After reaching a six-month expiration date, the Thurston County Board of Commissioners took up the business of renewing the Critical Areas Ordinance. A public hearing was held on Thursday, January 20th. For the fourth time in two years, dozens of homeowners came out against the ordinance.
There seemed almost a feeling of camaraderie among many of the dozens of citizens who came to speak against the ordinance. Many of them were returning for their fourth time to tell the commissioners why they didn’t want the Critical Areas Ordinance as proposed by Commissioner Sandra Romero. The ordinance, according to Romero, is required by the Growth Management Act. Romero, a former Olympia council member and board member of Futurewise (formerly 1000 Friends of Washington), claims that the private property rights of homeowners should be subordinated to the white oak, the Mazama pocket rodent, and the checker-spot butterfly. Homeowners claim that the ordinance takes huge portions of their property out of use, while taxing them for full use. Commissioner Romero did not attend to hear the dozens of concerned citizens airing a grievance that has been going on for years.
Only two people testified in support of the ordinance, expressing only general support. Neither of them based their argument on science or merits of the ordinance. Sharron Coontz and Walt Jorgensen both live outside the affected areas.
Biologist Brian Combs voiced concerns that the language was not precise enough to achieve the goals of the commission. According to Combs, “There are a lot of things that need to be clarified about the way the prairie areas are delineated, and some of the vagaries about whether it can be restored.”
Activist Justin Kover, a member of the Nisqually Tribe, spoke about the history of Thurston County, and how government intervention destroyed the prairie. He called the history of government environmentalism in Washington, “a history of well-intentioned mistakes.” He spoke of the events surrounding the 1971 Judge Boldt decision, and compared the Critical Areas ordinance to the illegal salmon fishing moratorium imposed by the State of Washington. “This ordinance is a job-killing ordinance based on science that will soon be obsolete, and encumbers the property rights of tax-paying homeowners while big corporate developers can buy their way in,” said Kover.
Some citizens said they would take their struggle to the campaign trail. “At one point in time, you entered public office with the intention of doing good. When did you decide to change and harm so many people?” said Lacey resident Mark Kelly. “You’ve inspired me to doorbell far more homes than I’d intended before this.”
Dozens of citizens spoke for 90 minutes against the ordinance.
South county resident Vivian Eason said some scrub oak were being counted as white oak, while never having seen a Mazama pocket rodent on her property. “I can’t refinance my house because you have lowered the value of my property. My property value goes down, but my taxes never go down. It’s not right.”
Glen Morgan, a tree farmer from Tenino, pointed out that by willfully harming the value of people’s property while taxing them for full use the county was opening itself up to further litigation. He stated he is organizing the coalition that will bring suit against the county on that issue. “Commissioners were warned by staff, and they ignored all the warnings,” said Morgan.
On Tuesday, January 25, the Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to extend the Critical Areas Ordinance for another six months. They continue work with the plan to make the ordinance permanent this spring. In spite of all the public comment, all the facts, and all the science, they ignored the people.
“It’s just like the spotted owl all over again,” said one woman. “In twenty years, after our land is took and our jobs are gone, they’re going to say, ‘Oops. We were wrong. Sorry’”.