Logger, county, WEAN in legal battle

A logger is again challenging Island County over its forestry regulations, and a local activist group is again trying to push back.

Snohomish County logger J&D Builders Profit Sharing Plan and Trust filed an appeal in late March to Island County Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink over the county’s decision to deny a clearing and grading permit.

The denial cited sections of the county’s critical area ordinance.

The Whidbey Environmental Action Network made a motion to intervene on the county’s behalf, which the county objected to. The hearing examiner accepted the request last Friday.

The appeal focuses on parts of the ordinance that state if a property is cleared under a non-conversion logging permit and then developed, then the whole parcel must be mitigated. This means if 20 acres of land are clear cut and one acre is developed, the entire 20 acres must be mitigated to protect critical areas like wetlands.

The environmental group advocated for this clarification language in a settlement it reached with the county after the ordinance was adopted.

“This is going to set a precedent for how this law in interpreted throughout the county,” said Steve Erikson of WEAN. “(The appeal) is really pretty much a direct attack on it.”

In its motion to intervene, the group states that the logger’s denied permit marks the first time the code language was invoked and if the appeal were successful, it would “nullify” the settlement.

Island County objected to the intervention on its behalf, claiming the group was not adversely affected by the decision.

“It should not be given a forum to attempt to influence the hearing examiner’s decision when it has not been injured by the county action being appealed,” the county’s response states.

In his response, Bobbink said he had already reviewed materials provided by the group and the submissions are part of the record.

“In that sense WEAN has already intervened,” the hearing examiner wrote.

In its appeal, the logger contends the language in the code is inconsistent with the land’s zoning designation of rural forest and “unnecessarily interferes with the planned and ongoing commercial timber activity on the parcel.”

The land was cleared under a non-conversion permit issued by the state Department of Natural Resources, which requires a six-year moratorium on development. However, counties are mandated to have a process to consider lifting the moratorium and review proposed developments, even if they are submitted before the six years are up.

The appeal states that one acre out of 15 on the parcel on Cultus Bay Road was proposed for development and the rest would remain commercial timber land.

J&D had filed another appeal to the Growth Management Hearings Board over the county’s conversion regulations; In late January, the logger dropped the appeal.

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