San Juan County Council, Planning Commission meet Thursday regarding Critical Areas Ordinance

The San Juan County Planning Commission will have its chance to weigh in before the County Council settles on a work plan for the pending update of the Critical Areas Ordinance.

On Tuesday, the council postponed its decision on the five-part work plan to allow for modifications based on the results of Thursday's meeting with the Planning Commission. That public meeting begins at 8:45 a.m. at the headquarters of San Juan Island Fire Department on Mullis Street.

The work plan lays out the tasks — including development of locally-based "best available science" — and pace at which the CAO update is expected to be completed.

Thursday's meeting includes a 30-minute presentation by Doug Peters of the Washington state Department of Commerce on Growth Management Act requirements for protecting critical areas, beginning at 9 a.m. There will be discussion of balancing GMA goals and requirements, application of no-net loss principles, guidance for protection of critical areas from agricultural activities, and relevant case law or Growth Management Hearings Board decisions.

Peters will field questions from members of the council and the commission, as well as from the public (via notecards), at the conclusion. He also will lead an afternoon discussion about options for reducing buffers, and CAO requirements in urban growth areas.

At 10:15 a.m., Deputy Prosecutor Jon Cain will sketch out an overview of existing county CAO regulations and then join Peters for a discussion regarding so-called "reasonable use exceptions", followed by a Q&A.

Beginning at 1:20 p.m., Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord will lead a review of provisions for "non-conforming structures and uses," which will also be followed by a Q&A.

The agenda and related materials may be obtained on the San Juan County Web site or at the council offices during each business day between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. For more information, call the Clerk of the County Council at 370-7470.

The Critical Areas Ordinance, or CAO, provides protections for items considered essential for the preservation of the quality of life in the county, including aquifers, fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands, geologically hazardous areas and frequently flooded areas.

The update, which is required under the Growth Management Act, was due for completion in 2006. The latest revision of the work plan targets completion of staff work in mid-2011.

In February, the council voted to restart a portion of the updating process and fund a review of the “Best Available Science” used in the drafting of the regulations to ensure that revisions to existing regulations are appropriate for the county’s island environment.

The draft work plan provides an outline of the work ahead, including provisions for public input, workshops on “hot button issues” such as buffers and non-conforming uses, new research, and the review and adoption of existing scientific research.

A preliminary draft of the work plan was reviewed by the council at its May 25 meeting. Revisions to the work plan are now under way and a new downloadable draft was linked to the council’s agenda page on June 4, county Communications Manager Stan Matthews reported.

Tuesday, residents said they want a CAO update that does not compromise in protecting the islands' scenic beauty, natural resources and its signature species of wildlife, the killer whales.

Lopez Island's Ida Forsythe said regulations that preserve the islands' natural beauty and unique character will also help protect property values and the investments of landowners.

Forsythe encouraged the council to "leave an environmental legacy" that includes clean water, plenty of unspoiled habitat and enough space for wildlife roam and to thrive.

Stephanie Buffum-Field, executive director of Friends of the San Juans, noted that the populations of several species, such as the Island Marble butterfly, the marbled murrelet and the Southern resident orcas, have declined to the point that they've been afforded protection under the federal Endangered Species Act since the CAO was last updated more than a decade ago.

She said the loss of habitat, such as a near total collapse of eelgrass in San Juan Island's Westcott Bay, reduces the odds for those species struggling to survive.

"Times have changed since the last CAO update," Buffum-Field said. She suggested that information about CAO "hot-button issues," such as reasonable-use provisions and implications of non-conforming status, be provided to the public well in advance of workshops outlined in the work plan.

Several people noted omissions in the work plan.

San Juan Island's Bill Wright said it lacks a means of offering "early and continuous" information to the public as required by the state Growth Management Act. Wright suggested that a "weekly activity report" be added to the county Web site in which information passed between county officials and the consultants working on the CAO update would be available.

Echoing comments submitted to the council earlier by Orcas Island's Tim Blanchard, a member of Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, David Cable of San Juan Island said the first step in the CAO update should be a "logical and legal" review in identify any deficiencies in existing county regulations.

Meanwhile, Orcas Island's Jane Alderton relied on a poster with pictures of a killer whale and salmon to make her point.

"No salmon means no orcas, which means less tourism and less revenue for the county," Alderton said. "And you'll have to change your logo as well."

The logo on San Juan County's flag features an orca.

Regional workshop on the CAO June 18
The San Juan County Association of REALTORS will host a regional workshop on the Critical Areas Ordinance June 18, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the Anacortes Library, 1220 10th St., Anacortes.

The event is free and open to the public. Tim Gambrell, association executive, San Juan County Association of REALTORS, said the event is co-hosted by Washington REALTORS, and is being held in Anacortes to accommodate participants from the mainland.

The speakers:

— Robert Furstenberg is an ecologist who has spent the last 15 years working on various aspects of salmon recovery in the Puget Sound area.

— Dr. Lyden C. Lee is the founder and principal ecologist at L.C. Lee & Associates, Inc. in Seattle. He is a nationally recognized wetland and river science and regulatory expert and Director of the National Wetland Science Training Cooperative.

— Jana Hansen, director of Community and Economic Development Department for the City of Mount Vernon, with several years experience in environmental and urban planning.

— Attorney David Reynolds is an attorney with extensive experience on land use, environmental, shoreline, Indian Law and other matters, including regulation at all levels of government and owner of Dennis D. Reynolds Law Office on Bainbridge Island.

— Attorney Charles Klinge is a land-use attorney with extensive experience with environmental and land-use issues and is a partner in the law office of Groen Stephens & Klinge LLP in Bellevue.

The speakers will touch on key topics regarding Critical Areas Ordinances and Shoreline Master Plan updates currently being considered by local governments around the state, including San Juan County.

Topics covered by the presentations include:

1. An approach to implementing CAO regulations that balances governmental needs to protect critical areas with the needs of property owners; and

2. Legal overviews on non-conforming uses and the Shoreline Master Program Update process.

RSVP to Gambrell: call 360-378-2101, fax 360-378-0825, e-mail

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