Council looks at marine issues

The executive committee of the Marine Resources Committee has been asked to meet with three members of the county council to discuss a division of responsibilities and the authority of the council to set policy, according to Council Vice-chairman Rich Peterson.

Two issues – “No-Go Zones” for orca protection and the work closure period to protect juvenile salmon in the county – have raised concern on the council that the MRC’s “valuable role in protecting and enhancing the marine environment doesn’t conflict with the council’s policy setting role,” said Councilman Marc Forlenza, Friday Harbor.

At the Dec. 5 MRC meeting in Friday Harbor, Peterson came with a resolution stating, “The county’s position regarding the ‘No-Go Zone’ as proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be that position articulated by the council and not that of any of its subcommittees or advisory groups.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service sent Lynne Barre, of its Protected Resources Division, to the meeting to propose an outreach program to reconsider its 2009 proposal to ban all boats from a half-mile-wide strip of water along the west side of San Juan, where orcas cruise during the summer. Several people attending the meeting spoke up against any reconsideration of the no-go zone.

The MRC also approved a letter to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on the “work window closure period” under the department’s Hydraulic Code Rules. In 2005, as part of the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan, the DFW designated the period between March 15 and June 14 as the time that near-shore construction throughout Puget Sound would be restricted or closed. The MRC letter proposed “WDFW and the San Juan MRC work together again to revise the work window closure period ... to better reflect the time that juvenile salmon are actually in our waters. Recent local research documents that juvenile salmon are present in our area at least from March 15 through Oct. 31.”

The letter concluded that the DFW’s Habitat Program Protection Division would contact the MRC for a meeting in February to discuss the work closure window.”

Peterson termed the letter “problematic.”

“After extensive testimony and deliberation, the county council decided not to extend the ‘critical areas’ designation to all San Juan County shorelines,” Peterson said. “This letter suggests that substantial ‘critical areas’ protections should be imposed on much of the shorelines in the county. The policy underlying that kind of action should be proposed by the council responding to the advice of the MRC, not by the MRC itself.”

Peterson noted that the “local research” included studies performed by E.M.Beamer and K.L. Fresh, some of which had been considered by the council, but not included as “best available science, during the Critical Areas Ordinance process. Peterson said he wants more information on  the studies and on potential damage that construction during summer work times would cause on salmon.

Peterson said he expects that he, Forlenza and council member Patty Miller will meet with the MRC executive committee within a few days, and said the subject of advisory committees, including the MRC, would be topics for the annual council retreat on Monday, Jan. 14.

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