The Critical Areas Ordinance Horse and Pony Show? / Facebook post, Whatcom Hawk, Wendy Harris

cao cac

14 hrs  February  14, 2016  Wendy Harris

The CAO Horse and Pony Show?

Oh yeah, one more thing… I think the entire process is starting to look like a horse and pony show. I put almost 2 years of work into this project under challenging conditions and how many of my suggestions and recommendations are reflected in the final work product? 0 (zero). You might not be surprised to learn that I had something to say about all of this and just shot off a letter to the planning staff, executive, planning commission and county council as follows:
Cliff, these documents fail to reflect any work that I have accomplished and I am far from satisfied with what I am reviewing. The documents produced by the staff do not contain a fair and objective reflection of the input from the CAC or the TAC. I can not in good faith recommend that either the Planning Commission or the county council approve the revisions as they now exist. I urge you to consider returning these documents to the CAC and TAC to discuss and reconcile concerns and conflicts.

I took my responsibilities seriously as a committee member and for almost 2 years provided you with input in the form of code revision suggestions, BAS and legal analysis. In reviewing the CAO, I see none of my work reflected in the final product and no mention or discussion of my concerns in the BAS report. In fact, much of the BAS I submitted was simply ignored for reasons I do not understand, and no reference or explanation is provided. While you did attach my written comments under a link to my name (I have not reviewed this thoroughly yet to ensure it is complete), the comments are in random order, without any pages numbers so that it is difficult to reference and discuss my comments with the Planning Commission or the county council. This undermines their value. I am left with the impression that you simply ignored my contributions because they were contrary to the intended results sought by the administration.

The CAC was not given adequate time to review the BAS report and to discuss concerns with you and I have heard similar concerns from members of the TAC. This is a matter that takes some time to review in the detail necessary, including the cross-referencing and re-examination of notes, etc.

Changes have been made to the CAO that I do remember discussing and which are contrary to updated BAS or the law. In some cases, (too many, frankly), this results in reduced environment protection, which is contrary to my basic understanding of the intended outcome of this process.

In other cases, the facts and explanation provided by the staff for changes to the CAO are incorrect. For example, you have now eliminated any local species in the HCA provisions, alleging that the TAC found no reason for this. Two of the eliminated local fish species are found only in Whatcom County, a fact noted in the 2005 BAS report, commented upon by both myself and Wendy Steffensen. There were other species and habitat that I recommended based on the 2005 BAS report and the WAC criteria that were also ignored.

In other cases, legal considerations were ignored. For example, the county refuses to establish buffers for terrestrial wildlife, other than using the WDFW recommendation as a starting point and negotiating the result on a case by case basis without any established parameters or standards for staff to follow, or procedures that involve the public in the process. The Hearings Board has ruled that unlimited staff discretion does not comply with the GMA. In yet other cases, your explanation of GMA requirements is inaccurate, misleading, or was not adequately reviewed with the committees. So while you do discuss the issue of landscape/ecosystem planning, you conclude that, ultimately, the county has no obligation to engage in this approach, a fact that is in conflict with WAC requirements and the increasing use of this approach in things such as the new DOE wetland standards being adopted. There is no attempt to even discuss habitat corridors, although staff is aware this is a compliance issue that must be regulated through the CAO. My concerns regarding the failure to consider a more complete review of HCA, and a list of the relevant factors, was never addressed.

I consistently raised concerns at the beginning of the process that we need to be provided with updated science before we could undertake a CAO update. This was the same concern raised by Wendy Steffensen at the end of the process, although I am not sure if this is one of the letters, along with the only CARA BAS provided by anyone, that you refused to accept based on arbitrary staff deadlines that were not clearly articulated to any of us at the very end of the process. Instead, the staff had us revise the CAO first, accepting, but not reviewing and discussing, the BAS that we submitted. As we discussed at one point, this does not rise to the level of substantive review required under the GMA, and the county has failed to provide the type of analysis needed when BAS is not being followed, per WAC requirements. (This is not a complete list of my concerns with the CAO process and product.)

And this is without any consideration of the manner in which I was treated by the administration, accused of being disruptive and disrespectful and then later, of talking too much and not allowing others to speak, despite the fact that I had done homework and review that they had not, and that we were leaving our meetings early; and then the bullying and abuse I suffered at the hands of some members of the conservative majority on the CAC, while staff did nothing to protect me despite my requests for a safe environment. Things changed somewhat only after I appealed to the public as a last recourse.

Perhaps a more detailed and thorough review of this material will prove me wrong, but at this point I am extremely resentful that my time and talent, and that of my fellow CAC and TAC members, was wasted on a dog and pony show. It appears that the administration worked on the CAO and BAS report largely on its own and made the changes that were intended all along and that the committees were there to provide the appearance of public participation and science-based recommendations from subject matter experts. It is not clear to me if I have gained any advantage by participating in this process beyond what I could achieve as an engaged citizen activist and I regret giving the administration any cover to which it may not be entitled.

Again, I urge you to send the CAO and BAS report back to the committees for the meaningful discussion that was never provided and to reconcile the differences between the work we did and the discrepancies that appear in the changes made by staff. At a minimum, I request my written comments be presented in chronological order with page numbers.

Read Wendy’s post in the Whatcom Hawk Facebook group here.

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