Wetland ordinance hearing set

The Board of Island County Commissioners recommended four changes in the proposed wetlands ordinance Monday.

Although the board could have approved the ordinance outright, the triumvirate scheduled a Jan. 28 public hearing to address a handful of issues, the most pressing of which will extend the ordinance’s effective date from 90 days to July 1.

From creating new land use applications, to training staff, Planning Director Jeff Tate said implementation will be multi-faceted and time-consuming.

Public testimony will be taken Jan. 28, but only on the four issues. In addition to the time extension, the board plans to omit a reference in the document to a Washington Administrative Code, remove a stormwater exemption, and reevaluate clearing thresholds.

Several community members concerned with the proposed ordinance attended Monday’s meeting. Representatives from the Whidbey Environmental Action Network submitted a lengthy itemization of what they perceive to be the document’s shortcomings. The comments deal with a wide range of issues, including “inadequate buffers” and “inadequate protection of mature forested wetlands.”

A letter from the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development to the county, also written on behalf of the departments of Ecology, and Fish and Wildlife, praised the county’s work on formulating the proposed ordinance, which will amend the county’s comprehensive plan and critical areas ordinance. The agencies, which also included the departments of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife effusively lauded the final product as “among the highest quality work prepared so far in response to the GMA requirements to use the best available science developing regulations to designate and protect critical areas.”

Commissioner Mac McDowell said he was confident that the community would embrace the complex ordinance once it was properly understood.

“If they can understand it, I think they can accept it,” he said.

Commissioner Phil Bakke, the former planning director, said it was surreal sitting with the board preparing to vote on the culmination of a three-year process with which he was integrally involved. He said the innovative ordinance was designed to be used.

“This won’t sit on the shelf and collect dust,” he said.

Val Hillers, Planning Commission chair, told the board that she felt the ordinance, a “complex document,” was designed to minimize the burdens placed on landowners. After at least 1,000 hours spent working with the ordinance she was not sorry to pass it off to the commissioners.

“We’re glad that it’s now on your docket and not ours,” she said.

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