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WEAN drops public disclosure lawsuit

Whidbey Environmental Action Network and Island County reached a last-minute compromise on a lawsuit that was just hours away from a trial.

As a Skagit County Superior Court judge called out the names of WEAN and the county Friday morning, nobody was on hand to answer to WEAN’s allegations that the county was withholding public records that should be made available.

That was because approximately 12 hours earlier, representatives from both sides were able to reach a compromise on the 14 different records that pertain to statements of fact the county has claimed during the update of the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance that WEAN was seeking.

Under the agreement, the county will supply the records by June 6, and it will conduct a third public hearing that will allow WEAN to comment on the information. A public hearing in front of the Island Count Commissioners was already required, however, as the subject involves a change to Island County Code.

“We’ll be really interested to see what the county drudges up,” WEAN spokesman Steve Erickson said.

Erickson said he pushed for the deal because he figured a judge would make this kind of requirement anyway.

As a result of a series of court decisions, Island County must remove exemptions to the Critical Areas Ordinance for agricultural practices in the rural zone.

As part of the proposed ordinances, Island County made claims of facts that WEAN wanted it to prove. Among those were charges that an increase in buffers would “likely cause the cessation of farms currently in operation.”

On April 25, WEAN appealed to the county under Washington’s Public Disclosure Act for the release of the evidence the county used to make these assertions.

But when the county responded that it would need more than a month to compile those records, WEAN filed the suit, claiming that the county needed to provide the documents in a more timely fashion.

“I think what we’re going to find is that they are in the process of manufacturing these records now through these hearings,” Erickson said.

Olympia attorney John Justice, who represented the county in the matter, said that WEAN agreed to the settlement after it realized that its ability to comment would not be inhibited by the delay.

“The resolution was created because WEAN felt that as long as they could get an additional public hearing ... then they were satisfied,” Justice said.

Erickson said that if the county only supplies comments from the most recent hearings, and not documents from the past seven years, which is when the original court proceedings occurred, then that disregards the public comment process.

“They’ve stood (the Growth Management Act’s) public comment process on its head,” Erickson said.

He said his suspicion is that the county does not have the documents WEAN is requesting.

“We’d have loved it if the county has said, ‘We have lots of stuff,’ and dropped a folder on our desk,” Erickson said. “Or said they don’t have them.”

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