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WEAN takes comp plan appeal to a higher court

Like the Energizer bunny, the legal battle over Island County's comprehensive plan just keeps going and going and going.

This time it's going the Washington State Court of Appeals where lawyers representing Island County and members of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network presented their arguments in a hearing last Thursday.

At issue are several matters that WEAN and county officials have been trying to sort out for years.

WEAN is contending that stream buffer zones currently required by the county's comp plan are inadequate and that current rural zoning densities will create sprawl. WEAN also takes issue with conditional exemptions for existing and ongoing agriculture.

The group's complaints were ruled without merit in Island County Superior Court last year. Island County is hoping for a similar outcome in the state appeals court.

"With luck, we will be found in compliance," Arne Denny, Island County deputy prosecutor, said last week.

He added that he hopes the court would provide direction to avoid any lengthy legal battles on this issue in the future.

Steve Erickson, WEAN's co-founder, said the stream buffers provided under the county comp plan aren't large enough to protect wildlife. He would like to see buffers for all streams be 100 feet wide. Currently buffers vary depending on the size of the stream.

Precedent, however, may be against WEAN. Last June, a judge brought in from Whatcom County Superior Court ruled in favor of Island County. But Erickson contends that the Whatcom judge didn't follow case law in making his decision, which prompted the appeal of that ruling by WEAN.

Officials have been hashing out specifics of the comprehensive plan ever since it was adopted in 1998.

Neither Erickson nor Denny would hazard a guess about the appeals court's decision. Each said it depends on what the court thinks is important.

It takes the appeals court between three and six months to make a decision.

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