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County hires scientist

On the heels of a $350,000 contract to land-use attorney Kieth Dearborn, Island County has meted out another contract in connection with the update of the contentious critical areas update.

The Board of Island County Commissioners voted last Wednesday to approve a $69,700 contract for University of Oregon wetland scientist Paul Adamus. Adamus will conduct a study for the county to assist in the later aspects of the update.

Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke said that Adamus will be analyzing existing and newly collected data to ascertain the effectiveness of the county’s current wetlands management practices.

“I would suspect there hasn’t been a study like this done in any county before,” Bakke said.

According to Adamus’ work proposal, he will collect and analyze the data in order to “determine past, present and likely future sufficiency of the Island County Critical Areas Ordinance with respect to protecting wetlands.”

But some people feel that this study is too little, too late. Whidbey Environmental Action Network spokesman Steve Erickson said that the study is too broad to effectively show the impacts development has had on Whidbey Island.

“The material doctor Adamus has to work with is kind of sketchy because wetlands haven’t been monitored very closely in Island County,” Erickson said. “Generally it’ll be a lot more subtle.”

Erickson said that the current ordinance does not go far enough to protect wetlands. It allows for minimal setbacks and also allows for encroaching onto wetlands for access to property.

“There’s some real basic deficiencies in the current ordinance that you don’t need to go to all this trouble to detect,” he said. “If you always fudge to the minimum, you’ll end up with minimal protection.”

Work has begun on other areas

Island County Health Department is in the midst of developing its recommendations for aquifer recharge areas. Most of the work has been completed thanks to the Water Resource Advisory Committee, which has already produced papers on how to manage the areas that provide water to Island County’s aquifer.

A 2003 United States Geological Survey study estimated that approximately 20 to 34 percent of rainfall reaches the aquifer.

The WRAC has recommended the county adopt what it terms low-impact development practices. This includes limiting impervious surfaces and reducing land clearing.

The WRAC has also identified areas in the county that are highly susceptible to surface contamination through the process of groundwater recharge and recommended steps to further limit their impact on the county’s drinking water.

Bakke said that work has also begun on updating the geologically hazardous areas section of the critical areas ordinance.

Island County’s Public Works department has hired an outside geological consultant to aid in that process.

The first publicly available results will be available in May when the health department presents its aquifer recharge recommendations.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com

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