By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County commissioners are awaiting a decision from the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) as to whether the agency will provide an additional $100,000 to help the county complete its plan that protects the shorelines of lakes and rivers.
The commissioners requested the money in December, in part to pay for the services of a lawyer the county has retained to review the county’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP). The commissioners said in their request that they had hired the lawyer to assist in “reconciling the direction we received from DOE and the actual requirements of the law.”
Okanogan County submitted its draft SMP to Ecology in 2010 and received extensive feedback about required changes, but the county and Ecology still differ about what elements are necessary for the plan to comply with state law.
In their request for funding, the commissioners described the input from Ecology’s shoreline planners as “inconsistent and often over-directive.”
To help address these differences, the county hired attorney Sandy Mackie last year to conduct a legal review of the plan. Mackie, an attorney with the law firm Perkins Coie who is based in Winthrop, has substantial experience with Washington’s Shoreline Management Act. He has also written widely about public-access requirements of the law and the impact on private property rights.
Mackie is reviewing the county’s draft plan to see where it complies with state law, where it is not compliant, and where there is some discretion, said Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston last week. Huston said they had not given Mackie any specific direction but have asked him to compare the county’s draft plan with the feedback from Ecology.
The county believes that not all of the changes requested by Ecology are required by state law, said Huston. The areas of greatest contention are the width of buffers along shorelines and the requirements for public access to shorelines through private property, he said. In their review, Ecology planners said state law requires local governments to have an integrated system for public access and that the county has not addressed this requirement.
Other areas of disagreement relate to mapping, particularly of river-migration zones and of fish and wildlife habitat.
Mackie is also reviewing other county planning documents for consistency with the shoreline plan. The county wants to be sure the guidelines and regulations in the SMP and in the comprehensive plan and the critical areas ordinance, which are also being updated, are in the appropriate plan, said Huston. Mackie is also helping “straighten out” the environmental review of these documents, said Huston.
“The county commissioners want to get their own ducks in a row, and then sit down with Ecology,” said Huston, who said the legal review would probably be complete in “weeks, not months.”
Ecology and the county have different interpretations of what is necessary to complete Okanogan County’s plan, said Joye Redfield-Wilder, public information manager for Ecology. “Planners at Ecology can help with compliance while respecting local concerns. They can work with the county and land on a plan that is adopted, that can be defended by the agency [Ecology], and that serves the shorelines needs of the county,” she said.
The commissioners and Ecology seem to agree on one thing—that the county is close to completing the plan. The commissioners described being “on the homestretch” and Redfield-Wilder said “the end is in sight.”
As part of the early adopter program in 2005, the county received $750,000 to update its SMP. The majority was spent on inventory and analysis, according to the commissioners.
The contract with Mackie provides $250 an hour for his review of the plan. At a commissioners’ meeting about the SMP in December, Huston anticipated the legal review would cost $25,000.
The county has received several extensions to finish the plan and is currently slated to complete its shoreline program by December of this year. All local plans must be approved by Ecology and then become part of the overall state shoreline plan, said Redfield-Wilder.
Ecology officials have been reviewing the county’s request for additional funds and are expected to respond to the commissioners this week, said Redfield-Wilder.