VIEWPOINT | Commissioners need to finish their homework

By STEVE ERICKSON

Like Charlie Brown in the 1959 hit song, our county commissioners were crying “Why is everybody always picking on me?” in viewpoints that ran in the South Whidbey Record and Whidbey News-Times on July 27.

It’s the meanies at the Whidbey Environmental Action Network. Once again we are forcing the commissioners to finish their homework, and this time actually get a passing grade.

The homework was originally due by December 2005, which is when the Growth Management Act required counties to have their wildlife habitat protections updated. Island County didn’t get theirs done. So every year WEAN asked “Is your homework done?” And every year the answer has been “Later.”

Finally, in 2012, WEAN went to the Growth Management Hearings Board, and since the county has always been a bit of a slow student, the board gave them one and a half years to finish their homework, even though the law sets a standard limit of six months.

Unfortunately, it became clear really fast that the consultants the county hired were directed not to protect the habitat of rare native plants. They even tried to ax the minimal protections adopted in 1998, but backed down when some normally timid state agencies objected.

But, surely the commissioners want to protect native plants so rare that they are endangered or threatened with extinction in Washington? After all, as they said in their viewpoint, “Environmental considerations are always at the forefront of our choices.” Actually… no.

And with well over 90 percent of the original native prairies in Western Washington and Whidbey Island destroyed, you might think that the county commissioners would want to protect the last remaining fragments of these rare habitats. Again… no.

And somehow the consultants hired by the county managed to overlook the Western Toad. Anyone can go to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website and find that the Western Toad is a candidate for listing as endangered or threatened. And with only three locations known on Whidbey, maybe it should be protected?  Well… no.

WEAN appealed. And, as usual, the Growth Management Hearings Board ruled in WEAN’s favor. That meant that the commissioners not only had to finally finish and hand in their homework, but also get a passing grade from the board.

The hearings board even gave the county another year to do their homework. (Where were these guys when I was in school!) And now the year is up. And what has the County done? Protected the habitat of listed rare plants? Uh… no.

To be fair, they did designate some prairie remnants for protection, but oops, they forgot to define them. That’s right, they didn’t define just what it was that they were protecting, making the regulations unworkable and, if they were actually enforced, arbitrary and capricious. This should make every property rights activist in the county jump up and yell.

And what about the Western Toad? The commissioners ostensibly protected one of its three known locations, but only where it breeds, not the uplands where the species spends most of its life.

In fact, the commissioners say that this species is known from so few locations that they can’t tell if it is rare. No, we’re not making that up.

So on August 25, WEAN and the county will again face off in front of the Growth Management Hearings Board. And as it has before, we expect the hearings board to again tell the county commissioners that it won’t accept either an incomplete or an “F” on their homework. The people of this county shouldn’t either.

It’s time for the commissioners to not only finish their homework but, considering that they‘ve had 11 years to work on it, do it well enough to get an “A” – or at least a passing grade.

 

Editor’s note: Steve Erickson is the litigation coordinator for the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, an advocacy group for the restoration and preservation of the native biological diversity of Whidbey Island and the Pacific Northwest.