County planning says permits are needed for clearing, grading
A property owner near the town of Methow is appealing an Okanogan County order to stop clearing and grading work on property near the Methow River. Property owner Mark Miller says this restoration work is necessary to help the riverfront property recover from the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire.
Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston sent a letter May 30 ordering the property owners to “cease all further clearing and grading activities along with all future development activities on the parcel until you have come into compliance with all applicable regulation.” The letter was addressed to another of the owners, Jim Weddle.
Miller said he ceased all work as soon as he received the stop-work order.
In the order, Huston said he is investigating a possible violation of the county’s Shoreline Master Program, which requires permits for work in the conservancy shoreline environment. Before doing any work in that zone, the ordinary high-water mark must be determined by a biologist and verified with the state Department of Ecology, Huston said.
Other requirements include submitting a Joint Aquatic Resource Permit Application (JARPA) and a restoration plan for approval by the county. Restoration includes replanting with native riparian vegetation; the plan must be prepared by a biologist and licensed engineer, according to the order.
Copies of the order were sent to Miller, Ecology, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the U.S. Amy Corps of Engineers, and the Colville Confederated Tribes.
Miller said this week that he hasn’t received a complete copy of the complaint nor the case file from the county and therefore doesn’t know the details.
Miller said he’s been performing ecological restoration since the fire burned conifers and other plants five years ago. “The fire burned all the organic material, native vegetation and tree root systems within, and to either side of the pre-existing road,” said Miller in his appeal to the county.
In the appeal, Miller said the ordinary high-water mark was staked by a biologist with the Army Corps after the fire. A hydrologic floodplain study was done by a surveyor before the fire, he said. WDFW personnel have visited the property.
The surveys and agency consultation indicated that the road was not in the floodplain nor below the high-water mark, Miller said in the appeal.
The fire burned one uninsured building. Miller said he’s been building a gazebo as a replacement.
Huston said last week that he hasn’t analyzed any of the work at the site. “The problem is, there’s no permit,” he said. There is also no building permit on record for the gazebo, he said. “The moral to the story is, they shouldn’t have done anything until they submitted a JARPA,” said Huston.
“The violation is not submitting a permit — he may have done everything right” in terms of the work on the ground, said Huston.
There are different designations in the shoreline area, but all have a required setback from the river. There are also standards for clearing land, said Huston, the county’s code administrator.
“The allegation is that you have had heavy machinery on site clearing the property within the riverfront under the jurisdiction of the Shorelines Master Program without the proper environmental and permit review,” said Huston in the stop-work order.
Miller said this week that he’s been trying to protect the remaining conifers and to repair the destroyed irrigation infrastructure. “I’m just trying to clean up debris and reestablish the irrigation system,” said Miller, who said he doesn’t want to lose the water right connected with the property.
Miller said he talked to a WDFW biologist this spring or last fall about the restoration work. He was told to make sure no work would be done on any waterward slope of the property, which Miller said he has complied with. Miller hydroseeded the land with native seeds following the road restoration.
People have used the roads around the property for years, said Miller. “It’s disheartening to see anyone critical about the restoration work,” said Miller, who said he hoped some would want to help rehabilitate the land. Despite efforts to obtain help from a government agency to restore the property, he said he never heard from the agency, nor received any assistance.
Huston said Miller consulted his staff several months ago about plans for the property. His staff explained the necessary permits and the restoration plan, he said.
Miller said in the interview that he would apply for the necessary permits, but noted that the process can be time-consuming.
Struggling to restore
Miller, who works as a farmer and owns Land Company, a real estate firm in Brewster, said he’d been struggling to restore the property during a challenging economy. Miller served for a time on the Okanogan County planning commission.
The property, a peninsula in the Methow River, is accessed via Danzl Road, on the west side of state Route 153 about 1 mile north of Methow, and is visible from the highway. Photos in the county’s file show a road that follows the contours of the peninsula and traverses a clump of conifers. There is also grading on a slope near the river.
A legal notice of Miller’s appeal, published in the Methow Valley News last week, says the clearing work and the construction of a gazebo violate the permitting requirements of the county’s shoreline regulations.
Miller’s appeal will be heard by the county’s hearing examiner on Thursday, July 11, at 10 a.m. in the commissioners’ auditorium in Okanogan. Parties with standing in the matter will present testimony and evidence. Other interested parties may also provide testimony. All testimony must be given under oath.
More information is available from Huston at firstname.lastname@example.org or (509) 422-7218.