"Freeland should control its destiny The Freeland Exxon controversy should serve as a lesson to the community no matter what side you are on -- planning is best done at the local level, which is also where the authority should lie.Island County Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink ruled last week that the Exxon complex can proceed on a disputed piece of property at Fish Road and Highway 525. Opponents who maintain it's a wetland are studying whether to embark on the expensive appeal process. None of this would have happened, however, if the zoning of the property had been done at the local level.Freeland has been a town for years but has refused to accept the responsibility that goes with it. Thus planning has been done at the county level. Few Freeland residents knew the Exxon property was zoned commercial. This was done on the advice of the nine-member Planning Commission, which at the time may or may not have included one member from Freeland. Fewer residents yet were aware that the gas station complex was being proposed for the site. This all went through the process at the county seat 25 miles away, where projects can proceed for months in the pre-application stage before the public is notified.Contrast this muddled situation to how the process should have worked. The initial zoning would have been determined by Freeland residents. The Exxon proposal would have been screened by Freeland officials. The official application would have handled through a public process entirely conducted in Freeland. There would have been plenty of opportunity for public input at the earliest stages.Freeland volunteers are presently working hard on a county-supported planning effort. They are doing their own Freeland plan, which may ultimately led to a Freeland advisory board to the Island County Board of Commissioners.But is this enough? Do Freeland residents really want all their effort put into a plan that the ultimately can't control? It's time for Freeland resident to take another look at becoming a city. The county's planning process will likely result in residents bearing much of the cost of cityhood but receiving none of the benefits. If Freeland residents refuse to control their own destiny, they can expect more Exxon controversies in the future.There is an important planning meeting in Freeland this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church. One important question that should be asked is, If we're doing all this planning work, and if we'll be paying for all these infrastructure improvements, then why not just become a city? "

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