WEAN attacks county’s farmers

The Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN) undermined the county’s entire critical areas ordinance by requesting individual farm plans from the Whidbey Island Conservation District.

The plans are meant to prove that farmers, both large and small, are taking measures to protect the environment. More than 150 were on file when WEAN requested the documents and hundreds more farm plans are needed to make the county’s new critical areas ordinance a success.

But what farm owner will provide a farm plan to a government agency when he or she knows the individual plan will be scrutinized by Steve Erickson and other members of WEAN, a group that is reviled by most farmers in the county? Farmers think WEAN is trying to drive them out of business with its relentless push for more regulations to protect streams and wetlands. As one farm owner told the News-Times, it makes her feel “creepy” to know WEAN has its hands on her farm plan. Now she’s wondering if farming is worth the expense and emotional distress.

Before this, WEAN fought for more environmental protection through the Growth Management Hearings Board and the courts, often prevailing in its arguments for tighter regulations. But now it’s shifting to spying on its neighbors, a Big Brother in environmental guise.

WEAN’s timing could not have been worse. The Planning Commission just last week made its critical areas ordinance recommendation to the County Commissioners, with the advice that if farm plans aren’t protected as private -- just between the government and the farmer -- then farmers may balk at providing the information. WEAN’s action proved that concern was legitimate, and was taken without consulting anyone.

WEAN might have been advised that yes, the farm plans are public documents, but they contain private information. A compromise could have been reached, with farmers’ names and their exact farm location left out but general information provided. WEAN didn’t have to storm through the door demanding this information. The timing could well destroy the whole concept of farm plans and threatens the future of farming in Island County.

Island County’s farmers have been squeezed into a tight corner. They want to protect the environment and comply with reasonable government regulations but not if it means giving up their private information to the enemy. Who can blame them if they decide to just quit participating in the process? They can continue farming until someone like WEAN turns them in to the authorities, and then quit. Many, no doubt, will do just that.

If this is what environmental regulation in Washington state has come to, it’s time to fire up the tractors, grab the pitchforks and head for Olympia. When legislators convene Jan. 9, thousands of angry farmers and their supporters should be there to greet them and demand an end to the tyranny of over-regulation.

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