A battle of the special interests

Editorial Gary MugOkanogan County has been without a current Comprehensive Plan for a long time, the latest plan dates back to 1964. Although there’s a large faction that would like to see things return to what were surely simpler times, we need a new Comprehensive Plan to see us into the future. While resources – timber, agriculture, mining, remain a big part of our economy, other things are starting to become part of the mix. Things like recreation and tourism – in 1964 we were more geared to slogans like “Visit the Sunny Okanogan.” We’re still the Sunny Okanogan, but how we invite people here now is like comparing the rotary phones of 1964 to today’s smart phones. Many of those we invite now decide they want to stay. To accommodate them we have things like high speed internet allowing people to do their jobs from hundreds of miles away from the office– why wouldn’t they want to live here while doing them?

These new citizens often have different ideas about the way things should be. They aren’t thinking in terms of mining, timber and cattle, or even llamas. And while a faction would like to see us return to 1964, even 1894, or at least they think they would, our world keeps on changing and we need to have a plan in place that will help us see our way through this century, not the last.

That’s what all the regional meetings throughout the county were supposed to be about. They were supposed to be a way to find out just what should be included in the new Comprehensive Plan by listing to everyone’s ideas. The Gazette-Tribune covered several of the meetings that were in our area, but all that work was thrown out. Some were claiming the plan taking shape was being swayed by the special interests. Of course it was special interests, albeit other factions, who said what was being formed wouldn’t work for our county. They volunteered to rewrite the plan to their own interests and basically that’s what we got.

However, another set of special interests, in the form of the Methow Valley Citizens’ Council and Futurewise are appealing one of the county’s decision regarding the newest draft of the plan and the related term “Interim” Zoning Ordinance. The county says the plan does not require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). These groups say to adequately inform decision-makers and the public of resulting impacts to the environment an EIS needs to be done.

Before we wrote about these groups’ appeal in last week’s paper we asked County Commissioner Jim Detro for a comment, but it was close to deadline and he just missed getting back to us in time. He has since, but unfortunately he’s not allowed to say much. He said that although the Comp Plan is a legislative matter, the appeal is brought by individual parties which moves it into the quasi-judicial format. As such he could offer no comment other than acknowledgement of the appeal and that a hearing will be set at a future date to consider it.

Special interest groups have their place, whether it be the Okanogan County Farm Bureau or the Methow Valley Citizens’ Council – we all have our own special interests. However, any new Comprehensive Plan can’t be only one thing, just like no one of these groups, not one person is all one thing. Any plan has to represent all the county’s citizens. So that means no one is ever going to be fully satisfied. Like their predecessors I do not envy the commissioners’ position when it comes to trying to satisfy everyone with a new Comp Plan, nor do I envy Planning Director Huston. However, whatever the final decision, the plan cannot be geared to just one group – it must take into account that we are a different county than we were forty years ago and probably will be in another 10 years. Hopefully by then we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of our Comprehensive Plan, not it’s 50th.