WEAN gets all the blame from county

As the result of the state Supreme Court declining to hear an appeal from Island County, many farms are at risk of losing the use of a significant amount of their land.

This is the result of a five-year battle between the county and the Whidbey Environmental Action Network. WEAN has long been a thorn in the county’s side, causing the overturn of several land-use and planning issues.

The bad blood between the county and WEAN is evident with the release of proposed changes to the county’s comprehensive plan and Island County Code, which specifically blame WEAN for the changes and not the state boards and courts that made the decisions.

Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton said that the purpose for naming WEAN and the group’s leader, Steve Erickson, was simple.

“The reason it was done is that the person that appealed the ordinance was WEAN and Steve Erickson,” Shelton said. “Steve is obviously the one that represents WEAN. They’re sitting at the table ... and Steve is the lawyer.”

In fact, while Erickson represents WEAN in court, he is not a lawyer.

Erickson said this week that he is not sure why he has been singled out in the ordinances. He said that it is a juvenile tactic the county commissioners has resorted to in order to tarnish his and WEAN’s name.

“I think that what’s going on is that there’s feelings of insecurity politically,” Erickson said. “I can’t come up with any real, rational reason why they’re behaving like this.”

Erickson said that the commissioners are “more interested in ranting and raving and beating the drum” than arriving at a mutually acceptable solution.

An ordinance to amend the length of setbacks from type-5 streams begins, “Whereas, various parties including Whidbey Environmental Action Network led by Steve Erickson filed petitions with the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.”

As part of the ordinance that ends the rural exemption from the critical areas ordinance, the text includes the passage:

“Whereas, these Ag (regulations) were supported by all but one participant in the county’s public review process including state agencies. The sole opponent was Whidbey Environmental Action Network ... led by Steve Erickson.”

WEAN also gets mention in the revisions to the county’s comprehensive plan:

“Unfortunately, a small environmental group who opposed a reduction in protections through litigation prevented the county from extending these reduced standards to farmers in the Rural Zone...

“Unfortunately, one small group, Whidbey Environmental Action Network, would not compromise and after protracted litigation the county was not permitted to allow these reduced standards to apply to farmers in the Rural Zone.”

The mentions of WEAN and Erickson are the latest in a volley of exchanges between the county commissioners and the South Whidbey-based environmental group.

At a public meeting last month, Island County’s land use attorney, Keith Dearborn, said that environmental groups had burned their bridges with the commissioners. Shelton went on to say that WEAN specifically had alienated itself.

“When you’re dealing with people who speak like that, it makes it very difficult to work with them,” Shelton said in an April 2 Whidbey News-Times article. “The things that they have said border on defamation. If that’s going to be the attitude of anyone, that’s going to make working with them very difficult.”

This led to Erickson sending Shelton a letter accusing him of defamation — a charge Shelton denied.

“Steve, one of the things that the News Times did not print, which I shared with them, was your accusation that both (Island County commissioner) Mac (McDowell) and I are ‘environmental criminals,’ “ Shelton replied in an e-mail to Erickson.

Shelton said that WEAN is the only group to challenge the ordinances to the hearings board and that is why it is mentioned throughout the proposed new ordinances. He said that his name is attached to all ordinances, be they good or bad.

“If you look at any ordinance approved in the last 12 years, it has mine and Mac’s signature at the bottom,” Shelton said. “We need to recognize that Steve and WEAN are the only ones that have taken the county on.”

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