County boosts wetland buffers

Responding to a scolding from the state, Island County gave wetlands more protection last week, at least for now.

An interim amendment that increases the buffer for wetlands from 25 to 50 feet in all developmental zones met with the approval of the Island County Board of Commissioners last week, bringing the county into compliance with a series of critical areas findings by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.

Previously, the county's comprehensive land use plan set a 50 foot buffer for wetlands only in the rural zones. Buffers in all other zones were pegged at 25 feet for Category B wetlands. But since finding fault with the buffer size in June 1999, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board has pressured the county to increase the size of that buffer. Though the county has lodged an appeal of the hearings board's decision, it has been told to increase those buffers or, in the words of the hearings board commissioners, "analyze the adequacy of its other provisions to protect wildlife functions in those zones."

Commissioners passed the interim amendment specifically to fall in line with two compliance hearing orders, issued by the hearings board on June 2, 1999, and Nov. 17, 2000. The reason, stated in the county's Jan. 7 resolution, is to avoid any finding of invalidity and a recommendation of economic sanctions "during the pendency of the appeal."

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