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Monday (Aug. 26), 7 p.m.: planning commission discussion on the plan — commissioners’ hearing room, Okanogan.
Tuesday, Sept. 3: deadline for written comments — to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get the plan and related documents: at www.okanogancounty.org/planning or by calling (509) 422-7160.
To plan for the county’s future, we should:
• treat the entire Methow watershed, from Lost River to Pateros, as a single entity.
• protect the county’s limited water supply.
• allow farmers to add other businesses to make agriculture economically viable.
• just keep the current comp plan as is.
Those observations at a hearing on the county’s comprehensive plan offered a stark contrast of the county’s role in shaping its future — whether the comp plan should limit the use of resources such as water and timber, or whether residents should have free reign to pursue economic success.
Almost 30 people — more than half from the Methow Valley — came to hear their neighbors’ visions for the county; in all, 14 spoke at the hearing before the Okanogan County planning commission on Monday night (Aug. 19).
Many speakers voiced frustration over the slow progress on the plan. The county commissioners adopted a new comp plan at the end of 2014, the first in 50 years. But that plan almost immediately became the target of lawsuits charging that it didn’t protect water, plan for wildfire, or protect agriculture. Agreements reached in court committed the county to review the plan and sign off on a new one by the end of 2018, but the process has lagged.
The county released a working draft of the comp plan in November and an initial environmental impact statement (EIS) last month.
Going through the comp plan, supporting maps, and population and water studies is laborious. Several people said the plan doesn’t clearly present goals and policies and that it’s missing key sections on land use and housing.
But the comp plan is of immense importance to the county’s future and to all its residents because it sets out guidelines for how and where the county should grow.
“This is a guide to growth that captures the values communities hold dear,” Jasmine Minbashian, executive director of the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC), told the planning commissioners. “But there are no goals or policies, so it’s impossible to use the plan to guide our future.”
“This is a large county, but one size doesn’t fit all — there are extremes of weather and topography,” said Twisp resident Isabelle Spohn. Another speaker said too much of the countywide plan appeared to be based on the Methow watershed.
A few speakers pointed to inconsistencies in business activities allowed in the Methow watershed. We need to protect land, air and wildlife by concentrating development in towns and cities, said another.
Many speakers were concerned about the viability of agriculture but differed as to how to protect it.
Designating agricultural lands prevents farmers from diversifying their income — they need to be able to pursue activities such as tourist rentals, a gravel pit or a hunting club, said Nicole Kuchenbuch of Okanogan.
A lifetime rancher said the cattle industry faces increasing threats, including from fake meat and wolves.
Dick Ewing, who lives between Twisp and Winthrop, spoke on behalf of the Okanogan County Farm Bureau in support of the county’s existing comp plan and zoning code. “Lots of people spent time working out conflicts,” Ewing said.
Former Okanogan County Commissioner Ray Campbell said homesteaders prospered because they weren’t hobbled by government regulations. The county had “good economics before the spotted owl came flying in” and wrecked the timber industry, he said.
The planning commission will consider verbal and written testimony as they review the plan and decide whether to recommend changes. The plan will ultimately come before the county commissioners for approval, currently slated for November.
Many asked the county to extend the comment period, which currently expires on Sept. 3. The planning commission recommended extending the deadline to Sept. 19. Interim Planning Director Angie Hubbard will consult with the county commissioners before announcing a new date.