Editorial: Farm plan bill reasonable

Farmers won some privacy last week when the Legislature approved a bill exempting farm plans from public disclosure.

Farm plans are made through a conservation district. Farmers objected strenuously when the Whidbey Island Conservation District had to turn over their plans to the Whidbey Environmental Action Network due to public disclosure regulations.

The Legislature rightly reasoned that conservation districts do not possess regulatory authority and that their work is done purely on a volunteer basis. Farmers with approved plans have shown they care about protecting the environment and are likely taking steps to keep their farms operating within laws requiring the protection of wetlands. Government agencies, such as Island County, can use the existence of these plans to help convince overseers, specifically the Growth Management Hearings Board, that efforts are under way to protect the environment in rural areas. But farm plans alone won’t get the job done. They’re just a tool available to help farmers who want to participate.

This is really a dispute over paperwork. The true environmental test is in the quality of the water contained in wetlands and streams. The county is nearing completion of a water monitoring plan that should point out any farm polluters and set the ball rolling toward enforcement action. The public doesn’t really need to see individual farm plans.

With the Legislature’s action, farmers can now go about their planning without worrying about what they view as radical environmentalists looking over their shoulder. They gained some privacy, the public still has ways to protect the environment, and there are no real losers.

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