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Citizens Council Challenges New County Ordinance

A lawsuit has been filed against the Okanogan County Commissioners challenging the legality of an ordinance that would allow construction of larger buildings and housing developments in the Methow Valley without triggering an environmental review.

The Methow Valley Citizens Council filed the complaint against the county on Feb.7 seeking to invalidate Okanogan County ordinance 2014-1. The plaintiffs argue that the ordinance likely will result in a less adequate environmental review process than had been required under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA)and that public notice requirements were not followed.

The Methow Valley has had a more strict threshold than the rest of the county on the size of developments that triggered SEPA review. The commissioners have said they are making the change partly to have SEPA rules apply equally throughout the county.
The ordinance, passed by all three county commissioners on Jan. 21, raised exemption levels for certain construction projects in the county to the highest level allowed under state law and replaces scrutiny formerly provided by the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) with county or federal review, the plaintiffs said.

The ordinance also changed the county code to no longer allow the Methow Valley Review District(roughly the area of Methow Valley School District 350) to maintain lower exemption levels than those of the rest of the county.

At a Jan. 6 meeting, according to the MVCC complaint, "the commissioners directed staff to eliminate the reduced exemption levels for the Methow Review District and apply maximum exemption levels county-wide. Okanogan County did not publish notice of the revised ordinance containing the county-wide exemptions prior to its Jan. 21 approval." 

MVCC board member Phil Milam told the Grist, “The irony is the commissioners are often beating up on the state for not letting the country run its’ own affairs and yet they do not recognize the rights of the Methow Valley to run its’ affairs.”

The commissioners said they had "determined that SEPA regulations have become redundant and burdensome due to numerous other environmental-based regulations which have been implemented since the original authorization of SEPA regulations."

During public testimony taken at the Jan. 21 hearing, 10 people spoke against the new ordinance, several claiming the county does not provide adequate environmental review to replace SEPA oversight. Four people spoke in support of the ordinance, two of those likened the Methow Review District's lower exemption level to a "homeowners association."

The adoption of the ordinance results in the following county-wide adjustments to construction project thresholds: (former review district levels in parenthesis for comparison) large buildings up to 12,000 (4,000) square feet, agricultural buildings up to 40,000 (10,000) square feet, land fills and excavations up to 1,000 (100) cubic yards, up to 20 (4) single dwelling units and up to 25 multi-family dwelling units.

Maria Converse


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