By Marcy Stamper
It took 51 years for the Okanogan County commissioners to adopt a new comprehensive plan, but that 2014 plan quickly became the subject of lawsuits contending that it fails to protect water quality, doesn’t address wildfire risk, and doesn’t protect wildlife habitat.
So the commissioners — and interested members of the public — have taken up the plan again, hoping that “a new set of eyes” can lead to improvements, said County Commissioner Andy Hover.
After reviewing detailed comments and holding their first meeting on the plan earlier this month, the commissioners have scheduled meetings to identify objectives, review a new draft and conduct an environmental review. Their goal is to hold hearings on a revised comp plan next spring.
The current comp plan review is an agreement between Okanogan County and the Methow Valley Citizens Council and Futurewise, the groups that filed the lawsuit. It also encompasses water protections in the county’s zoning ordinance, which is based on the principles in the comp plan and was contested in court by the Yakama Nation.
A majority of the comments sent to the county address water. The Methow Watershed Council sent a letter summarizing water consumption for existing homes and businesses and the potential for new uses. Under some scenarios, certain parts of the county could run out of water, they said.
A resident of Winthrop urged the commissioners not to allow the Lower Methow Valley to be divided into1-acre parcels, particularly given questions about water availability. “With our lack of rain this past summer and the need of water for habitat restoration and firefighting use, our valley needs to conserve water withdrawal and usage for future requirements,” he said.
The Methow Conservancy expressed its appreciation that the previous commissioners had retained the special protections for the Methow Valley and the Upper Methow Valley when they adopted the comp plan three years ago.
But the conservancy and several individuals urged the county to make it easier for other areas across the county to develop their own local land-use regulations. Several asked the commissioners to set up advisory groups that would represent priorities and concerns of neighborhoods around the county.
Several pointed out that the plan must take climate change — and its impact on water — into account.
Others urged the county to explicitly address wildfire and to coordinate the comp plan with the Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
The county’s current comp plan and maps, plus special sections that address the Methow Valley, are online at www.okanogancounty.org/planning (see Comprehensive Plan 12/22/2014).
For more information or to submit comments, contact Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston at (509) 422-7118 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comp plan schedule and goals
• Nov. 20, 2017: identify sections and objectives
• Nov. 27, 2017: identify sections and objectives
• Dec. 4, 2017: commissioners’ review of preliminary draft
• Dec. 11, 2017: commissioners’ review of preliminary draft
• January 2018: joint meeting with county commissioners and planning commission; begin work on environmental impact statement
• February 2018: draft environmental impact statement
• March 2018: planning commission hearings
Times and locations to be announced.