Opinion

Open letter to County Council; Public needs time to evaluate 'best available science' | Guest opinion

Dear County Council, Administrator and Planning Staff:            

You are required to adopt Best Available Science (BAS) that is factual, substantive, local and relevant. 

We appreciate the actions council and staff are taking to avoid personal liability and county liability. However, it is evident that the obligation to give a proper amount of time for the public to review and vet the information being considered as BAS is being mishandled. The time frame is too short. The intent of the law is simply not being met. 

The voluminous information cannot even be reasonably reviewed by trained staff persons in the time that is being allowed, not to mention the obligation for continuous and robust interaction with the community, which is clearly impossible under the schedule that has been established.

It is not unreasonable that the staff, council, and interested constituents have the time to study, understand and agree that the information that is adopted and will be used in the future for guiding the actions of the planners and legislators of this county be local, relevant and satisfy the guidelines established by the (Washington Administrative Code) for best available science. Here is a moral as well as legal obligation to allow sufficient time for all parties to be educated and involved. 

Recently, inappropriate comments have been made by some of the council and staff regarding questions and concerns raised by citizens and organizations. These criticisms indicate a lack of interest in taking the time necessary to address the concerns brought up. These individuals need to revisit their comments and thoughts and adopt an approach that rejects bias and prejudice and indicates a willingness to consider the legitimate concerns of their neighbors and constituents. 

You will recall that, in the beginning of this process, many citizens were disparaged for disagreeing with staff on Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) issues.  Remember the accusations and comments toward those questioning the staff information: they were passing “rumors” and "misinformation". How about the comments from staff?  “It’s all about the bugs” and “We have no choice”. 

Fortunately, enough time was available for citizens to prove to council and staff that they were either misinformed or uneducated about many presumed “facts”. Time has allowed us to identify some of the myths and some of the realities about the requirements of the CAO and the process involved.

We now  know it is not just about the bugs, and that we do have many choices.   We would encourage the council, administrator and county staff to revisit the schedule that they have set up for the BAS process, and to spend time discussing issues with those they currently view as adversarial. As citizens are reviewing the submitted BAS synthesis, they are coming forth with questions and facts that should be used to inform the decision making process. A reasonable amount of time for discovery and discussion of the voluminous information is essential.  

Remember, down-Sound the Department of Ecology has not challenged waterfront shoreline buffers of 25 feet, and allowed non conforming restrictions to be relaxed, while other areas have done the opposite. The reason for this is mostly due to “politics”. If we follow that path our community will become divided, and we will eventually end up in court, which will waste valuable time and resources. 

The county, its employees and contractors should all be seeking truth, local and relevant, and applying it to San Juan County, and using the coordination process as a means to the resolution of conflict on the CAO issues.

A coordination process does not just have to be between government entities. It can be used between citizens and local government as a tool to reach a consensus on facts and resolutions to issues in a proper, “bottom-up” process, as is required by the (state Growth Management Act).

We respectfully request that you: 

1) Extend your time line for the adoption of best available science.

2) Have staff publish the discovered “problems” that indicate that there is a need to change our current CAO language.

3) Have staff share with the public their consideration and weighing of the 13 competing goals of the GMA in any areas of the current Sensitive Areas Ordinance that they recommend for change. They should also indicate how a decision to change our county's ordinance might be mitigated to lessen the impact on landowners and the other GMA mandated goals.

4) That staff meet with interested citizens and organizations (in a bottom-up process) to find mutual areas of agreement, as well as areas of disagreement. This would save a lot of time and allow all to focus on meaningful conservation measures.

We should all want to have rules and regulations that address real problems and that are fair and economically feasible. There are no penalties for taking more time. There are numerous problems and unintended consequences in moving ahead in the current manner. 

We will be better stewards if we take the time to carefully craft a CAO that meets our local San Juan County's needs, and that balances all of the GMA goals. Thank you in advance for your consideration.  

— The Citizens' Alliance for Property Rights, San Juan Board  

 

 

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