Fatal Flaw In City/County Critical Area Ordinance Must Be Fixed / Facebook post, Whatcom Hawk, Wendy Harris

14 hrs  August 20, 2015  Wendy Harris  ACTION

Please mark your calendars for next Thursday for the COB planning commission hearing on the Critical Area Ordinance.

If enough people are interested, I can post talking points. But the most important point, the fatal flaw for both the county and city, remain the same and remain unchanged.

The Critical Area Ordinance were enacted by both municipalities 10 years ago for the purpose of protecting critical areas from negative impacts of new development. This is known as the “No Net Loss” test, and it basically requires that the overall ecological health of an ecosystem of which a critical area is a part remains unchanged. The requires the use of mitigation to offset any impacts.

Here is the problem in a nutshell: In order to know if you are meeting No Net Loss, you need to start with a basic, quantifiable baseline standard of ecological health and then some type of metrics are needed for monitoring the baseline standard so that this baseline can be tracked over time.

If this had been done, the current CAO update would have been pretty straight forward. They would compared the baseline standard created 10 years ago with the current standard of ecological function to see if it improved, declined or remained the same. That would tell them whether they need more restrictive regulations and greater mitigation, or if things were improving and possibly could permit more flexibility.

But because the city and county have no baseline standard, they really have no idea how well or poorly their CAO works. This makes the CAO regulations meaningless and undermines the point of protecting critical areas.

It is the single most important factor to fix as part of the Comp. Plan update, but neither the city or county intend to do so. I do not believe this is by coincidence. It the developers really had to pay for the actual cost of meeting no net loss, there would be likely be far less development.

Under the GMA, we can not require that the city and county adopt any specific metrics or monitoring protocol, but we can demand that their performance standards be adequate enough to protect critical area functions and values.

The best solution is a watershed characterization and analysis of each individual ecosystem function, but this is costly and time consuming. We should demand that the city and county provide some form of quantifiable metrics that protect our critical areas while they budget and move forward with funding to obtain a detailed watershed characterization for each watershed in the city and county.

Read Wendy’s post on the Whatcom Hawk Facebook page here.

You can let Wendy know in the comment section of her post at the link above if you would like her to post talking points to help you in writing your letter to the City of Bellingham, https://www.cob.org/contact/boards-commissions/planning.aspx , and Whatcom County planning commissions,  PDS_Planning_Commission@co.whatcom.wa.us

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