The commissioners’ office has been a busy place. Over the years we have been “told” what to do by the agencies and tried to fight back the onslaught of regulations, agency policy and guidance. We wrote and adopted a resolution for coordinating with State Agencies. It is based on two principals in law. The first is that “State agencies shall comply with the local comprehensive plans and development regulations and amendments.” The second is State and local authorities insure that economic impacts and values be given appropriate consideration. We are currently using this to ensure that efforts by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) to increase the Selkirk elk herd are done without negatively affecting private property owners and our farmers and foresters. WDFW needs to spend the time and efforts to count the elk and assess the available habitat on public lands and plan accordingly. If more elk are wanted, and the commissioners support more elk hunting opportunities, this needs to be done by establishing appropriate winter habitat without harm to our local economy and in conjunction with County laws. This effort should help reduce the elk problems in the Chewelah area and beyond.
The County is also currently in the middle of two continuing challenges related to the Growth Management Act. The first is regarding open space corridors and the Kettle Falls and Loon Lake LAMIRDS (limited areas of more intense development). The planning department has had a series of workshops around the county this month with a Commissioner at each workshop to take public comment and answer questions. This process will continue taking formal comment and hearings with the planning commission and your commissioners over the next month or two. The second case deals with storm water runoff and impervious surfaces. Although the County has already dealt with these conditions in our Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), we are being ordered by the State hearings board to add additional conditions to our development regulations. We are the only county in the State that has been told to address this issue in this manner. We were also ordered to do a SEPA review on this issue even though it was never brought up before the Hearings Board. The County interprets the law on this action as categorically exempt and not brought up properly as an issue. Therefore, the County has decided to challenge this action to Superior Court. This is always a difficult decision as we are trying to save dollars, finish coming into compliance and not setting bad precedent for future actions both within the County and across the State. Your Commissioners and staff are committed to follow through with these issues to save money and come into compliance while protecting your rights.
We have also spent a considerable amount of time working with our legislators in protecting the revenue that comes to the County to accomplish items the State mandates the County to do. In all of the State proposed budgets,our revenues that pass through the State will be largely protected and if the Senate budget prevails many of these dollars will be given directly to the counties saving the State dollars while providing additional flexibility on how the dollars are spent. We also spent time helping to defeat a bill that would have cost the County over $150,000 to buy tarps to cover all sand and gravel trucks. This was a huge concern to us as we also wanted to protect the private mining and construction businesses in our County from this unnecessary regulation. Another item we helped stop is a latex paint recycling program that would have increased the cost of all paint products and put additional strain on County resources. The purpose of the bill was to allow home owners to take partial cans of paint back to the store to be disposed of rather than opening the can and letting the paint dry before disposal in the garbage. We believe that you are all capable of opening a can and letting it dry rather than increasing regulations and cost. The Commissioners also spent a considerable amount of time working to clarify by law your right to protect life, pets and property in the event of a wolf attack without the fear of going to jail. This may seem obvious to some that you do have the right to protect yourselves and property, but since the wolf is listed as a State endangered species the law gets a little confusing and we want clarity. We have also worked hard on your behalf to protect the economic base of the County and “spread the joy” of wolves to those on the other side of the State that want the wolves as long as they are not in their backyards. It is unacceptable to your County Commissioners to put the largest burden of the wolf population and the problems that occur with them on the backs of our County’s citizens. We are committed to continue working this issue to protect your safety and livelihoods.
A few other items your commissioners are working on are to renew the Loon Lake and Little Pend Oreille lake management districts to address milfoil, reinstituting “chipper days” in the Lake Spokane area to allow for disposal of pine needles and branches reducing fire hazards because of the areas inability to burn, follow the Dawn and Midnite Mine closures, the opening and expansion of mining activities in the Northport area, and address water quality issues throughout the County. This is of course in addition to overseeing wage negotiations, staff replacements, budget changes and all the normal operations within the County, but more on those issues later.
We appreciate all of the citizens who volunteer their time and efforts to help the County out on various issues by serving on committees. We have several openings and need your help. We have a need for Planning Commissioners, mainly in District 1 (south Stevens County), BOE or Board of Equalization members, Open Space Tax advisory members, Water Conservancy Board members and several others. If you are interested in serving in on one of these very important positions, please see the County website and click on “Citizen Participation” on the upper left hand side or call the office at 684-3751 for more information.
By Wes McCart, District No. 1 Commissioner