News

Farm rules proposed reluctantly

The Planning Commission presented its proposed critical areas ordinance regulating small farming practices to the Island County commissioners Tuesday, but with great reluctance.

Acting like Pontius Pilate had he been a land use planner, the Commission washed its hands of the whole affair after handing over the suggested rules to the commissioners.

Bill Massey, Planning Commission chairman, read a statement that concluded the recommendations were forwarded “to meet legal requirements and not because we believe it will carry out a policy that we think is wise or appropriate for Island County.”

Commission members also signed on to a statement presented by Don Yonkman saying that more regulations could force some farmers out of business and to “sell their lands into the hands of commercial and residential developers.”

The nine-member Planning Commission was unanimous in its recommendations, however.

“I did support the ordinance but I held my nose,” said Ray Gabelein, explaining that he heeded legal advice that the new rules are needed “to withstand legal challenges.”

Gabelein predicted that “farms will be lost, sold off and developed because of this ordinance.”

Bringing regulations to small agricultural operations near critical areas, such as wetlands and streams, was required by interpretations of the state Growth Management Act by the Growth Management Hearings Board with backing from the Court of Appeals.

When the required changes were announced last summer, hundreds of concerned property owners flocked to public meetings on Whidbey and Camano islands. The county had sent out a notice saying farms and even gardens could be threatened.

The county’s few large commercial agricultural operations are regulated under different rules. The new rules will apply to smaller farms in rural areas, consisting of some 1,900 parcels totaling 14,000 acres, averaging seven acres in size, with livestock density less than one animal per two acres.

Most of those farmers will have to fill out a “standard farm management plan” checklist to establish which level of regulation they are under. Anyone who does not have wetlands, streams, wet pastures or drainage ditches on their property is exempt from the requirements.

The plans will be on file at the Whidbey Island Conservation District office in Coupeville, and the Conservation District will help farmers fill out their checklists or complete more complex management plans if required. These plans will be public records, a matter which concerns the Planning Commission.

Massey’s statement said farmers are worried about “harassment by zealous environmentalists,” and asks that the county commissioners try to protect the confidentiality of those records.

The Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN), whose legal challenges forced the new regulations, is already seeking access to farm plans on file with the Conservation District.

Karen Lennon, Conservation District manager, said Wednesday that WEAN has filed a public records request for all 125-or-so farm plans dating back to 2000, and under state law she has no choice but to provide them. She notified those property owners by mail.

North Whidbey Farmers John and Rita Cline are among those who received Lennon’s letter. They say they feel violated by WEAN’s inquiry into how they operate their family farm.

“We don’t pollute,” Rita Cline said. “It feels creepy.” She said it makes her feel like giving up farming to know WEAN is looking at their farming methods.

“It’s a huge invasion of privacy, a breach of confidence,” said John Cline.

WEAN spokesman Steve Erickson attended Tuesday’s meeting and made it clear he’s not satisfied with the proposed rules.

Erickson described the buffers recommended around streams and wetlands as “completely inadequate,” and that overall, the Planning Commission recommendations “do not provide adequate protection” for either groundwater or Puget Sound.

Later, Erickson said WEAN will appeal the SEPA determination of non-significiance the county was expected to issue this week, and that if the commissioners adopt the ordinance as proposed that action too will be appealed.

Erickson provoked Commissioner Mike Shelton’s ire when he called the public hearings on the ordinance “staged, political events.” The vast majority of speakers at the hearings were against more agricultural regulations.

“What you’re suffering from is that at many of those hearings you got very little support,” Shelton told Erickson. “Maybe you ought to take a look at your position.”

Shelton thanked the Planning Commission members for their work, and for recognizing that there’s no choice but to add more regulations to those farming in critical areas. “I thank you for your recognition that we can’t continue on the way we once were,” he said.

It’s no longer possible to “leave small farmers alone,” Shelton added, but “we want to keep it as close to that as we possibly can.”

The Planning Commission strongly recommended that the county commit itself to following up the ordinance with studies to see if it is harming farming, and to implement a water monitoring program to see if agriculture is actually harming water quality.

Before acting on the recommendations, the county commissioners will hold a pubic hearing Monday, Jan. 23 at 3 p.m. in Coupeville at a site to be determined.

Farm rules proposed reluctantly

Small farmers must file plans

By JIM LARSEN

News-Times editor

The Planning Commission presented its proposed critical areas ordinance regulating small farming practices to the Island County commissioners Tuesday, but with great reluctance.

Acting like Pontius Pilate had he been a land use planner, the Commission washed its hands of the whole affair after handing over the suggested rules to the commissioners.

