By Don Nelson
The important stuff is hard, time-consuming, often boring. It requires concentration and commitment, patience and endurance.
The seemingly endless process of updating the Okanogan County Comprehensive Plan — called the “comp plan” for so long that it’s part of local jargon — is one of the most important things we should be aware of as Methow Valley residents. Awareness isn’t enough, however. Participation is necessary if we want to preserve what’s special about the Methow.
That’s the hard part. The plan is complex, wonky, covers a lot of territory (literally all of Okanogan County, Washington’s largest) and will always be controversial, no matter what. Years of developing and refining the plan won’t achieve total consensus. There are just too many details to disagree on.
Over the years, a lot of people have been involved in drafting (and redrafting, etc., etc.) the comp plan — the county planning staff, planning commission and board of commissioners primarily, but also citizen observers who follow the process closely. Their input and continuous pressure to refine the plan have been invaluable. That’s the time-consuming part, and those volunteers aren’t being paid for that time.
The cast is ever changing as county officials and interested residents come and go. But the fundamental questions remain consistent over the years. As reporter Marcy Stamper notes in her story this week about a public hearing on the newest draft, the comp plan is indeed comprehensive. Ultimately, it will have some effect on all Methow Valley and Okanogan County residents.
Marcy has been covering the progress, if it can be called that, of the comp plan for years, through all its iterations, stops and starts, lawsuits and hearings. Whatever understanding I have of the comp plan, after nearly 10 years of editing stories about it, comes from her reporting. That’s because we believe Methow Valley residents have so much at stake. No matter how much ink we give the comp plan, there’s usually someone who thinks it’s not enough.
As Marcy wrote, “The updated plan and environmental impact statement are the culmination of six years of work after the county’s last comp plan, adopted in 2014, was successfully challenged in court for not adequately addressing water quality and quantity, wildfire risk, and agriculture.”
Six years later, the plan is two years behind its promised delivery date. And we’re not done yet. More hearings remain, starting next week, which means more opportunities to comment, ask questions and possibly make a difference.
Of special interest to local residents is that the plan designates contains two sub-area plans with unique guidelines — one for the upper Methow Valley, and one for the Methow Valley as far south as Gold Creek. The plan provides for that kind of fine-tuning to acknowledge regional differences with vast Okanogan County. “This plan supports the opportunity for the residents of geographically and culturally distinct areas to develop sub-area plans that reflect their community values,” according to the draft document’s vision statement. If you live in Oroville, you probably want something different from the plan than if you live in Mazama.
The comp plan is broad strokes, but it has implications for nitty gritty decision-making down to the single-lot level. The plan is the basis for more-detailed land-use planning policies and zoning codes, which are also subject to public review.
See Marcy’s story in this week’s paper for information about how to participate in next week’s planning commission hearing. If you’re familiar with the plan, you’re ahead of many of your neighbors. If you’re not as knowledgeable, now’s the time to get up to speed.
A friend who read last week’s paper commented on a story about the Winthrop Balloon Roundup scheduled for this weekend: “Now there’s some news — an event that’s not canceled.”
Point taken. As we plow through dirty slush into the low-key “shoulder season,” we’re all curious about what major local events might spring back to life under COVID protocols that are sure to be in place even as we gain more control over the pandemic (and let’s hope we do).
We’re going to be exploring that question over the next few weeks to report, as best we can, what to expect through the summer and into fall. If intent were the only factor, we’d be looking forward to a full schedule of activities and events. But organizers who must plan months in advance are still facing uncertainties about what’s possible or practical.
We’ll take it as a promising sign of impending spring that Liberty Bell High School athletes are finally getting opportunities to compete — even if they have to spend most of their time on the road. As for spectating — well, that will have to wait.