June 19, 2016 Wendy Harris
I just reviewed the [Whatcom] county planning commission’s final Critical Area Ordinance Findings of Fact, after the planning commission refused to sign off on one of the findings drafted by the planning department.. a very unusual occurrence.
The PC refused to sign a listed finding of fact because the county was unable to establish that the draft updated CAO protected the functions and values of critical area ecosystems. That is a teensy problem since it is the entire purpose of the the CAO and staff advised that this language was necessary for plan approval.
The staff admits that a program to measure and monitor functions and values would be a good idea, but golly, they just do not have the money. But here is the interesting part. The CAO update process was originally allocated about $50,000 and I suggested from the very beginning that this money be spent to develop a system that would allow us to determine if the county was meeting no net loss requirements. I kinda remember that at some point, the executive stated that Cliff Strong had returned the money because it was not needed for the CAO update. Certainly, by the end of the CAO update process, no one was talking about the money.
The county no longer has any excuse because recently, state agencies have developed characterizations for Puget Sound that provide a basic framework to being working with. In the meanwhile, a wonderful characterization and analysis of the Birch Bay watershed, which would need an update, was virtually ignored during the comp. plan process and in the CAO.
Anyway, here is what the Planning Staff Provided to the PC to Approve:
13. The proposed regulations for critical areas are sufficient and appropriate to protect the functions and values of those areas consistent with the Whatcom Comprehensive Plan and Growth Management Act.
Here is what the PC agreed to approve:
13. The proposed regulations for critical areas are consistent with the Whatcom Comprehensive Plan.
It looks like the Planning Department has some ‘splaining to do. (And just in case this little detail slips through the cracks, I will make sure it is brought to the council’s attention.)
Another noteworthy stand by the PC involves the Planning Department’s plan to remove all species of local importance which require critical area protection based on what can only be called a misstatement that no one could find any basis for these listings (except, of course, the written comments I provided saying .. look here.. it is right here… in the last Best Available Science Report..all explained.) The PC refused to remove the small list of species of local importance already reflected in the CAO and it is a smart thing that they did, because that would have been a pretty black and white compliance violation.