MVCC, Futurewise prevail in challenge
The Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) and Futurewise can make their case in court that the comprehensive plan adopted by the Okanogan County commissioners at the end of 2021 doesn’t adequately protect water resources and farmland.
Okanogan County Superior Court Commissioner Robert Colbert issued a brief order in the case on April 27, following oral arguments at the end of March.
Okanogan County had sought to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that that it had been filed too late to meet the deadline and that the plaintiffs lack standing to sue because they had provided only “vague, speculative allegations of harm,” which were not sufficient to demonstrate any injury as a result of the comp plan.
But Colbert said that the plaintiffs had filed the case in time and dismissed that part of the county’s argument. He also agreed with the conservation groups that they have standing to file, because MVCC and Futurewise members could be adversely affected by the comp plan and its effects on water.
MVCC/Futurewise attorney Tim Trohimovich argued that the comp plan would have negative impacts on drinking water, on fish and wildlife habitat, and on agricultural land because water supplies are so limited in the county. The conservation groups also said the plan didn’t adequately protect against wildfire risk. All those issues affect the groups’ members, Trohimovich said.
MVCC and Futurewise had argued that there were four legal grounds for bringing the case, but after the county moved to dismiss all of them, the plaintiffs agreed to pursue only two, Trohimovich told the Methow Valley News. Colbert dismissed the other two grounds, in favor of the county, in his order.
The main issues that need to be addressed are water availability, the designation of areas in the county suitable for denser development, and designation of commercially significant agricultural land, Trohimovich said.
MVCC and Futurewise are hoping the county will make changes to the plan that will allow them to dismiss the lawsuit entirely, Trohimovich said.
MVCC and Futurewise filed the lawsuit on March 1. The two groups sued the county in 2015 over the previous version of the comp plan, making many of the same arguments. The current plan addresses some of those concerns, but the plan still needs revisions to comply with state law, MVCC Program Director Lorah Super said.
The comp plan is the philosophical underpinning for the county’s approach to land use and growth. Regulations such as the zoning code are based on the comp plan.
A 2017 agreement in Okanogan County Superior Court committed the county commissioners to reviewing the comp plan and zoning code, taking these issues into account, and to adopting a new plan by the end of 2018. Although the county missed that deadline, they were working on the plan and the plaintiffs didn’t hold them to the date, Trohimovich said.
“Regardless of where the legal course of action takes us, we hope to arrive at a solution that benefits our members, residents and property owners of Okanogan county and protects ecosystems and the natural environment,” MVCC said in a statement about the lawsuit.
“We’re optimistic — we’d like to reach an agreement that would allow us to dismiss the lawsuit,” Trohimovich said.
Okanogan County is reviewing the commissioner’s ruling and hasn’t made any decisions regarding appeal, Okanogan County Prosecutor Albert Lin said.