It is the environmental regulations that implement the policies and goals in the county comprehensive plan, as reflected in Chapter 11 on the Environment and a few other places. It is adopted as part of the County Code, in Chapter 16 and is referred to as the Critical Area Ordinance, or CAO.
It protects public health by preventing development in harmful locations and protects sensitive areas important for healthy ecosystems from greater degradation. There are five categories of critical areas listed, each with its own rules: geologically hazardous areas, wetlands, frequently flooded areas, critical aquifer recharge areas and habitat and wildlife conservation areas.
The GMA requires that new development does not result in loss of ecological function in the ecosystem in which a critical area is located. The need to protect critical areas is so important that even counties that do not follow the GMA must still follow these rules, and there is a special requirement here, found no where else in the GMA, that all critical areas must be protected based on consideration of Best Available Science. The CAO serves as an overlay zone on top of all other lands, even resource land, and it must be protected.
The planning commission and the council will need to hear from you if you want to keep or increase the level of environmental protections that exist. While some changes have been made that make the CAO stronger, more changes have been made that make it weaker. In many instances the staff ignored BAS or misstated the facts to justify modifications that allow more development.
Of particular concern is the failure to address problems with farm plans, outdoor recreation, and the creation of a complicated and generally unsuccessful form of mitigation known as an in lieu of fee program. And the biggest problem remains the failure to establish and monitor baseline standards to determine impacts on ecological function.