By Marcy Stamper

Okanogan County will not be getting any extra money from the state Department of Ecology to help finish its plan that protects shorelines, but an Ecology manager commended county staff for their work over the past decade and reiterated his conviction that the county is on the “home stretch.” He said Ecology staff are available to work closely with the county to complete the plan.

“If there’s a take-home message from our office to Okanogan County, it’s that we’re here as a partner in this. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work to move it forward,” said Gary Graff, regional section manager for Ecology’s Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program, in an interview this week.

In a letter sent at the end of January, Gordon White, the state-level manager for Shorelands, declined a request from the Okanogan County commissioners for $100,000 to help pay an attorney the county has retained to advise them about the Shoreline Master Program (SMP). Attorney Sandy Mackie is reviewing the plan for compliance with state law and looking at Ecology’s comments on the county’s most recent draft, completed in 2010. Mackie is still evaluating the plan, said Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston.

After receiving the letter, Huston contacted Ecology and indicated a willingness to schedule a time to talk, but they have not set a date, said Graff.

“We are willing to sit down with them and walk through the comments and suggestions and have this give-and-take,” said Joye Redfield-Wilder, public information manager for Ecology, who said the process had been more formal in the past.

Ecology also sent a comparison of Okanogan County’s SMP with the plans from four other Central Washington counties. The comparison focuses on how the counties prescribe buffers to protect their shorelines, lakes and rivers.

Ecology’s letter to the commissioners noted that while Okanogan County’s draft plan includes smaller buffers than in neighboring counties, the buffers may still be adequate to protect the county’s shorelines.

Huston has said that the size of buffers is one of the areas of greatest contention between the county and Ecology.

There are some 280 shoreline plans across the state, from counties, cities and towns, all of which become part of the state Shoreline Master Program. The deadline for completion is this December.

“Okanogan County is certainly behind schedule, but they’re not alone,” said Graff. “There are varying degrees of completion times, but most were done in three to four years.”

After the county submits its approved plan to Ecology, the agency’s planners will go over it with a fine-toothed comb to be sure it is consistent with state law, said Graff. “This is a joint document, adopted by the local government and Ecology—both have a strong interest in doing it well,” he said.