House Committee Hears Critical Areas Bill

The House Local Government Committee held a hearing Thursday on HB 2212 and HB 2213, intended to protect agricultural lands from new restrictions imposed by growth management regulations.

Every person testifying was opposed to these bills.

The bills would require counties to approve farm plans and would allow those farm plans to be disclosed to the public.

Farm Bureau is opposed to subjecting farm plans to county approval and disclosure.

As an alternative to these bills, Farm Bureau asked the committee to consider the content of HB 1931, sponsored by Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen). That bill would protect legally existing agricultural activities on agricultural lands, unless there is a resolution of the underlying issues in discussions with the Ruckelshaus Center.

The Ruckelshaus Center is a UW-WSU policy consensus center that is meant to facilitate resolution of difficult public policy issues.

Environmental and tribal interests, many of whom are pushing for large buffers by filing lawsuits against local governments, testified that no bill should be passed and that the Legislature should as the Ruckelshaus Center to discuss the matter.

Farm Bureau, Cattlemen, Dairy Federation, and others pointed out that the threat to farms is TODAY.

In 2007 and 2008, counties and cities across the state will update their critical areas ordinances. During that time, the opponents of protecting farms from buffers will continue to sue local governments to intimidate them into adopting large buffers.

Talking alone will not solve the problem.

We’ve had "talk sessions" with the State Wetlands Integration Strategy (1991-92), the Land Use Study Commission (1996), the Agriculture, Fish, and Water negotiations (2000-02), and the Growth Management Working Group (2003-05).

None of those "talk sessions" has resulted in the protection of agriculture.

However, in 2002 the Legislature adopted HB 2305 -- passed unanimously in the House -- to protect "legally existing agricultural activities on agricultural lands" from new regulations under the state Shoreline Management Act. The bill was sponsored by then-Rep. Brian Hatfield (D-Raymond) and was signed by Gov. Gary Locke.
r> The language in HB 1931 is taken from that provision in the Shoreline Management Act. 

Farm Bureau suggested that the language from HB 1931 be used to replace the language in HB 2212 and 2213, plus add some parameters for discussions at the Ruckelshaus Center.

After pointing out that mandated buffers make farmland ineligible for federal conservation programs, Farm Bureau suggested that the center have specific goals to:

1.      Identify current voluntary and compulsory buffers to find out just how much is already being done and how much more is needed; and, 

2.      Identify specific timelines and goals for the number of acres reserved in buffers and develop a plan to meet those goals through voluntary and incentive programs that do not harm the viability of family farms.

HB 1931, supported by Farm Bureau, is scheduled for a hearing by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 26 in House Hearing Room B.


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