By Marcy Stamper

The Okanogan County planning commissioners are still considering how large building projects have to be before they automatically get reviewed for their environmental impacts. If adopted, the new rules would change existing policy in the Methow, where smaller buildings, parking lots and landfills must undergo an environmental review, compared with the rest of the county, where review is now only mandatory for larger projects.

The proposed changes coincide with revisions to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and would be made uniform across the county. This code amendment would increase Okanogan County’s thresholds to the new maximum allowed by the state.

The planning commission first took up the proposed SEPA changes in August. They continued deliberations, specifically inviting comment from Methow Valley residents, since the changes would be most sweeping in the Methow Valley School District.

Proposed changes include allowing single-family residential projects to contain up to 20 units, rather than four, before they would have to be reviewed. Commercial buildings would go from 4,000 to 12,000 square feet before a required review.

The commissioners have heard from about 75 people, all from the Methow Valley, who unanimously urged the county to keep the stricter Methow protections intact, according to Ben Rough, senior planner for Okanogan County. The Okanogan County Horticultural, Pest & Disease Control Board was the only commenter supporting the changes, he said.

The Mazama Advisory Committee said the existing thresholds are “clear, well understood, and do not appear to have created any problems for anyone.”

“What are you trying to accomplish by changing all these factors for inspection?… This is not government interference, but an expression of how we the people want to live,” wrote Dennis O’Callaghan of Winthrop.

“Our economy depends almost entirely on the health and appearance of our surroundings…. If projects make sense they can still be approved, but it is best that they be evaluated before problems become obvious,” wrote Mazama resident Scotte Kilby.

Details of the proposed changes are available from Rough at (509) 422-7122 or brough@co.okanogan.wa.us. Comments should also be sent to that address.

The planning commission will make a recommendation to the county commissioners, who will make the final decision about the changes.

The planning commissioners have kept the matter open to public testimony, said Rough. The hearing on the proposed SEPA changes is Monday (Oct. 28) at 7 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room in Okanogan.