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County clears ‘Growth Management Act’ hurdle

By STEVE WEHRLY Islands Sounder Reporter for the Journal of the San Juans
March 15, 2013 · 8:47 AM
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Twenty-one years after it all began, San Juan County received a letter of congratulations from Washington State Growth Management Services for “completion of the comprehensive plan and development regulations update process.”

That letter, dated Feb. 5, signifies that the county is “in compliance” with Growth Management Act requirements and that the county was to complete a series of updates to its comprehensive plan and development regulations no later than Dec. 1, 2005.

“In compliance” means that the county will not have money withheld under a variety of sanctions and funding restrictions imposed on non-compliant counties. The main funding sources not available to the county were loans or grants from the Centennial Clean Water Fund and the Public Works Trust Fund.

Applications for grants or loans from either of those two funds might include matching funds for relocation of Cattle Point Road, planning money for connecting Pear Point Road to Turn Point Road, stormwater improvements throughout the county, various road signage and guardrail improvements on all islands, and several million dollars needed for improvements to Orcas Road, and for replacing the Deer Harbor Bridge on Orcas, both of which are part of the $12.7 million six-year county transportation improvement program.

Councilman Rich Peterson thought the compliance letter was “good news,” but cautioned that “there might not be any state money left” after four years of state budget problems. In fact, in 2010, because of severe budget shortfalls, the Legislature transferred the entire Public Works Trust Fund to the state general fund. (The fund does get replenished, sometimes by federal appropriations.)

Additional sanctions that might have been imposed by the state include withholding from a non-compliant county a share of various taxes, such as the motor vehicle excise tax, the transportation improvement account and the sales and use tax. These were never applied to San Juan County, and are rarely used.

The most important updates were the ordinances passed by the county council in late 2012. The Critical Areas Ordinances now being reviewed by the Growth Management Hearings Board after five individuals and organizations filed “Petitions for Review” seeking to overturn various parts of the update.

Other GMA requirements include updated county laws and regulations dealing with shoreline management programs, the transportation element of the Comprehensive Plan, and development regulations. The transportation element and the shoreline management program are both currently in the review and preparation process, but are fully compliant with state requirements, for now.

While it is possible, and perhaps likely, that the board will find fault with one or more of the ordinances, the county won’t fall out of compliance unless the ordinances are ultimately ruled invalid by a Superior Court or an appellate court.

Now for the “catch”: state law provides that before June 30, 2016, San Juan County must one again study and update its comprehensive plan, including the critical areas ordinances and developmental regulations.

The champagne bottle may have been corked, but perhaps it should be kept on ice for a few more years.

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