By MARCY STAMPER
After five years of reviewing the plan that governs use and environmental protections of its shorelines, Okanogan County commissioners have floated the idea of working with neighboring counties, since the counties share rivers and lakes and, accordingly, the impacts of activities along their shores.
Commissioners from Okanogan, Chelan and Douglas counties met in mid-July to explore ways they might develop compatible guidelines and protections in their Shoreline Master Programs.
While the counties have shorelines in common, they are in different stages of updating the plans that govern them. Douglas County is essentially done with its plan, Chelan has not begun its limited update, and Okanogan has been undergoing a major revision of its plan, the first since 1996.
The plan must be approved by the Department of Ecology, and Okanogan County has been at odds with the state agency over some elements in its plan, particularly about the width of buffers and setbacks along rivers and lakefronts and about accommodating requirements for public access.
There are no examples where two counties have done a combined regional update, but counties are free to work together, as long as the plan complies with the law, according to Brook Beeler, communications manager for Ecology’s Eastern Region. The counties would have to characterize each reach of a river or lake with the appropriate environmental designations, she said.
“Ultimately, Ecology has the final say in what the shoreline plan should contain. We have to make sure it’s in compliance with the law, to protect the shorelines and the environment,” said Beeler.
By working together where possible, the commissioners hope to benefit from using a common vocabulary and to save money by sharing the cost of consultants. Winthrop attorney Sandy Mackie is helping Okanogan County with its review of the plan.
The commissioners noted that working together could make the process more cumbersome and some worried about opening a Pandora’s box for counties near the end of the planning process.
The commissioners from Douglas and Chelan counties will discuss the proposal with their planning directors and the three groups will decide how to proceed in September.