The Yakama Nation has run out of patience with Okanogan County, saying the county “intentionally disregarded” its obligations to redo its comprehensive plan and zoning code by the end of last year.
The Yakama Nation is asking the court to vacate the March 2017 stipulated settlement of a lawsuit they filed over water protections in the county’s zoning code. In the agreement, the county said it would adopt a new comp plan, zone code and zoning maps, which set out several interim deadlines. The motion to vacate the agreement was filed in Okanogan County Superior Court on July 10.
Within 60 days of the agreement — more than two years ago — the county was supposed to start its review of the comp plan and zoning ordinance. The agreement also committed the county to “promptly” launch an online public permit-tracking system of all land-use applications and associated decisions and hearings.
“To date, Defendant has not taken action to review the Zoning Ordinance, initiated a … SEPA [State Environmental Policy Act] environmental review of the Zoning Ordinance, taken final legislative action to repeal the Zoning Ordinance in its entirety, or adopted a new Zoning Ordinance as required by the Stipulation and Order of Dismissal,” the Yakama Nation said in the motion.
“Defendant Okanogan County has likewise failed to repeal and replace the Comprehensive Plan, and has not incorporated Yakama Nation’s feedback into its draft Comprehensive Plan despite multiple attempts by Yakama Nation to engage in a constructive dialogue with the County.”
Not only is the county not tracking new land-use applications, but the county is still using its old zoning regulations to manage environmental resources, resulting in inadequate planning for water use, they said.
Because the county never sought to change the terms of the stipulation nor informed them that they couldn’t comply with the conditions, the Yakamas say the judge should find the county in contempt of court. The Yakama Nation is also seeking remedial sanctions against the county, plus attorney’s fees.
The Yakama Nation’s original lawsuit, filed in August 2016, claimed that the zoning code the county adopted that July threatens the tribe’s fishing rights because it fails to protect the quality and quantity of groundwater. It also says the county code allows for more parcels than can be supported by available water resources, particularly in the Methow Valley. It was the first complete update of the zoning code in almost four decades.
The Yakama Nation has fishing rights, reserved by treaty, to take fish at their “usual and accustomed” places, which includes the Columbia River and its tributaries in Okanogan County, according to the lawsuit.
The comp plan and zoning code were also challenged by two conservation groups, the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) and Futurewise, over failure to protect water. They also said the plans didn’t adequately protect farmland and failed to plan for wildfire risk. All three plaintiffs agreed to give the county more time to revise the plans. Only the Yakamas are currently seeking to vacate the stipulation.
MVCC has approached the county on numerous occasions to discuss an extension of the stay, but those discussions didn’t result in an agreement, Lorah Super, MVCC’s program director, said last week.
MVCC has encouraged the county to adopt interim measures that protect water resources while the comp plan and zoning code are still revised. The county has put some interim provisions in place.
The county announced the issuance of a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the comp plan in a legal notice this week. The commissioners scheduled a public hearing on the EIS and comp plan in August and are accepting comments on the plan until early September.
A hearing on the Yakama Nation’s motion to vacate the settlement has been scheduled in Okanogan County Superior Court on July 23 at 9 a.m.