By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County commissioners have agreed to look at the county’s comprehensive plan “with a new set of eyes to see if there are places where we can make improvements,” County Commissioner Andy Hover said this week.
After the comp plan was adopted by the former board of commissioners in 2014, it quickly became the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC). The lawsuit claims the plan fails to protect water quality, doesn’t address wildfire risk, and doesn’t protect wildlife habitat.
In 2016, the Yakama Nation filed a lawsuit against the county’s zoning code, saying it threatens their fishing rights because it doesn’t protect groundwater. Because the zoning code is based on the comp plan, the legal challenges and issues are connected.
Now that the county has two new commissioners, all three members of the board have committed to reviewing the comp plan, said Hover. Hover and Chris Branch were elected last year. Commissioner Jim DeTro worked with the two previous commissioners on the existing comp plan, which took eight years to finalize.
While the decision to revisit the plan does not mean that the commissioners will definitely make changes, Hover said the current comp plan has shortcomings, such as its failure to address wildfire risk. After two years of historic fires, the risks and impacts of wildfire need to be addressed, he said.
If the commissioners decide the plan needs updating, that will reopen the formal public process and will include public hearings, said Hover.
The commissioners asked MVCC and the Yakama Nation to drop their lawsuits so that discussions could proceed — in particular, without the added cost of attorneys, said Hover. The Yakama Nation agreed to drop its lawsuit earlier this month, he said. The Yakama Nation did not respond to calls seeking more details about the decision or the status of their lawsuit.
MVCC is pleased that the commissioners are willing to reopen the process and review the comp plan but, on the advice of their attorney, did not withdraw their lawsuit, said executive director Brian de Place this week. De Place said MVCC is concerned that dropping the suit could jeopardize their ability to challenge a revised plan if it did not adequately address all their concerns and didn’t comply with state law, he said.
“We are committed to participating in a meaningful public process if the commissioners decide to reopen it,” he said. MVCC commended the commissioners for their openness to reviewing the plan.
The commissioners have agreed to a two-year timeline for any revisions, meaning any revised plan must be adopted within two years, said Hover.