I have closely observed the Critical Areas Ordinance Update process. The adopted CAO is complex and expensive by design.
There are misconceptions about the origins of this long-delayed set of regulations that should have been completed in 2006. The Department of Ecology did not micromanage the CAO Update process. Under the Growth Management Act each county in our state writes its own regulations. County Councilor Richard Fralick convinced a majority of the Council that a CAO using site-specific buffers was the way to go. The extra cost for this plan was estimated to be around $185,000. But the inherent complexity of the site-specific approach resulted in protracted Planning Commission and County Council meetings.
Additional rounds of meetings added to the mounting costs and distracted from other important county business. Since our county was among the last to update its CAO, we could have saved money using the work of other counties.
Unfortunately, we spent substantial funds during a period of shrinking county revenues to create complicated regulations that will cost more taxpayer money to support a larger Planning Department and cost landowners more money to comply with the regulations. Ironically, all this time and effort have only produced costly regulations that are much less protective for fish and wildlife.
Delaying the CAO Update that was due in 2006 has polarized our community. The fulfillment of Public Records requests for the CAO Update process has cost taxpayers close to $100,000. Most of these requests have come from one person connected to the Common Sense Alliance.
A CAO Update that pleases almost no one has led to legal challenges that will cost additional taxpayer money. Had we adopted portions of other counties’ CAO Updates that had already withstood legal challenges, we could have saved ourselves both grief and taxpayer money.