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Resolution sought in Maxwelton lawsuit

Island County Planning Director David Wechner said that the county is working with the Maxwelton Farm operators to find a resolution to a lawsuit they filed against the county in September.

Maxwelton Farm claimed in the land use petition that Wechner acted outside his scope of authority by issuing a cease and desist order Aug. 30 for irrigation maintenance at the farm.

“We met with the owner and their attorney yesterday – they just need to identify best management practices that will be employed during maintenance activities,” Wechner said in an emailed statement last week. “The cease and desist order has been withdrawn as the dredging activity stopped.”

He had ordered them to stop work on water-filled agricultural ditches “as a result of agricultural ditch maintenance without a SEPA environmental checklist,” according to court documents.

State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, asks project managers to complete an environmental checklist, which asks questions about the potential environmental impacts to the air, animals, earth, land use, utilities, wetlands, ground water and other considerations.

Maxwelton Farm and its predecessors have operated a farm at the site for more than 50 years, according to the court documents, and therefore are governed by Island County’s “old” Critical Areas Ordinance.

However, Wechner said that maintenance of irrigation and drainage facilities is exempt from the county’s critical areas ordinance provisions only if best management practices are employed, Wechner said.

Saying Wechner acted with a “lack of authority,” the court documents allege that, while Island County code allows the planning director to issue a cease and desist letter for continued violations, it does not authorize the planning director to issue a letter on grounds of a SEPA violation.

The land use petition also claims that three representatives from the Island County planning office went on to the Maxwelton Farm property “without advance notice to or permission” after the Aug. 30 letter was sent, “apparently for purposes related to investigation and/or defense” of the letter.

According to the petition’s “statement of facts,” Maxwelton Farm’s facilities have long included a system of drainage ditches which feed into a main arterial ditch which then empties into Maxwelton Creek. This system has been separated from the creek with a tidal gate during the property’s entire span of farming.

Maxwelton Farm is asking a judge to reverse Wechner’s land use decision and to refund the $1,802 administrative appeal fee paid by the farm.

The farm issued the following statement Tuesday through their attorney: “Maxwelton Farm looks forward to working with the department to resolve the issues that are of concern to both.”

 

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