Bill Massey, Planning Commission chairman, read a statement that concluded the recommendations were forwarded “to meet legal requirements and not because we believe it will carry out a policy that we think is wise or appropriate for Island County.”

Commission members also signed on to a statement presented by Don Yonkman saying that more regulations could force some farmers out of business and to “sell their lands into the hands of commercial and residential developers.”

The nine-member Planning Commission was unanimous in its recommendations, however.

“I did support the ordinance but I held my nose,” said Ray Gabelein, explaining that he heeded legal advice that the new rules are needed “to withstand legal challenges.”

Gabelein predicted that “farms will be lost, sold off and developed because of this ordinance.”

Bringing regulations to small agricultural operations near critical areas, such as wetlands and streams, was required by interpretations of the state Growth Management Act by the Growth Management Hearings Board with backing from the Court of Appeals.

When the required changes were announced last summer, hundreds of concerned property owners flocked to public meetings on Whidbey and Camano islands. The county had sent out a notice saying farms and even gardens could be threatened.

The county’s few large commercial agricultural operations are regulated under different rules. The new rules will apply to smaller farms in rural areas, consisting of some 1,900 parcels totaling 14,000 acres, averaging seven acres in size, with livestock density less than one animal per two acres.

Most of those farmers will have to fill out a “standard farm management plan” checklist to establish which level of regulation they are under. Anyone who does not have wetlands, streams, wet pastures or drainage ditches on their property is exempt from the requirements.

The plans will be on file at the Whidbey Island Conservation District office in Coupeville, and the Conservation District will help farmers fill out their checklists or complete more complex management plans if required. These plans will be public records, a matter which concerns the Planning Commission.

Massey’s statement said farmers are worried about “harassment by zealous environmentalists,” and asks that the county commissioners try to protect the confidentiality of those records.

The Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN), whose legal challenges forced the new regulations, is already seeking access to farm plans on file with the Conservation District.

Karen Lennon, Conservation District manager, said Wednesday that WEAN has filed a public records request for all 125-or-so farm plans dating back to 2000, and under state law she has no choice but to provide them. She notified those property owners by mail.

North Whidbey Farmers John and Rita Cline are among those who received Lennon’s letter. They say they feel violated by WEAN’s inquiry into how they operate their family farm.

“We don’t pollute,” Rita Cline said. “It feels creepy.” She said it makes her feel like giving up farming to know WEAN is looking at their farming methods.

“It’s a huge invasion of privacy, a breach of confidence,” said John Cline.

WEAN spokesman Steve Erickson attended Tuesday’s meeting and made it clear he’s not satisfied with the proposed rules.

Erickson described the buffers recommended around streams and wetlands as “completely inadequate,” and that overall, the Planning Commission recommendations “do not provide adequate protection” for either groundwater or Puget Sound.

Later, Erickson said WEAN will appeal the SEPA determination of non-significiance the county was expected to issue this week, and that if the commissioners adopt the ordinance as proposed that action too will be appealed.

Erickson provoked Commissioner Mike Shelton’s ire when he called the public hearings on the ordinance “staged, political events.” The vast majority of speakers at the hearings were against more agricultural regulations.

“What you’re suffering from is that at many of those hearings you got very little support,” Shelton told Erickson. “Maybe you ought to take a look at your position.”

Shelton thanked the Planning Commission members for their work, and for recognizing that there’s no choice but to add more regulations to those farming in critical areas. “I thank you for your recognition that we can’t continue on the way we once were,” he said.

It’s no longer possible to “leave small farmers alone,” Shelton added, but “we want to keep it as close to that as we possibly can.”

The Planning Commission strongly recommended that the county commit itself to following up the ordinance with studies to see if it is harming farming, and to implement a water monitoring program to see if agriculture is actually harming water quality.

Before acting on the recommendations, the county commissioners will hold a pubic hearing Monday, Jan. 23 at 3 p.m. in Coupeville at a site to be determined.

Farm rules proposed reluctantly

Small farmers must file plans

By JIM LARSEN

News-Times editor

The Planning Commission presented its proposed critical areas ordinance regulating small farming practices to the Island County commissioners Tuesday, but with great reluctance.

Acting like Pontius Pilate had he been a land use planner, the Commission washed its hands of the whole affair after handing over the suggested rules to the commissioners.

Bill Massey, Planning Commission chairman, read a statement that concluded the recommendations were forwarded “to meet legal requirements and not because we believe it will carry out a policy that we think is wise or appropriate for Island County.”

Commission members also signed on to a statement presented by Don Yonkman saying that more regulations could force some farmers out of business and to “sell their lands into the hands of commercial and residential developers.”

The nine-member Planning Commission was unanimous in its recommendations, however.

