Sound Off: Act now to save our wetlands

By Angie Homola

My fellow citizens, Island County is on the brink of adopting the “new” Critical Areas Wetland Ordinance. When we failed to provide adequate clean- up measures for surface water runoff and sewage outfall entry into Puget Sound the state stepped in to mandate these practices.

Our island is fed by a sole source aquifer and maintains a delicate ecosystem. The majority of us understand this requires protection of wetlands that filter water before it returns to the water table and our wells. We understand that wetlands are the lifeblood of migratory birds, native plants and a myriad of dependant species that complete the food chain. We know that livestock defecating in wetlands may introduce fecal coliform or E-coli into water bodies. Hence, setbacks are required.

We know that increased impervious surfaces, sprawl development and reduction or degradation of wetlands is just plain stupid. We must clean up our act which means obliging effective regulations to protect the environment that ultimately shapes our ability to eat, breathe and function. Allowing “mitigations” (a fancy word to describe wetland replacement) should be an absolute last resort. Observe the “mitigated” wetland adjacent to the Home Depot parking lot, seen any migratory birds flocking there? Our “new” wetland ordinance is full of loopholes including mitigations and even the opportunity to buy your way out of wetland regulation. There is no mention of what this fee will be or where it will go because the county has no wetland banking program. Banking programs ideally enable persons/developers to purchase a section of a large scale existing wetland area earmarked for an ultimate connective and forever preserved functioning wetland. These have not proven to be very successful, but are better than a parking lot pond. Smaller manmade mitigations are even less successful. Buying one’s way out of any mitigation is absurd.

I found it interesting that although I asked for a copy of the comments issued by the state review agencies, the only reference in the box full of information I received was in the form of a memorandum issued by Keith Dearborn, the attorney we are all paying to find ways to sidestep state mandates. Mr. Dearborn includes comments from only the Community Trade and Economic Development and the Department of Ecology by reference to a conference call. No written record from these agencies was provided nor were comments from the Department of Fish and Wildlife included. It is concerning that it took the county two plus years to reach a “draft” of the wetlands ordinance. It was not released until Nov. 1. Public comment on that draft was closed Nov. 30, three days after the last public presentation. Subsequently, the Planning Commission accepted revisions which we were not privy to comment on.

Of the many public inputs I read, the vast majority found fault in the ordinance. It is convoluted, reduces protection in almost every case, allows mitigations and buyouts for development and places wetland analysis in the hands of property owners.

Many people requested further comment time. The county refused. This ordinance may be adopted as early as Monday, Jan. 7, during the commissioners meeting in Coupeville at 10 a.m. Call or email your concerns to the BICC Commissioners and let them know this ordinance needs major overhaul, and we need more time as the public to comment. Be thankful for those people like WEAN’s Steve Erickson who dedicate untold hours defending our island ecosystem. He doesn’t make a third of Keith Dearborn’s salary. Once adopted folks, we will surely begin the degradation of our wetlands. Speak out and make a difference. We live in a county that allows us that privilege. We are at war to protect it. What are we fighting for if we don’t fight here in our own backyard?

Angie Homola

lives near Oak Harbor.

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