Criticism over CAO | Letter

I vigorously oppose the Feb. 11 unilateral passage by Councilmen Hughes and Stephens of an amendment to the Critical Areas Ordinance that would increase a so-called fish and wildlife habitat critical habitat area – the shoreline – from 110 feet to 200 feet.

These councilmen have failed to scientifically justify their amendment in terms of the concepts of “essential nexus” and “rough proportionality” which have been found by the United States Supreme Court to mean that there must be a nexus between an identified problem (e.g. pollution) and a proposed solution (buffers); and that the proposed solution imposed by a government must be roughly proportional to the extent of the impact of the identified problem.

Not only does Councilmen Hughes’ and Stephens’ amendment fly in the face of the Supreme Court’s determination, but it also flies in the face of common sense and basic logic.  It implicitly assumes that every single property, whether no bank, low bank, or high bank; whether it extends a short distance from mean high water or a great distance from mean high water; regardless of its soil characteristics; whether or not it has been definitively shown on a case-by-case basis to pose a risk to biota in immediately adjacent nearshore waters, deserves the exact same degree of buffer protection.

The public money that this unimaginative and indefensible one-size-fits-all position might save in its administration will be offset by the cost of litigation by unjustifiably and unfairly regulated property owners as well as by an unnecessary reduction in the property tax base which will result from unjustifiably devalued shoreline properties.

The first time that I heard of Councilmen Hughes’ and Stephens’ amendment (which I understand was passed without the courtesy of including Councilman Jarman) was from a non-profit public interest group.  I still have not been notified of the amendments or the Feb. 25 meeting from anyone on the San Juan County staff, although I have explicitly requested to be on the e-mail distribution list for all such matters.

Bruce Baker

San Juan Island