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Group files new appeal over county comp plan

The fight isn't finished over Island County's Comprehensive Plan.

This week, environmental groups again challenged a handful of land-use and environmental regulations they deem inadequate in protecting the county from ecological spoilage and suburban sprawl.

Representatives of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network have decided to take their case to the state Court of Appeals after losing in Island County Superior Court in May. The current appeal, which is the same as WEAN's last appeal, involves the adequacy of existing stream buffers and Rural Densities zoning, which allows one residence per 5-acre parcel.

It is WEAN's contention that existing stream buffers of 50 feet and 75 feet for two categories of streams are inadequate to protect salmon. The organization also contends that current rural zoning will create too much density and sprawl as the county's population increases.

WEAN spokesman Steve Erickson said on Tuesday that he "Fed-Exed" the appeal that day, and expects a hearing sometime next spring. In the meantime, written legal arguments will be prepared by both sides.

Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell, who celebrated the May ruling as a victory for the county and its citizens, said he's not surprised by WEAN's appeal, though he thinks it's a "shame."

"I feel bad that we keep having to spend county taxpayer dollars because one person refuses to compromise anywhere," McDowell said of Erickson. "He's been that way throughout the whole process."

Erickson said he is looking forward to taking WEAN's case to the the state court. He said the May ruling in favor of the county by visiting Whatcom County Judge David Nichols "didn't follow adequate case law."

Nichols' ruling on May 23 denied WEAN's appeals of existing Type 3 and 4 stream buffers as inadequate to protecting wildlife, as well their appeal of rural densities zoning. The judge upheld an earlier decision by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearing Board, saying the county was not wrong "in choosing to adopt alternative regulations to protect rural character rather then down-sizing additional lands in the rural area."

Erickson said WEAN is appealing each of Nichols' decisions.

"We thought all of them were flawed," he said. "What's really at stake here is whether Whidbey and Camano are going to be just another suburban blob."

McDowell said WEAN's new appeal will be a "tough sell" at this point in time, with the comprehensive plan already having gone through two rounds of appeals to no avail.

He also said Erickson and WEAN are alone among local conservationists opposing the existing regulations in the comp plan.

"Other environmentally concerned groups down there agree with us and the hearings board," he said.

Erickson said members of WEAN took some time to arrive at the decision to file yet another appeal, considering the cost, time and effort involved with such a move.

"We're already pretty deep in the hole," he said, "but we've been there before."

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