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Maxwelton Farm lawsuit resolution sought

Island County Planning Director David Wechner said the county is working with Maxwelton Farm operators to find a resolution to a lawsuit they filed against the county in September.

Maxwelton Farm claimed in the land use petition that Wechner acted outside his scope of authority by issuing a cease-and-desist order Aug. 30 for irrigation maintenance at the farm.

“We met with the owner and their attorney yesterday — they just need to identify best management practices that will be employed during maintenance activities,” Wechner said in an emailed statement last week. “The cease-and-desist order has been withdrawn as the dredging activity stopped.”

He had ordered them to stop work on water-filled agricultural ditches “as a result of agricultural ditch maintenance without a SEPA environmental checklist,” according to court documents.

The State Environmental Policy Act or SEPA asks project managers to complete an environmental checklist which asks questions about the potential environmental impacts to the air, animals, earth, land use, utilities, wetlands, groundwater and other considerations.

Maxwelton Farm and its predecessors have operated a farm at the site for more than 50 years, according to the court documents, and therefore are governed by Island County’s old critical areas ordinances.

However, Wechner said that maintenance of irrigation and drainage facilities is exempt from the county’s critical areas ordinance provisions only if best management practices are employed.

The farm issued the following statement Tuesday through their attorney: “Maxwelton Farm looks forward to working with the department to resolve the issues that are of concern to both.”

Saying Wechner acted with a “lack of authority,” the court documents allege that, while Island County code allows the planning director to issue a cease-and-desist letter for continued violations, it does not authorize the planning director to issue a letter on grounds of a SEPA violation.

The land-use petition also claims that three representatives from the Island County planning department went onto the Maxwelton Farm property “without advance notice to or permission” after the Aug. 30 letter was sent, “apparently for purposes related to investigation and/or defense” of the letter.

According to the petition’s statement of facts, Maxwelton Farm’s facilities have long included a system of drainage ditches which feed into a main arterial ditch which then empties into Maxwelton Creek. This system has been separated from the creek with a tidal gate during the property’s entire span of farming.

Maxwelton Farm is asking a judge to reverse Wechner’s land-use decision and to refund the $1,802 administrative appeal fee paid by the farm.

 

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