Critical areas code battle seen as continuing

by Dan Ross, Sequim Gazette Staff Writer

      Clallam County, WA - 9/13/01 - 

        I-695, passed by state voters, overturned in the courts.
       I-722, passed by state voters, overturned in the courts.
       I-6 in Clallam County, stalled in the courts before going to the voters.
       Legal challenges continue to the validity of Initiative 6, a repeal of the county's critical areas code, and it appears they are going to continue until time to print county ballots.
       Court hearings on the validity of I-6 are scheduled for Sept. 18 and an appeal date is set for Sept. 21, the last day items can be placed on the Clallam County ballots. A court commissioner's ruling last week means I-6 is still not approved for the November ballot.
       Bob Forde, of Sequim, organized a petition signature drive earlier this year and garnered enough valid signatures to qualify I-6 for the November ballot, or so he thought.
       Clallam County Commissioners Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, and Mike Doherty, D-Port Angeles, voted last month to obtain a court opinion on the validity of I-6, rather than approving it for addition to the ballot.
       Forde asked Court Commissioner William Knebes last Friday to dismiss the county's case and order I-6 onto the November ballot.
       "All we are asking is this properly be before the court," said Forde, claiming the county did not follow proper procedures to question the validity of I-6.
       "The county is not arguing the people's right to the initiative process," said county land-use attorney Lauren Erickson, "only that it is limited."
       Knebes ruled there was no basis for dismissing the county's motion.
       "I think it is actual, not a speculative disagreement," said Knebes.
       The county's argument is no referendum or initiative can cause a county to remove an ordinance required by a state law.
       Washington counties are required under the Growth Management Act to highlight the critical areas of the county and develop regulations to protect those areas. Critical areas are described as wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, geologically hazardous areas, frequently flooded areas and critical aquifer-recharge areas. County officials claim over one-half of all property in the county falls into one or more of the critical areas categories.
       When Knebes ruled Forde's motion to dismiss failed, he also allowed local and state groups to intervene in the case to place I-6 on the ballot.
       Protect the Peninsula's Future, 1000 Friends of Washington and the Builders Industry Association of Washington all were allowed in by Knebes.
       The first two groups, environmental rights groups, argue in Clallam County and statewide for more stringent critical areas code rules. The builders' association joined with Forde to provide legal support for his repeal attempts. Forde said his eventual goal is to use repealing the county code as a stepping stone to having the state's Growth Management Act tossed out through a statewide initiative.
       Gerald Steele, attorney for both environental groups, told Knebes he believes enhanced public participation is a benefit to all parties. The initiative process, however, does not provide that participation since it only allows people to say yes or no on a subject.
       Knebes said he believed the court could benefit from hearing information from all parties in coming to a decision on placing I-6 on the ballot.
       "I would rather have more information for the court rather than less," said Knebes
       Eloise Kailin, of Protect the Peninsula's Future, chuckled aloud when Forde argued against allowing her group into the case but argued for allowing himself the aid of the builders' association.
       "We would accept any help on this side of the table up to a manual typewriter and crayons," said Forde.

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