By Marcy Stamper

Okanogan County has filed responses denying all claims in two lawsuits that challenge the county’s new zoning code.

The county says the plaintiffs’ claims that the new code fails to protect the county’s natural resources — in particular its water and farmland — lack factual basis and that the groups have not shown actual harm from any provisions in the code. The responses were filed on Sept. 8 in Okanogan County Superior Court.

The lawsuits, filed in August, contend that the county’s new zoning code allows for more growth than can be supported by available water resources, particularly in the Methow Valley. One was filed by the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) and Futurewise, and the other by the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.

The county’s brief court filings are the first salvo in what Sandy Mackie, special counsel for Okanogan County, called “a very large, multi-year series of proceedings” that involves both environmental and legislative issues. The legislative issues concern the discretion of the county commissioners to regulate land use, he said.

While Mackie called the record submitted by the plaintiffs “voluminous,” he noted that initial responses in these cases tend to set very broad outlines. In fact, the county’s replies to the two lawsuits amounted to just 16 total pages.

Replies to both the MVCC and Yakama Nation lawsuits state that the county does not have sufficient information to admit or deny the plaintiffs’ claims and therefore denies them.

Specific objections and responses to both the environmental and legislative issues will not be outlined until all parties file briefs in the case, said Mackie.

Some issues in this case are similar to the county’s defense to a lawsuit filed by MVCC over the county commissioners’ decision to allow all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to use hundreds of miles of county roads. In both the ATV and zoning cases, the county asserts that the plaintiffs have not shown actual harm as a result of the county’s actions.

“The County believes there is no objective evidence of harm identified in the voluminous records arising from either historic practices or the proposed new code,” said Mackie by email. “With respect to the MVCC, it is hard to see how their members were harmed since the Methow Valley zoning they fought so hard to achieve … was not materially changed,” he said.

As the county sees it, “both complaints seem to turn on parties’ political desires to see a different result — not the environmental merits of their claims,” said Mackie.

Briefs are expected later this year.