BY MARCY STAMPER
Although they have been unable to agree on a common list of questions, Okanogan County and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are both going ahead with plans to analyze the economic impacts of the agency’s land acquisitions in the county.
“We’ll do an independent analysis – if that’s the way the county wants to go, we will do our own,” said WDFW Regional Director Dennis Beich, who retired at the end of May.
Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston and his staff are working on a method for selecting development projects to use for the county’s analysis. Once chosen, the examples will be plugged into a model developed by the National Association of Home Builders that was used in a study of the impact of home-building in Wenatchee, said Huston. Huston presented his preliminary ideas for the methodology at his briefing for the county commissioners on Monday (June 3).
The study would provide a snapshot of the effects of development by looking at selected building permits, probably over the past five years, as opposed to trying to assess what could have happened without the development, said Huston.
County commissioner Ray Campbell said before the briefing that the county and WDFW have different perspectives about what to assess. The county wants to look at the potential future value of land left in private ownership and in agriculture and its contributions to the economy, including tax revenue, feed stores and supplies, and “how that money can roll around in the community and generate more money and jobs,” said Campbell.
“There is nothing to indicate that more houses out there will over-impact the need for police services. Those things balance themselves out,” said Campbell.
Beich said it was a shame that the county and his agency could not do a combined analysis to look at issues that apply to both. WDFW is still working out details, but expects to issue a request for proposals from consultants once they have a list of questions, he said.
In addition to getting assistance from the Home Builders, Campbell said they plan to ask the Okanogan County Farm Bureau and other organizations to help look at the impacts on agriculture. Huston said the Home Builders have provided an estimate of $675 to do the analysis.
While the economic analysis is underway, WDFW is willing to continue the moratorium it began last fall on new land purchases, but does not want it to continue indefinitely, said Beich. In the meantime, the agency is pursuing conservation easements and acquisitions they believe would be good for the local economy and the public, such as for salmon recovery and boat access.
WDFW and the county commissioners had agreed that five transactions were too far along to interrupt. There are three in the Methow – two with the potential for salmon recovery and one that would provide winter range for mule deer. Two of those are a combination purchase and conservation easement and one is the purchase of a small inholding. The other two transactions are purchases of inholdings in the Okanogan/Similkameen area, said Beich.
New regional director for WDFW
The next meeting between the commissioners and WDFW to discuss the analysis and other issues of concern – most likely later this month – will be with Jim Brown, who is replacing Beich.
Brown was previously a fish and wildlife enforcement officer with the Okanogan County Dangerous Wildlife Task Force, a multi-agency Homeland Security planning team and fisheries enforcement effort in cooperation with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
Brown will oversee all of WDFW’s work in Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan counties.