“I did support the ordinance but I held my nose,” said Ray Gabelein, explaining that he heeded legal advice that the new rules are needed “to withstand legal challenges.”

Gabelein predicted that “farms will be lost, sold off and developed because of this ordinance.”

Bringing regulations to small agricultural operations near critical areas, such as wetlands and streams, was required by interpretations of the state Growth Management Act by the Growth Management Hearings Board with backing from the Court of Appeals.

When the required changes were announced last summer, hundreds of concerned property owners flocked to public meetings on Whidbey and Camano islands. The county had sent out a notice saying farms and even gardens could be threatened.

The county’s few large commercial agricultural operations are regulated under different rules. The new rules will apply to smaller farms in rural areas, consisting of some 1,900 parcels totaling 14,000 acres, averaging seven acres in size, with livestock density less than one animal per two acres.

Most of those farmers will have to fill out a “standard farm management plan” checklist to establish which level of regulation they are under. Anyone who does not have wetlands, streams, wet pastures or drainage ditches on their property is exempt from the requirements.

The plans will be on file at the Whidbey Island Conservation District office in Coupeville, and the Conservation District will help farmers fill out their checklists or complete more complex management plans if required. These plans will be public records, a matter which concerns the Planning Commission.

Massey’s statement said farmers are worried about “harassment by zealous environmentalists,” and asks that the county commissioners try to protect the confidentiality of those records.

The Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN), whose legal challenges forced the new regulations, is already seeking access to farm plans on file with the Conservation District.

Karen Lennon, Conservation District manager, said Wednesday that WEAN has filed a public records request for all 125-or-so farm plans dating back to 2000, and under state law she has no choice but to provide them. She notified those property owners by mail.

North Whidbey Farmers John and Rita Cline are among those who received Lennon’s letter. They say they feel violated by WEAN’s inquiry into how they operate their family farm.

“We don’t pollute,” Rita Cline said. “It feels creepy.” She said it makes her feel like giving up farming to know WEAN is looking at their farming methods.

“It’s a huge invasion of privacy, a breach of confidence,” said John Cline.

WEAN spokesman Steve Erickson attended Tuesday’s meeting and made it clear he’s not satisfied with the proposed rules.

Erickson described the buffers recommended around streams and wetlands as “completely inadequate,” and that overall, the Planning Commission recommendations “do not provide adequate protection” for either groundwater or Puget Sound.

Later, Erickson said WEAN will appeal the SEPA determination of non-significiance the county was expected to issue this week, and that if the commissioners adopt the ordinance as proposed that action too will be appealed.

Erickson provoked Commissioner Mike Shelton’s ire when he called the public hearings on the ordinance “staged, political events.” The vast majority of speakers at the hearings were against more agricultural regulations.

“What you’re suffering from is that at many of those hearings you got very little support,” Shelton told Erickson. “Maybe you ought to take a look at your position.”

Shelton thanked the Planning Commission members for their work, and for recognizing that there’s no choice but to add more regulations to those farming in critical areas. “I thank you for your recognition that we can’t continue on the way we once were,” he said.

It’s no longer possible to “leave small farmers alone,” Shelton added, but “we want to keep it as close to that as we possibly can.”

The Planning Commission strongly recommended that the county commit itself to following up the ordinance with studies to see if it is harming farming, and to implement a water monitoring program to see if agriculture is actually harming water quality.

Before acting on the recommendations, the county commissioners will hold a pubic hearing Monday, Jan. 23 at 3 p.m. in Coupeville at a site to be determined.

New high school vs. renovation

By NATHAN WHALEN

Staff Reporter

The Oak Harbor School Board has a tough decision to make in 2006.

The board is considering the dimensions of a bond they will ask voters to support in the spring.

The choices are: Build a new high school or renovate the old one.

The board will share the comparative costs of both proposals during a special meeting at noon Wednesday, Dec. 28, at the school district’s Administrative Service Center, 350 S. Oak Harbor St.

Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District, said he is gathering cost estimates, but he believes renovating the school is the cost effective choice.

Schulte talked with superintendents in other school districts that are trying to upgrade high schools. For instance, replacing most of Stanwood High School and renovating the remainder is expected to cost $105 million. Building a new high school in Marysville is expected to cost $105 million.

Preliminary estimates show that it would cost nearly $70 million to renovate Oak Harbor High School. To finance the renovation, the school district would run a $49.91 million bond proposal in the spring that voters would have to approve by a 60 percent supermajority.

District officials estimate the remaining $20 million would be financed by state matching money. The money would pay for renovations to classrooms and the school interior. It also would pay for replacing the school’s aging infrastructure.

The school board is expected to make a decision in January about the bond’s amount, what it will fund and when it goes before voters. That way there is enough time to inform voters about the school district’s plans.

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