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Green groups join other side of lawsuit
"Island County environmental groups have taken the other side in a legal dispute joined by Island County government in January.The issue is new shoreline development regulations adopted by the state Department of Ecology. In January, Island County signed on to a lawsuit filed by a group of developers and business, as well as some 30 counties throughout the state.This week, the Washington Environmental Council filed an intervention in support of the new shoreline protection rules. The council included three groups based on Whidbey Island: Citizens for Sensible Development, the Citizen's Growth Management Coalition, and the Island County Chapter of Conservation Voters.In January, Bill Thorn, chairman of the Island County Board of Commissioners, explained that the county's interest in the lawsuit as purely financial. It didn't cost anything to lend the county's name to the effort, and the county is only interested in receiving state funding to help impose the new state-mandated regulations.Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton on Wednesday reiterated the county's rationale, saying that all three commissioners are concerned about the state's unfunded mandate.Shelton said Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke was directed to estimate the cost of implementing the new shoreline rules, and produced the figure of $948,000. That's higher than other counties have projected, Shelton said. But given our Growth Management (Act) exercise that's not inflated at all. Nor does the figure include any costs for fighting appeals to the regulations, which is one reason why the county's GMA planning bill rang up in the millions of dollars.Shelton said the county would not have joined the lawsuit purely to overturn the new shoreline regulations, although he himself has some concerns about how they impact homeowners. The new regulations supposedly are about salmon recovery, but will they do $950,000 worth of good? He answered his own question by saying that the county has already afforded that salmon habitat protection during the GMA process, and with the nearly-completed update of its own shoreline regulations.Shelton admits that critics are already saying the commissioners are in bed with business, but he said that's not the reason the county entered the lawsuit. The suit is bankrolled by the Association of Washington Business.One of Island County's leading environmental spokesmen, John Graham, isn't questioning the county's motives. We're lending moral support to the Department of Ecology, Graham said Thursday. It's not meant as an antagonistic move on the county. We're making sure we have a place at the table. Graham is president of Citizens for Sensible Development and a founder of the Growth Management Coalition, whose president is Tom Fisher.Graham does doubt the county's cost estimate for complying with the new regulations, however. He called for all parties to reach a consensus through a broad-based committee, as was successfully done during the GMA process on some touchy agricultural lands issues. Let's figure this out so it's not endlessly appealed, he said.Graham expressed sympathy for the county commissioners' unfunded mandate argument. The county's been hit very hard (financially), he said.Shelton serves as president of the Association of Washington Counties, and has testified in Olympia this year about the need to fund the process of implementing the new shoreline regulations. But due to political squabbling, he said, he sees little chance of the counties getting the money they need this session.If the state mandate isn't funded, the county will hope that the lawsuit succeeds. Otherwise, the commissioners will have to find $948,000 somewhere over the next two years. The present regulations require the changes be adopted by November 2002. Shelton and Graham agree that a longer timeline is needed.If nothing changes, the county is looking at a big financial problem with resources already tight due to the impact of Initiative 695 on local governments. I don't have the slightest clue where the moneys are going to come from, Shelton said. Sometimes I lose sleep over this stuff. "