Groups suing county over Comp Plan

TWISP – The Methow Valley Citizens’ Council (MVCC) and Futurewise have filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against Okanogan County, challenging its recent adoption of a Comprehensive Plan, the associated Interim Zoning, and Determination of Non-Significance under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) for the Plan and Zoning.

According to the 21-page lawsuit filed with the court clerk on Friday, Jan. 9, the plaintiffs are asking the court to rule that the Comprehensive Plan, approved by the Okanogan County Commissioners on Dec. 22, 2014 is “invalid and in violation of the requirements of the Planning Enabling Act (chapter 36.70 RCW), the Growth Management Act (chapter 36.70A RCW), the State Environmental Policy Act (chapter 43.21C RCW) and its implementing regulations, and other applicable provisions of state law.”

They say the lawsuit comes after years of debate and citizen participation, and adoption of all documents by the County Commissioners. The Citizens’ Council says it is taking this action now even though the county will hold a belated public hearing on Feb. 2. The hearing has been scheduled so the county commissioners can take oral testimony on the Comprehensive Plan, which the groups say they failed to do in error on Dec 22, and now wish to correct.

“Since the county Commissioners have not responded to input from concerned citizens in the past, we expect that this hearing will be pro forma and result in no changes,” said the groups in a recent press release. “From MVCC’s perspective, the plan is Comprehensive in name only.”

From their release:

First, it fails to meet state law by not providing for the protection of water quality and quantity or taking water availability into account when setting the allowed densities.

Second, the law requires that the county designate Resource Lands best suited to forestry, agriculture, and mining. Yet the plan designates only public lands as resource lands; it fails to designate any private lands that are currently used for, or best suited for, agriculture.

Third, the plan ignores the lessons learned from the record 2014 wildfires and floods. The county made no changes to the plan after the fires and mudslides, failing to reconsider land use and zoning in flood-prone areas, the water needed for future firefighting and fire prevention, or whether some roads are adequate for emergency egress during fires, given the allowed densities.

They add that the county’s analysis of the plan’s likely environmental impacts under SEPA also fails to take limited water supply, increased fires, or increased flooding and slides into account and is equally flawed. We are asking the court to direct Okanogan County to correct these deficiencies and to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Perhaps the most significant result of an EIS

would be to demonstrate the obvious water supply deficit, compelling the county to either improve the plan or acknowledge that it is adopting a plan that is doomed to failure.

‘“First come, first served” for limited water is not a plan for the future. Unfortunately, county officials acknowledge that this is how the county’s water supply would be allocated under this so-called “Plan,”’ said Phil Millam, a board member with the MVCC and former director of the EPA’s water program, through the federal agencies Seattle office.