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Dearborn hits back at public meeting

Dr. Paul R. Adamus, an Oregon-based wetland scientist and wildlife biologist, will assist Island County in the update of the Critical Areas Ordinance. He was introduced Wednesday during an open house at the Front Room in Bayview.  <p> - Gayle Saran
Dr. Paul R. Adamus, an Oregon-based wetland scientist and wildlife biologist, will assist Island County in the update of the Critical Areas Ordinance. He was introduced Wednesday during an open house at the Front Room in Bayview.

— image credit: Gayle Saran

A public meeting held to introduce a wetland scientist to the public this week provided attorney Keith Dearborn the opportunity to scold the press and some unnamed opponents to the county’s environmental record.

Dearborn, who was hired recently to direct the review of Island County’s critical areas ordinance, said Wednesday that he resents recent attacks on his character in local newspapers and by some private individuals in the county.

“I knew I was going to take a trashing, but when a young member of my family was attacked verbally because of having my last name, that pushed me over the edge,” he told about 40 people gathered in a meeting room at the Bayview Cash Store that afternoon.

Island County paid Dearborn more than $1 million between 1997 and 2001 to assist in writing and to defend in court the county’s comprehensive land use plan. The county’s rehiring of Dearborn has prompted some sharp criticism. On Wednesday, he told the crowd at the cash store that he and his family have deep roots in the community and that he cares about Whidbey Island.

“I spent two years improving zoning regulations,” he said. “The idea that I would come back and destroy a program I helped put in place is nonsense. I pledge that any changes in regulations will benefit the people who live here and the environment.”

Dearborn said he has heard that some people believe he received kickbacks from the Board of Island County Commissioners, an idea he called “ridiculous.” Then, speaking about local environmentalists, Dearborn told those gathered Wednesday “your messengers have burned their bridges permanently, I think I am speaking for the county staff too.”

Several people commented after the meeting that they were shocked by Dearborn’s speech. Several said the statement may have been understandable, but was inappropriate given his role in the process.

Island County must review the critical areas ordinances this year and in 2012. To fulfill this requirement, the county hired Dr. Paul R. Adamus on a $70,000 consulting contract. Dearborn is overseeing the critical areas review for a fee of $351,000. County planning staff will be assisting Adamus collect data.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Adamus spoke for about 40 minutes, explaining his background and expertise and how the critical areas review will be done.

In doing his wetlands consulting work, Adamus said he won’t visit every wetland in the county; he expects to see enough of them to determine their overall status and make recommendations related to the critical areas ordinance. He said a major focus will be on the width of buffers, the size of wetlands, and the presence of non-native vegetation.

Wetlands on private property will not be visited without permission of the property owners.

“We are not looking at wetlands to point the finger of blame, only to see if the current policy working,” Adamus said.

After the meeting, Freeland resident Johnny Palka, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington, said he was impressed with the hiring Dr. Adamus.

“I was very impressed with what Dr. Adamus said, and he seems to have an understanding of the issues facing the county,” Palka said.

During the presentation, Steve Erickson, co-founder of Whidbey Environmental Action Network, asked whether the critical ordinance review would make additional allowances for development in Island County. Adamus said that is not in the scope of his work.

Adamus is a nationally known expert in wetland assessment. He is a wildlife scientist and aquatic biologist. He has worked on wetland review projects in Oregon, Alaska, Utah, Maine and Mill Creek, Wash. He holds a Ph.D. in wildlife science from Oregon State University.

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