By Brian McClerran
Many well-meaning citizens groups have decided that the best way to protect our precious resources and unique island life is to add to the laws, draw participation of outside authorities, and create a maze of paperwork. Unfortunately, changes in the law do not directly correlate to changes in behavior. If they did, all of our ills could be cured by a few pen strokes.
A key lesson impressed upon students is that a law is nothing until it is ruled upon. It then becomes “common law” and the public and officials have a notion of how to proceed. The newly formed Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) is essentially 155 pages of untested legal ground. The yet to be decided process for enforcement should be of great importance to all property owners in San Juan County. It has the potential to be intrusive, expensive, and contentious.
Development is happening without regard to the law. This phenomena is as common for million dollar homes as it is for small inland parcels. Changes to the law are making it harder for responsible citizens to build and remodel homes. Many are fearful that compliance with the County on new development may inadvertently draw attention to other pre-existing violations on their property. Those who never file paperwork anyway are hardly inconvenienced. This strategy for environmental protection will continue to affect the wrong individuals.
The newly passed CAO’s add such uncertainty to what is allowable that county planning staff advised me over the phone to, “get everything signed and dated before March,” when the new laws were to go into effect. We are clearly headed in the wrong direction when even the County begins advising against compliance with the new ordinance.