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Lots of heat on the SMP buffers in the Leader this week!

Boy, you’d think the Leader is trying to compete with this web site given the articles on the SMP, Black Point, Hastings Street Project, and others this week. Out of all the issues raised, the editorial by Fred Obee questioning the 150′ buffers raised in the SMP is an example of an idea that should have been discussed ages ago. Fred’s late entry into this issue requires a bit of comment. As some of you may know, I was one of about 20 or so people on the citizen’s policy advisory group in the early going of the SMP. Additionally, there was an additional 20 people on a technical advisory committee that ran in parallel to us, looking at issues that the scientists and professional policy makers in this project handle. These 40 or so people were primarily volunteers, people from all the different groups, real estate agents, home builders, geoduck farm owners, shoreline owners, a citizen at large, a representative of a shoreline environmental group, and more. Add to that the professional scientists that were paid as part of their jobs to be there and give guidance, and I think you have an good cross section, of the community and people who study the shore. I have the emails that were used by our committees to plan on discussing the buffers issue if anyone would like to see the kind of detail we went into on this issue.

Fred argues that we should have customized buffers for various projects and their needs. If only we had the money to do such a thing! While Fred’s idea is an ideal world, the real world of protecting the shoreline is one that needs to have a broader brush applied if we are not going to drive the costs even higher than they are. During a economic downturn, our county department of community development is already strapped to simply stay open, and laying off workers. During the economic boom, our regressive property tax system assures that values don’t keep in step with the actual property values, so we don’t collect enough taxes to actually staff the group appropriately for that boom time. I’m just now getting a huge increase in my property taxes, at a time when the value of my property, if I choose to sell it, is plunging. So getting appropriate, timely funding of DCD is always a problem.

Fred’s idea also doesn’t take into consideration what happens when ownership changes hands. The property owner today may be great on environmental protection, but the person who buys his land and trashes it next won’t be. That isn’t fantasy. There has been a number of streams, like Little Goose Creek, that have had problems with ownership changes that led to destruction of habitat and salmon runs in the county.

Which brings me to another issue, which is the lax enforcement, and even adversity to enforcement, shown by DCD. To assume that DCD will enforce these rules, given past behavior, is very optimistic, from my experience. This county generally works on a go along, get along basis, like lots of rural counties around the country. It is what it is. Heck, I’m a supporter of DCD and still think that this probably has to change to protect the shoreline from people who will manipulate the rules for their own ends.

If we want to do something that would really make things better for the folks of Jefferson county, it would be to rewrite the processes that DCD uses to streamline project approval. In the act, we could redo the web site to make it vastly more easy for citizens to understand what they can or can’t do, or need to appeal for the ability to do, and who they need to interact with. There are numerous excellent software packages that can be customized at relatively low price to accomplish this kind of process improvement. And new web site software that can accomplish this is usually very low priced and easy to use by non technical people. While the DCD SMP web site is comprehensive, it is very frustrating to use, and is a hodgepodge of versions, without a clear understanding of how to find what you are looking for.

Add to that the issue that we don’t particularly want to drive costs even higher for people trying to get a home built (which custom approvals would require), and the reality that shorelines fall into one of a few types of categories (bluffs for example, feed the raw materials that become sand washed up on beaches ‘downstream’), and I agree with the scientists that we don’t need to have an infinite set of beach criteria for making an assessment. Freedom from choices seems to be what most citizens want in their permitting process.

Yes Fred, it would be great if we could have infinitely tunable buffers, based on the best wishes of all, and real enforcement at the time of the infraction for those that don’t. Unfortunately, we have neither the money, nor the inclination in this county to do both. Let’s go with the best available science we have now, which is how we chose the buffers of the past, and get this done.

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