Although Okanogan County hasn’t met any deadlines in a March 2017 agreement with the Yakama Nation to redo the county’s comp plan and zoning code, dismissing the agreement wouldn’t accomplish any of the Yakama Nation’s goals, said Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Henry Rawson in a ruling on Aug. 12.
Rawson agreed that the county had missed all the deadlines, but noted that the county is currently working on the comprehensive plan. If the Yakama Nation is dissatisfied with the outcome, they can always file the lawsuit again, Rawson said.
The Yakama Nation asked the court in July to vacate the stipulated settlement of a lawsuit they filed over inadequate 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, setting out multiple deadlines.
Rawson noted that the county has made some progress on the plan and has instituted interim rulings on water use and zoning that address some of the Yakamas’ concerns. “But the county hasn’t repealed or adopted a new plan as of December 2018,” a condition of the stipulated agreement. “That’s factual,” Rawson said.
“This is a simple matter,” said Amber Penn-Rocco, attorney for the Yakama Nation, who attended the hearing by phone. The county has had two years to do the work since the order. It’s not just that it’s taking longer, but also shows “utter disregard for the county’s promises,” Penn-Rocco said.
The agreement committed the county to start its review of the comp plan and zoning ordinance by June 2017, to track all land-use applications online, and to adopt a new comp plan, zone code, and zoning maps by the end of 2018. The county has initiated the comp plan review but taken no action on anything else, Penn-Rocco said.
With the resignation of county Planning Director Perry Huston last month — who had primary responsibility for revising the plans — progress is further stalled, Penn-Rocco said. This pattern of inaction indicates that the county has ignored the Yakamas’ concerns, she said.
Arguing on behalf of the county, Mark Johnsen, an attorney with Karr Tuttle Campbell, said an order of dismissal shouldn’t be set aside lightly. The court has to take into account the totality of the situation, not just the due date, he said.
The fact that the county is currently working on the comp plan — and has scheduled a public hearing before the planning commission next week — renders the Yakama’s motion moot, Johnsen said. If the court vacated the stipulated order — as requested by the Yakama Nation — the situation would be the same as two years ago, when the court first told the county to update the comp plan. “It doesn’t make any sense for the county to backtrack and start over,” Johnsen said.
Johnsen pointed to other steps the county has taken to address issues raised in the Yakamas’ lawsuit, as well as recent state court rulings and legislation that affect water resources and have bearing on the case.
Rawson pointed to two similar lawsuits filed jointly by the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) and Futurewise, who have been in discussions with the county in conjunction with a stay in their lawsuit. The Yakamas chose not to enter into a stay, but instead moved to the sidelines, seeking to dismiss the action in its entirety, Rawson said.
In their suit, MVCC and Futurewise claimed that the 2014 comp plan didn’t protect water, plan for wildfire, or protect agriculture. The Okanogan County commissioners agreed to take another look at the plan, particularly with regard to water protection.
Futurewise attorney Tim Trohimovich, who listened to the court hearing over the phone, clarified that the stay expired at the end of 2018. Futurewise and MVCC have continued to talk with the county but haven’t reached any agreement, he said.
In a document filed with the court, the Yakamas complained that the county had not responded to any of their correspondence from August 2018 to April 2019. At the county’s invitation, a representative from the Yakama Nation did attend a meeting with MVCC and Futurewise this April, where the county updated the groups about its progress on the comp plan and zoning code, according to a court filing by David Gecas, Okanogan County’s chief civil deputy prosecutor.
The Yakama Nation can appeal the court’s decision.