By Janet Alderton
The Adopted CAO is Complex and Expensive by Design.
I have been a close observer of the Critical Areas Ordinance Update process. I agree with many others that the CAO recently adopted by our County Council is far too complicated. There are also misconceptions about the origins of this expensive and complex set of regulations.
The Department of Ecology did not micromanage the CAO Update process. Under the Growth Management Act each county in our state writes its own regulations. Under the leadership of County Councilor Richard Fralick a majority of the Council was persuaded that a CAO using site-specific buffers was the way to go. A unique site-specific buffer plan for San Juan County was projected to cost around $185,000. But the inherent complexity of the site-specific approach resulted in protracted Planning Commission and County Council meetings. Additional rounds of meetings added to the mounting costs and distracted from other important County business. Since our county was among the last in Washington State to update the CAO, we could have saved money using the work of other counties. Unfortunately, we spent substantial funds during a period of shrinking county revenues to create a set of regulations that will cost more taxpayer money to support a larger Planning Department and cost landowners more money to comply with the regulations. Ironically, all this time and effort have only produced costly regulations that are much less protective for fish and wildlife.
Our CAO update was due in 2006 but only recently completed at the end of 2012. This lengthy process has polarized our community. Even before 2006, citizens were supporting simple regulations that would have been less confusing, less expensive, and more protective of our Critical Areas than the CAO recently adopted by our council. The fulfillment of Public Records requests for the CAO Update process has cost taxpayers close to $100,000. Most of these requests have come from one person connected to the Common Sense Alliance. The production of a CAO Update that pleases almost no one has led to legal challenges that will cost additional taxpayer money. Had we adopted portions of other counties’ CAO Updates that had already withstood legal challenges, we could have saved ourselves both grief and taxpayer money.