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A real watershed moment for NCW

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The City of Leavenworth and Chelan County recently enlisted a local engineering, architectural, and site planning company, Project Groundwork, to coordinate a public symposium intended to shape and scope the city’s and the county’s upcoming planning efforts relating to wetlands and stormwater within the city’s urban growth boundary, as well as the county’s efforts relating to the Wenatchee Watershed.

The City of Leavenworth, Chelan County, and Project Groundwork designed the public symposium, entitled Wetlands and Stormwater, to serve as a foundation for a discussion among members of the public, and their representatives actively solicited participation from members of the public with vested interests in these regulatory areas.

Under the Growth Management Act (“GMA”), the City of Leavenworth and Chelan County (as well as other municipalities in this state) are required to develop ordinances regarding “critical areas,” a category that includes wetlands.

In addition, the Shorelines Management Act (“SMA”) requires local governments to adopt shoreline master programs regulating shoreline use and development in a manner consistent with the SMA and other Department of Ecology regulations. Local governments must design their shoreline master programs to include elements of a comprehensive land use plan (such as policies regarding permitted types of development), a zoning plan, and a building code.

The SMA and GMA involve a fairly complex web of regulatory requirements for local governments to follow; however, the Acts also allow some level of discretion to local governments within the bounds of the general requirements. As a result, the specific regulations adopted may vary widely among cities and counties. Notably, while all counties and cities are required to implement these categories of regulations and ordinances, the GMA and the SMA do not dictate that such local governments consult with the public and stakeholders in the development of their regulations.

Many jurisdictions choose to move forward with adopting regulations under the GMA and SMA without any public consultation, which can lead to dissatisfied landowners, potentially over-burdensome regulation, and/or unfocused regulation with respect to the particular types of terrain located within the jurisdiction.

The City of Leavenworth and Chelan County took the extra step of affirmatively approaching the public, soliciting input, and hiring Project Groundwork, a local company with experience in wetlands and site planning, to facilitate the discussion.

The City of Leavenworth and Chelan County have yet to enact the regulations which were the subject of the symposium held in early June of this year. At a minimum, the symposium will result in more informed governmental representatives, and in private landowners feeling satisfied with the opportunity to be heard.

More than likely, the symposium will also result in more customized regulations within the City of Leavenworth and Chelan County, which both satisfy the underlying requirements of GMA and SMA and also serve the needs of residents and property owners within those jurisdictions.

We applaud the efforts of the City of Leavenworth and Chelan County to engage in such a cooperative regulatory approach, and to take the time to work together with private landowners and address regulatory issues in a collaborative fashion.

Michelle Green and Clay Gatens are attorneys with Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn & Aylward, a Wenatchee law firm.

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