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County's wetlands rules survive challenge

Island County's new regulations have survived a challenge by two environmental activist groups on Whidbey and Camano islands.

The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruled Monday that the county's rules to protect wetlands from development were adequate to protect wetlands from potential damage from development. The county board of commissioners unanimously adopted the new rules in March, and the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, WEAN, and Camano Action for a Rural Environment, CARE, had filed challenges to the regulations in May.

The two groups had claimed that the "buffers" — no-go areas that are off-limits to development — adopted in the

rules wold not protect wildlife habitat and conflicted with the state's Growth Management Act. The Growth Management Act requires counties and cities to adopt rules to protect "critical areas," lands that contain environmentally sensitive features such as wetlands, streams, steep slopes and other areas from the damage of development.

It it's decision, the hearings board repeatedly said WEAN did not prove its case, including claims that the county's buffers for forested wetlands violated state law or that the rules would not protect wetlands.

The board also noted that "relatively little clearing, filling and grading in or near the county's wetlands is occurring and that these activities are declining."

The decision was not a complete victory for Island County. The hearings board noted that a 25-percent limitation on buffer increases was made arbitrarily, and that requirements for rural stewardship plans lacked monitoring provisions. The board also said the county's definition of "reasonable use" of properties did not fit with state law because it was based on uses that are no longer consistent with the county's current zoning code.

Marianne Edain of WEAN told the News-Times the group will likely ask the board to reconsider the decision. WEAN has 10 days to ask the board to reconsider.

Final Decision and Order, Island County wetlands rules

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