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County commissioners set deadlines for farmers

Farmers will have 18 months to complete custom farm plans after Island County adopts new rules that regulate agriculture activities near environmentally sensitive spots.

Island County Commissioners unanimously approved a set of deadlines for farmers Monday as they adopted amendments to the county’s controversial new farm regulations.

The entire package of recommendations is expected to be adopted by the county commissioners on April 24.

Under the new regulations, all farmers will have to complete farm plans; landowners with agriculture operations that have been defined as “medium” or “high intensity” must complete custom plans.

Though more than a hundred farmers over the last five years have completed farm plans voluntarily with the Island County Conservation District, many other farmers remain opposed to being required to complete farm plans. Increased regulations, some say, will drive farmers out of business.

That opposition continued during a public hearing Monday.

“Farm plans across the board are wrong and unnecessary,” said Roger Nelson of Camano Island.

“I think it’s a huge intrusion,” he said.

Under the new rules, farmers will have six months to complete a questionnaire that will state when they started farming, where they are farming, and how their agriculture operation will be classified and regulated.

Farmers will then have two years to start using “best management practices” that would help protect critical areas.

Critical areas are environmentally sensitive spots, such as land that contains streams, wetlands and steep slopes. The county is under a court order to rewrite the rules because the current regulations do not comply with the Growth Management Act, the sweeping state law adopted more than a decade ago to protect farms and forest from urban sprawl.

At the hearing, Marianne Edain of the Whidbey Environmental Action Network asked how the county would make sure that farmers are providing truthful answers in their surveys.

And Steve Erickson, also of WEAN, said the new rules still run counter to the dictate of an earlier court ruling on the size of buffers that would protect critical areas.

“I’m amazed we’re still here arguing about stream buffers,” Erickson said.

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