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Commissioners handed farm regulations

The controversial issue of regulating small farming operations in critical areas has been kicked upstairs to the Island County commissioners.

The commissioners have called a special session for Tuesday, Dec. 20, at 1:30 p.m. in their Coupeville hearing room to discuss the Planning Commission’s recommendations on Agricultural Best Management Practices.

Phil Bakke, director of Planning and Community Development, said his staff was “feverishly making changes” on Friday to the recommended ordinance. The Planning Commission finished its work Thursday, he said, making “a lot of changes” to what they wanted to send to the county commissioners.

All landowners practicing agriculture in rural areas of Island County will have to fill out an eight-point checklist to determine the level of regulation for their operation.

Bakke said there will be a deadline by which every property owner must fill out the checklist, but there was no unanimity on the Planning Commission as to what that deadline should be.

“They punted that to the commissioners,” Bakke said.

In short, Bakke expects every “low intensity” farmer raising crops or animals near wetlands or streams to have to make some changes in how they operate. Large commercial farms operate under separate regulations.

The Planning Commission’s final public hearing on the issue was held earlier this month in Oak Harbor. Bakke said about 35 small farmers attended, most offering “poignantly sad testimony” regarding their fear that more regulations would make them stop farming. Crowds of 600 or more attended the initial hearings on the issue on Whidbey and Camano islands last summer.

The county has been ordered to tighten critical areas protections by the courts and state. Bakke said the Planning Commission is also recommending that the commissioners adopt a monitoring plan to track the effect of whatever new regulations are adopted. The county doesn’t want anyone to have to stop their agricultural activities, he added.

The schedule calls for the commissioners to adopt the new regulations by the end of January. Bakke said he expects another public hearing before action is taken.

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