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County commissioners green-light public plan

A public participation strategy for Island County’s multi-year comprehensive plan update was approved by the commissioners last week.

The plan, in the works for months, is required under state law. It lays out a framework of public involvement and a schedule of events for the update process.

“This document speaks very clearly to the fact that the public is valued,” Commissioner Jill Johnson said. “There are timelines that are clearly communicated and I know that some of the goals coming out of this was to make sure this process is clearly outlined and I think you’ve done a really good job of doing that.”

“As we go through this process, and the public begins to participate, I think they will appreciate how this document unfolds,” she said.

The comprehensive plan is a long-range planning document that cities and counties must create, adopt and keep up-to-date, under the state Growth Management Act of 1990.

Island County is behind on its update and was granted a four-year extension by state regulators. If all goes according to schedule, it should be wrapped up by 2016.

The public participation plan includes a series of goals that call for board participation through the identification of key interest groups, communication with county municipalities and insuring equal opportunity for public engagement in the county’s four planning areas — North, South and Central Whidbey and Camano islands.

The plan notes the county’s limited resources and points out the need to utilize them efficiently with “essential” strategies to be employed at designated stages in the process.

Methods for participation include public workshops, public hearings, utilization of the Island County Planning and Community Development’s website, intergovernmental working groups, technical advisory groups, emails lists, issue papers, news releases — the list goes on and on.

To review the plan online, visit the planning department’s website, www.islandcounty.net/planning.

It’s on the comprehensive plan update page under long-range planning.

The adoption of the plan required a public hearing and several people voiced concerns and suggestions.

Marilyn Abrahamson, a commissioner with the Freeland Water and Sewer District, praised county staff on the development of the plan, but said a lack of notice for relevant discussions at Island County Council of Government meetings resulted in “happenstance” participation by the district.

She requested a language change in the plan that the Council of Government’s “commitment to work cooperatively shall be demonstrated by giving notice to the Freeland Water Sewer District administrator by email, in advance,” when planning policies involving the district will be discussed.

Similarly, Jack Lynch, chairman of the newly-formed Clinton Community Council, acknowledged the county’s limited resources but stressed the importance of early notification, such as through email.

“That’s the primary thing,” Lynch said.

He also encouraged the commissioners to reach out and gather feedback from other small rural communities like Clinton.

Other citizens requested small language changes and addressed shortcomings from the limited resources, but the board agreed to adopt the plan as is.

Brad Johnson, a long-range planner at the meeting, said he believes incorporating any of the proposed changes requires another public hearing, which would mean a delay of 10 calendar days due to public notice requirements.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she doesn’t want to hold up the document and suggested incorporating some of the proposed changes in future documents.

Each commissioner can personally do their part too, she said, using tools as their constituent newsletters.

“I think it would best served to move forward with the document as it was presented today, holding those concerns that we’ve heard in our minds as we craft more detailed plans moving forward,” she said

Board Chairwoman Kelly Emerson said it’s easy to get swamped by various newsletters and announcements and that effective public participation is a challenging issue.

“We’ll always be continuing to work on that,” Emerson said.

The board adopted the plan unanimously.

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