Wetlands protections plan due today

    by Evan Cael, Peninsula Daily News


    PORT TOWNSEND, WA- The Jefferson County Planning Commission will release a draft version of an ordinance to protect wetlands and other environmentally sensitive lands today, 18 months after a previous version began to generate public controversy.

    The purpose of the critical areas ordinance is to protect aquifer recharge areas, frequently flooded areas, geologically hazardous areas; fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas and wetlands.

    Planning Commission Chairman Peter Downey said he hopes that a stewardship option in the new draft will quell public concerns by providing land owners more options.

    "It really gives a lot more flexibility," Downey.

    "There are two different ways you can comply now."

    Land owners who subscribe to the stewardship alternative would be required to submit plans showing the critical areas present on their land.

    "Your plan has to show how you are addressing the functions and values of the critical areas," Downey said.

    The Planning Commission plans a public hearing on Nov. 7 at the Chimacum High School auditorium, 91 West Valley Road.

    Members of the public can make comments on the draft critical areas ordinance.

    Written public comments will be accepted through Nov. 13.

    The Planning Commission's recommendation to the county commissioners is due on Nov. 26.

    The three county commissioners have a deadline of Jan. 18 to adopt a final version.

    Draft available
    The Planning Commission draft ordinance will be available on Jefferson County Web site, www.co.jefferson.wa.us/, at the Department of Community Development, 621 Sheridan St., Port Townsend, or at the Jefferson County Public Library, 620 Cedar Ave., Port Hadlock.

    Written public comments can be e-mailed to Joel Peterson, planner, at jpeterson@co.jefferson.wa.us or mailed to him at the Department of Community Development offices, 621 Sheridan St., Port Townsend.

    The county is updating its critical areas ordinance both because regular updates are required under the Growth Management Act, and because the county commissioners entered into an agreement with Washington Environmental Council, a Seattle environmental group, on Jan. 18, 2006, in lieu of being sued in court.

    The group said that the county had failed to incorporate best available science in its critical areas ordinance.

    The original update deadline was July 18, 2006, but when a draft was generated by the Department of Community Development on May 17, 2006, it was met with a public outcry.

    The county has been given three extensions of the deadline since.

    About 200 people attended a Planning Commission meeting, lambasting the ordinance for requiring increased buffer zones around wetlands.

    Buffer zones protect wetlands from development.

    Changes to buffer zone
    In the earlier draft of the county law, the largest possible buffer zone was 450 feet.

    "Now, under the new code, [the largest possible buffer] would be 350 feet," Downey said.

    The smallest possible wetland buffer width is 25 feet.

    An 18-member committee comprised of planning commissioners and members of the public had met from August 2006 to May on the issue.

    From the committee came a majority report, a minority report and a single member's criticism of the shortcomings of the other two reports.

    The majority report recommended buffer widths ranging between 7.5 feet and 180 feet.

    The minority recommended widths between 25 feet and 300 feet.

    Downey said that, although the Planning Commission didn't take the majority's recommendation, a compromise was reached by including the stewardship alternative in the new draft of the ordinance.

    "We didn't use the majority reports for the prescriptive buffer widths, but that's OK because they were based on really optimistic points of view," Downey said.

    The stewardship alternative to the prescriptive buffers will allow land owners to argue that wetlands buffer zones on their property ought to be smaller than regulations would allow.

    A group of citizens has been meeting with county Department of Community Development staff and staff from the state Department of Ecology to iron out the stewardship alternative.

    Although the stewardship alternative is included in the draft that will be available Monday, the group is still meeting, with its next meeting taking place Nov. 6, and additional recommendations are expected to be included in the ordinance between now and when the commissioner's adopt it.

    The commissioners will hold a public meeting on the ordinance prior to its adoption, but that has not yet been scheduled.

    Reporter Evan Cael can be reached at 360-385-2335 or evan.cael@peninsuladailynews.com.



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