Opinion

Editorial: Just fix the land use problem

Island County is being alarmist in warning farmers and gardeners that they may have to give up their rural activities.

At issue is a recent court ruling that rural-zoned landowners must obey strict environmental rules to protect critical areas, rather than following more lenient agricultural practices adopted by the county.

The court decision was a victory for Whidbey Environmental Action Network, which particularly wanted wider stream buffers than the county required. WEAN’s scruffy leader, Steve Erickson, prevailed in court against county staff and the county’s million dollar land use baby, attorney Keith Dearborn. This was a case of David beating taxpayer-funded Goliath, except in this case Goliath lived to complain about it.

Farmers and gardeners have been understandably upset by a county handout advertising a meeting set for Tuesday, May 24, at 7 p.m. in Coupeville Rec Hall in which the new restrictions will be explained. At present, it’s unclear exactly who will face tighter regulations and what those regulations will be, although the county handout ominously warns, “It is highly possible you will not be able to continue farming.”

Technically, this could be true, but one should keep in mind the purpose of the state Growth Management Act, from which all these regulations grew. The act aims to protect farming and gardening, not destroy it. It’s hard to imagine farmers selling off their pasture land for view housing, and gardeners abandoning their vegetable plots to comply with this latest interpretation of the county’s land use regulations.

County officials should be educating the public, rather than blaming the opposition for all that has gone wrong. Hopefully, that’s what the meeting of May 24 will be about. It’s the county’s fault it lost in court, so just explain the ramifications of that.

If further court challenges are not possible, then try a legislative fix to the problem. Our influential 10th District state senator, Mary Margaret Haugen, helped draft the Growth Management Act. If necessary, she can probably help the county commissioners get it amended to save farming and gardening in Island County.

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