Two days left to comment on EIS
There’s still time to comment on the potential environmental impacts of the county’s comprehensive plan, which will guide development and land use in the Methow Valley and across the county for the next 20 years.
The public has one more opportunity to weigh in. Comments on the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) are due on Friday (Dec. 10).
An EIS lays out key details to help the public and decision makers – the county commissioners – make an informed decision about whether the principles in the comp plan will produce the lifestyle, landscape and economy desired by county residents.
The comp plan sets out the county’s vision. Other ordinances, including the zoning code and documents that protect critical areas and rivers, lakes and shorelines, put those principles into effect on the ground.
The county’s current comp plan was adopted in 2014 and was almost immediately challenged in court by conservation groups and the Yakama Nation. In separate lawsuits, the plaintiffs alleged that the plan didn’t do enough to protect water quality and quantity. The conservation groups, the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) and Futurewise, also said the plan didn’t protect county residents from the risk of wildfire nor adequately conserve agricultural and forest lands.
Now, after years of revisions and public input, the county commissioners are poised to adopt a new plan. An agreement reached in court in the Yakama case commits the county to adopting a new plan by the end of the year, according to Okanogan County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Gecas.
The county missed an earlier deadline to sign off on an updated plan with MVCC and Futurewise. The two groups are tracking the progress of the plan but aren’t part of the current court stipulation, Gecas said.
The DEIS describes four alternative approaches considered for the plan. The alternawtives include the “no-action” alternative, which keeps the 2014 comp plan as is. Alternative 4 was proposed by MVCC.
After making a slight modification, the county’s planning commission recommended alternative 3 in March. That alternative directs most growth to towns and cities and their expansion areas, whereas the county’s existing plan anticipates more growth in rural areas.
Alternative 3 uses larger lot sizes to avoid conflict with agriculture and to minimize wildfire risk to residences. And it says the availability of water should help guide growth.
Compared to the existing comp plan, the new plan and alternative 3 will reduce impacts on water supplies, since new growth will be served more by municipal water and sewer systems, according to the county’s analysis.
Alternative 3 could also reduce wildfire risk by discouraging additional development in far-flung rural areas that would be harder for emergency services to reach. It would require fewer upgrades to primitive roads.
Alternative 3 increases the amount of land designated for agriculture. It encourages larger lot sizes to avoid conflicts between residential and agricultural uses and to minimize risk to residential structures from wildfire.
The DEIS notes that water is likely to become more scarce because of climate change.
Only alternative 4 included provisions intended to preserve air quality, such as encouraging use of cleaner heat sources.
Read the comp plan and environmental analysis
The plan, DEIS and maps are on the Planning Department website at www.okanogancounty.org/government/planning/index. Go to “Projects & Plans” in the blue bar at the left, then click on “Comprehensive Plan Update.” The documents are in the gray bar at the bottom of the page.
Send comments on the DEIS to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday (Dec. 10).