Sent: Tuesday, June 20, 2006 4:25 PM
Subject: [olyfarm] Farmers rally to protect land rights
The following article
appeared on June 20, 2006 in the Jefferson County edition of the Peninsula Daily
Farmers rally to protect land rights
By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News
PORT TOWNSEND — Angry farmers parked a convoy of sign-toting John Deere tractors in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse on Monday as they protested proposed action that they said would infringe on private property rights.
More than 50 residents packed the County Commissioner chambers in protest of proposed amendments to the Unified Development Code that would extend buffer zones for wetlands.
Among them was Bob Pontius, a Port Ludlow Republican who is running for county commissioner, who asked, "If this is implying that you're going to take our property, then how are you going to compensate us?"
Answered county Director for Community Development Al Scalf, "You have to look at the Legislature in Olympia. The laws are changing yearly. It is our professional duty to bring this forward to the public."
Outside, one of the farmers' signs read, "Property isn't safe while the Legislature is in session."
Others merely said, "no" to the critical areas ordinances and the same for the Washington Environmental Council.
Also outside the courthouse, real estate agent Richard Hild, who argued that county commissioners "gave away our rights to do anything" with land, was urging voters to sign a petition supporting Initiative 933. The initiative, which reads that it would require fairness when government regulates private property, is opposed by the WEC.
Public hearing Wednesday
The Jefferson County Department of Community Development on May 17 issued for public review a proposal for a critical areas ordinance defining the new buffers. The department is now accepting written public comments on the proposal.
The deadline for written (comment) is Wednesday. They can be sent to the Department of Community Development at 621 Sheridan St., Port Townsend, WA 98368, or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A public hearing before the Jefferson County Planning Commission on the proposed law is also planned at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington State University Learning Center 201 W. Patison St., Port Hadlock, on Wednesday.
Public comments will be accepted up until the conclusion of hte meeting.
Wednesday's hearing is an extension of a June 7 hearing.
The county Planning Commission is expected to develop its recommendation to the county commission either at Wednesday's hearing or at a special meeting on June 28.
Meeting on Wednesday
Roger Short, North Olympic Counties Farm Bureau president and long-time Chimacum farmer, urged county landowners to attend Wednesday's hearing.
"We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to be good stewards and we continue to get hammered," Short said, standing with fellow farmers outside the courthouse on Monday. "We used to have 300 potential building sites on farms. Now we have nothing."
Existing county buffers range from 25 to 150 feet, but the county, acting on state Department of Ecology recommendations, proposes 100 percent increases of these boundaries — from 50 to 300 feet.
The proposed ordinance states that if a landowner wants to hire a specialist to study a wetland and delineate its exact boundaries, wildlife habitat and ecological functions, the wetland buffer will fall somewhere in between 50 and 300 feet, based on these factors.
The cost to hire a specialist to survey the wetland can be thousands of dollars.
For those who don't hire specialists to delineate wetland boundaries, the proposed ordinance states buffers of 450 feet will be effective, said Scalf.
The proposal was no relief to Jim Fritz, president of Olympic Water Users Association, because it does not encourage cooperation with adjacent landowners to benefit salmon restoration projects.
"The proposed ordinance would start a civil war in Jefferson County," Fritz said.
The proposed ordinance is part of an agreement struck with the Washington Environmental Council, an environmental state lobbying group that went before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board last year.
WEC argued that the county failed to comply with the state Growth Management Act regarding critical areas, such as wetlands, salmon migration channels and flood zones.
Ultimately, the matter was settled with WEC in executive session behind closed doors. County commissioners said settlement was necessary to avoid a long-term costly legal battle with the group.
Norm MacLeod, who co-founded the Olympic Water Users Association, raised the possibility of local residents filing suit against the commission.
"In signing on to this agreement, the county has effectively ceded an enormous amount of governance latitude to WEC, and outside nongovernmental special interest group with absolutely no accountability to the citizens of Jefferson County," said MacLeod.
He said the public was not allowed to participate as much as it should have.
But the county's top civil attorney said the matter was highly publicized and required a public vote of the commission.
"It's not like this went from the mouth of WEC to an act of legislation," said county Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Alvarez.
Alvarez said the agreement was based on "best available science."
The county is required to meet the terms of the agreement this year, and Washington Environmental Council agrees to dismiss the matter once the agreement is met.
One county commissioner said he wanted to hear more public comment on the issue.
"I'm not sure if this is the right thing to do," said County Commissioner Phil Johnson, D-Port Townsend.
"There are a lot of real concerns."
Not the end of the issue
Scalf, county commissioners David Sullivan, D-Cape George, and Pat Rodgers, R-Brinnon, agreed that the critical areas controversy is likely to return in a year, after the Legislature meets again.
"Our lives are controlled by forces who are not from here and don't even live in this county," Rodgers said.
Meanwhile, Jim Morgan, who raises hogs on 10 acres in Eaglemount east of Discovery Bay, promised that farmers wouldreturn to the courthouse "next Monday and the Monday after that."
"We pay our taxes and vote 'em in," he said, "and we can vote 'em out."
Port Townsend/Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335
Posted by olyfarm to olyfarm at 6/20/2006 03:05:00 PM