The CAO Presentation To County Council / Facebook post, Whatcom Hawk, Wendy Harris



Yesterday at 3:17am  September 21, 2016  Wendy Harris

At the staff presentation to the county council on the Critical Area Ordinance, staff provided their goals and proposed changes (why are they making changes now?) without explaining how the CAO worked or how the new proposals fit into the CAO requirements. They skipped any mention of the Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas, and only mentioned farm plans with regard to an suggestion for an annual report. I felt this left the council and public uninformed.

The focus was on Best Available Science and Carl asked some pointed questions, but did not receive more than vague responses. Rud was interested in using the Critical Area Ordinance to make septic system maintenance and certification less expensive. Cliff did not really understand the question and neither did Rud, apparently, because he said he did not know how this could work, and was just wondering if it could. Satpal wanted to know how much these requirements costs and Barbara was concerned about the new DOE buffer requirements and how that would impact private property rights. Rud, Satpal and Barbara did not seem to understand that these were state requirements that must be followed.

Cliff Strong stated that category 4 wetlands now had a 1000 foot buffer (if heard that correctly), which cause a murmur throughout the smallish crowd, but that does not seem right, unless this is a habitat buffer and not a wetland buffer,or it is in an area deemed high intensity of use. [update: this is about avoiding buffers for wetlands less than 1000 sq ft and isolated wetland less than 4000 sq. ft. in limited circumstances and where there is full mitigation.]

What the county and city really want out of this CAO, besides not changing anything, is an “in lieu of fee” off site mitigation proposal for county and the cities to work on jointly. The provision as drafted only provides authority for staff, but does not provide details as to how the program would work. I think it would be a great mistake to approve this kind of blank check, without knowing the proposal staff would come back with. It will create big regional “mitigation ponds”, aka, bullfrog ponds and permit urban infill even though this is not supported by Best Available Science.

Cliff really seems clueless about Best Available Science and the county’s burden when it fails to follow BAS. He said in an email to me that he did not include any BAS studies if the projects they were meant to support was not adopted by the committees because what would be the point? The point is that you can not simply ignore BAS, and there as specific steps that must be taken when failing to adopt BAS, none of which was done in this case.

The challenge is going to be to help the council understand enough of this so that they can override what staff is attempting and avoid compliance issues. There is no doubt in my mind that the CAO as currently drafted does not comply with the GMA.

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

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