Sullivan, "We made the decision in order to protect assets in this county.
"The [ecological] assets here are important here because that's what makes us different from King County.
"This process was overdue, and it was really critical to everybody that we got it done."
Public comment on the proposal ended March 5.
The Planning Commission approved the proposed ordinance 6-2, with one excused absence, on Dec. 12, and forwarded the proposal to the county commissioners for final approval.
The state Growth Management Hearings Board had extended the ordinance's adoption deadline four times to allow the county to address public concerns about wetland science, flood plains, agricultural exemptions from the ordinance and the zones in which rivers and streams move, or channel migration zones.
The proposed ordinance is part of an agreement struck with the Washington Environmental Council, a state lobbying group that argued before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board in 2005 that the county failed to comply with the state Growth Management Act regarding critical environmental areas.
WEC filed a petition in February 2005 after the county updated its critical areas code in late 2004.
County commissioners settled with WEC in executive session behind closed doors, saying it was necessary to avoid a long, costly legal battle.
In May 2006, the Jefferson County Department of Community Development drafted a critical areas ordinance update that increased wetland buffer zones.
Jefferson County farmers protested in June 2006 by circling the courthouse with sign-bearing tractors.
They feared that 300-foot buffers would make it impossible to develop their properties.
WEC officials said agriculture would be exempt, and the critical areas draft now includes that exemption.
Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or email@example.com.