Thursday, June 21, 2007

Planners tour wetlands before vote

The following article was published in the June 21, 2007 Jefferson County edition of the Peninsula Daily News.

Planners tour wetlands before vote

By Evan Cael
Peninsula Daily News

CHIMACUMBefore Jefferson County Planning Commission members issue a recommendation for wetlands buffer zones, they want to see what they are talking about.

So, on Wednesday, they donned rubber boots for a field trip to view some fo the county's streams and wetlands.

The nine members of the Planning Commission were joined by Department of Community Development staff and members of a critical area ordinance advisory committee.

The advisory committee has issued its proposals for revisions the county's critical areas ordinance, which include recommendations for buffers around wetlands.

The Planning Commission is considering those recommendations.

It has until Aug. 22 to decide on its recommendation to the three county commissioners, who will make the final decision by Oct. 15.

The ordinance is meant to protect streams, wetlands and wildlife habitats through setting up buffer zones between the critical environmental area and dvelopment.

The first stop on the field trip was a wetland on Port of Port Townsend land near Jefferson County International Airport.

Next, the group of about 20 headed to H.J. Carroll Park in Chimacum to look at Chimacum Creek, which runs through a wooded area of the park.

Community Development staff had positioned wooden stakes in the ground at various locations near the creek to show differing buffer width recommendations.

One stake was positioned 90 feet from the creek, representing the critical area ordinance committee majority opinion.

Another stake was at the 100-foot mark, representing the committee minority recommendation.

Committee member Jill Silver — who has spearheaded the minority opinion — announced during the field trip that, after consulting with her "constituents," she was changing the minority recommendation to 150-foot buffers for streams smiliar to Chimacum Creek.

When fellow committee member Norm MacLeod asked Silver who her contituents are, she replied, "Norm, that's not your business."

A third stake was stuck in the ground 150 feet from the creek bank, reperesenting the current requirement in the Jefferson County critical areas ordinance.

That is the buffer width included in a revision to the ordinance that was drafted May 17, 2006.

The revision came about through an agreement between Jefferson County and the Seattle-based Washington Environmental Council.

The revision has sparked controversy in Jefferson County over wetlands buffer widths.

The Planning Commission plans to have public hearings on the proposed ordinance before it makes its recommendation.

Public outcry

The May 17 draft update to the ordinance was met with public outcry.

That lead to an extension of the agreement terms and the formation of an 18-member Planning Commission committee — coined the crtical areas ordinance committee and citizen advisory group — that met weekly from August to April to deliberate possible revisions of the county's critical areas ordinance.

The committee presented a majority view to the Planning Commission outlining buffer widths between 7.5 feet and 180 feet and a minority view included buffers between 25 feet and 300 feet.

The Planning Commission also recently heard a presentation from state Department of Ecology representatives who also recommended buffer widths that fall between 25 and 300 feet.

Reporter Evan Cael can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Friday, June 01, 2007

Wetland buffers defended

The following article appeared in the June 1, 2007 Jefferson County edition of the Peninsula Daily News.

Wetland buffers defended
Ecology specialist outlines how much perimeter state wants

By Evan Cael

Peninsula Daily News

PORT HADLOCKRepresentatives from the state Department of Ecology laid out the agency's policy protecting critical wetlands at Wednesday's Jefferson County Planning Commission meeting.

"Buffering is necessary," said RIck Mraz, Ecology wetlands and shoreline specialist.

He spoke to the nine planning commissioners and an audience of 60 at the Washington State University Learning Center in Port Hadlock.

Few have debated that point since a controversy ballooned last June over the increased buffer widths in a proposed critical areas ordinance.

The question that has been ringing repeatedly and loudly ever since remained the same Wednesday night:

What is the necessary buffer width to protect water quality and wildlife habitats?

Ecology's policy is that between 25 feet and 300 feet of buffer is necessary, depending on the type of wetalnd and activity adjacent to it.

Agreeing with that policy are three citizens on an 18-member critical area ordinance committee that was formed last August to recommend revisions.

An opposing opinion is held by the remaining citizens on the critical areas ordinance committee — spearheaded by Kenneth Brooks, a wetlands scientist who is also a committee member.

They believe the buffer widths should fall between 7.5 feet and 180 feet, with a voluntary additional buffer width for wildlife habitats.

But althought only part of Brooks' recommendations involve voluntary buffers, Mraz said, "Voluntary measures do not adequately address all types of development impacts.

"Prescriptive requirements are sometimes necessary."

Of Ecology's recommendations, "We're giving up some of the simplicity and offering flexibility," Mraz said.

Throughout the question and answer period in which only planning commissioners coupld pose inquiries, Mraz repeatedly said that Ecology's recommendations have not incorporated Jefferson County's unique geological and topographical characteristics.

During the public comment period, Jim Hagen, former Planning Commission chairman and critical areas ordinance subcommittee member said, "I'm leery of regulations that have nothing to do with our area."

But some audience members did agree with Mraz.

Jefferson County resident Frank Hoffman said, "I think a lot of what you said is common sense."

Reporter Evan Cael can be reached at 360-385-2335 or