By Isabelle Spohn
Do your family roots in the Methow extend back for decades or more? Are you a former or seasoned wildland firefighter here in the valley — or a resident questioning the stability of that steep drainage behind your home? A gardener or farmer who cannot grow food without water? Perhaps a lower valley old-timer or newcomer who questions the wisdom of zoning the lower Methow for many small lots, even along the river? Are you concerned about your children’s future here in the Methow?
Whatever your background, the county needs your unique perspective on which growth-related issues should be analyzed in an upcoming Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). As in other rural counties, our budget is often stressed to the max, with a Planning Department smaller and less formally trained than in more affluent counties.
The county will be writing its own Draft EIS on the identified issues rather than contracting with experts who specialize in such writing. Considering the county’s size, diversity and budget, public participation in making the EIS analysis as complete and accurate as possible is essential.
It’s been a long time since a local EIS has been a significant focus of concern in this valley. That notorious EIS, which analyzed probable impacts of a large ski resort proposed at Early Winters, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989. Although found to contain significant inadequacies, the EIS stimulated land use regulations that still affect the Methow today.
This upcoming EIS will first identify, through public “scoping” comments, the issues most important to the public for analysis in planning for future growth and land use in our county during the coming decades. The comment deadline to email firstname.lastname@example.org has been extended to Jan. 18 at 5 p.m.
Scoping comments are one tool for scientific analysis of the probable impacts of a proposed new county draft Comprehensive Plan, which is planned for public hearing in March or April. County decision-makers and the public will then have access to the EIS analysis in making comments or in making decisions as to the best “alternative” for future land use planning — or in further revising the Draft Comp Plan.
At this point, it is not necessary to read many complicated documents to identify issues you see as important for the future. Most of us have by now experienced fires, landslides, unbearable smoke and awareness that densely packed housing often burns while nearby trees survive. We are aware of the interrelationship of water availability, agriculture and “green space.” We have watched the devastation in other communities with inadequate fire escape routes — and the benefits of community evacuation plans — as our own exit routes are increasingly privatized.
Much knowledge has been gained since 2014 that must be included in future planning — rather than using data, plans or information dating to before the Carlton Complex.
A few of the scoping comments I plan to submit are:
Please analyze in the EIS which alternative offers the best possibility of rapid egress during wildfire and the least rate of spread toward homes? Which alternative has the least-negative impact upon the state’s largest migratory deer herd and other migrating species? Which alternative would best discourage home building in areas of increased risk to firefighters? In case of unexpected population growth due to climate change or other factors, which alternative can best assure that needed services can be delivered to additional homes? How would the Draft Comp Plan guide planning for reduction of current health risks — such as breathing woodsmoke?
Isabelle Spohn lives in Twisp.