Wetlands ordinance nears completion

Public testimony in the form of three separate letters whittled the four remaining issues in the county’s proposed wetlands ordinance down to one.

After poring over the comprehensive paperweight-like document submitted by the Island County Planning Commission after countless hours of work, the county commissioners recommended four changes last month.

The board could have approved the ordinance outright in January, but instead set a public hearing for Monday to solicit feedback on the issues, the most pressing of which will extend the ordinance’s effective date from 90 days to July 1.

In addition to the time extension, the board voted to omit a reference in the document to a Washington Administrative Code, and remove a stormwater exemption.

Concerns with the fourth issue, the reevaluation of clearing thresholds, surfaced in letters submitted by the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, South Whidbey resident Jeanne Hunsinger and the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development .

Steve Erickson, speaking on behalf of WEAN, worked his way down the short list. He supported the stormwater management exemption, however, he maintained that prevention is the real solution.

Clearing thresholds seemed to be based on “historical trends” and Erickson called the wording “discretionary.” He was also opposed to automatic buffer reductions that he said did not provide public notice.

The WEAN spokesman said the document’s address of impervious surface area is flawed in that it is not mandatory.

“It really needs to be general throughout the county, not just for wetlands,” he said.

Commissioner Phil Bakke, former planning director, recommended continuing the public comment until staff could study the letters and find an agreeable balance.

Planning Director Jeff Tate said he would report back on Feb. 4 after the letters have been scrutinized and the proposal reevaluated to determine any “common threads.”

Board will determine on Feb. 4 if a hearing will be held on Feb. 25 to consider additional amendments.

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