Friday, Feb 10 2012 - After months of discussion with technical experts, on February 15 a revised draft of the wetland amendments to the County’s Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) will be released for public review and comment.
Citizens and the San Juan County Council challenged planners to create a “site specific” buffer approach to protecting wetlands. Planning Coordinator Shireene Hale describes creating the draft amendments using that approach as a “monumental task.”
“The primary challenge was to balance accuracy with simplicity, and to properly consider all of the interrelated factors that influence the effectiveness of buffers. Vegetative buffers around wetlands help reduce surface runoff, recharge groundwater, remove pollutants, provide wildlife habitat, and generally protect and support the plants and animals in the wetland,” Hale said.
While the proposed approach will inevitably be more complex than a “one size fits all” approach, its proponents say it will protect wetlands and associated habitat, without imposing excessive or unnecessary restrictions on land use or development.
The unveiling of the draft wetlands amendments is another step toward completing the State-required update of the County’s critical area protection regulations.
Over this past year, the County - working with a team of scientific experts - adopted a synthesis of applicable science to guide the review; completed an analysis of the existing regulations; and moved amendments associated with frequently flooded, geologically hazardous and general provisions forward pending a final consistency review later this spring.
The categories of critical areas which must be protected, as enumerated in State law are: wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, frequently flooded areas, geologically hazardous areas, and critical aquifer recharge areas.
These areas have been declared critical because they are considered essential to the safety of people and property, and necessary to the continued functioning of a healthy ecosystem which – in the San Juan Islands – is key to maintaining a healthy economy.
The draft wetland section of the CAO will be posted February 15th on the County website at: http://www.sanjuanco.com/cao/documents.aspx