On April 15, the San Juan County Council voted four-to-one to direct the Marine Resource Committee (MRC) to discontinue its effort to have the County designated an Aquatic Reserve.
The Council’s hearing room was filled to its 49-person capacity when the meeting opened at 10 a.m. By the time 11:10 a.m. time slated for discussion of the topic arrived, more than 20 additional people watched the proceedings on a video monitor in an overflow room.
The Council asked representatives of the MRC to appear on April 15 after controversy erupted at public meetings and in the media over concerns that the reserve would cede regulatory power to the State Department of Natural Resources, which established the Aquatic Reserve program, and would shift regulatory emphasis too far toward preservation and conservation.
MRC Chair Kit Rawson began his briefing by apologizing for letting the Council “be blindsided” and he acknowledged that the process was rushed because the committee was working to meet a tight deadline.
“We know how to conduct an inclusive process and we did not,” he said.
MRC vice-chair Jim Slocomb called the controversy the result of, “the most completely misunderstood process in my 20 years of involvement in the public processes.” He said that the goal of the proposal was to gain more, not less, local control over marine resources in the County.
“Here is where we are today,: We have an incomplete draft application, we seem to have a very confused and apprehensive public and a Council which feels that it has been left out of the loop on an issue that has raised a great deal of passion.” Slocomb noted that the State Department of Natural Resources would not extend the deadline for filing beyond the end of May and, “I have been made keenly aware that there is much more listening and much more public education that must be done to rebuild public confidence in this proposal.”
The next opportunity San Juan County will have to file an Aquatic Reserve application will be no sooner than 2010.
Slocomb concluded, “We still think this is a good idea, but we must have the public’s backing on a proposal such as this. And we will not get it if we look like we’re running out way ahead of them.”
There was little support for continuing the process in the Council hearing room. A succession of speakers before and after the MRC’s briefing expressed opposition on the grounds that the information available was too vague and that creating an Aquatic Reserve would inevitably tip the regulatory balance too far away from the County’s economic interests.
After the discussion, Council Member Rich Peterson moved to direct the MRC to abandon the application. Only Councilman Bob Myhr voted against the motion. He said that while he did not support filing in this application period, he did support continuing the public discussion and education efforts to examine the advantages and disadvantages of the proposal more fully.
The draft application that was the subject of the council’s action is available by going to www.sanjuanco.com/Admin/News/and selecting the San Juan_Aquatic Reserve Site Proposal. An outline of Slocomb’s remarks is available at: www.sanjuanco.com/Admin/News/slocomb_council041508.pdf.
Council Member Kevin Ranker was not in attendance on an excused absence.