Critical Areas Ordinance Update

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Snohomish County will be updating their Critical Area Regulations to better protect rivers, streams, riparian conservation areas, frequently flooded areas, aquifers, and landslide areas.
The Snohomish County Council will be scheduling public hearings on updating the Critical Areas Ordiance (CAO) sometime summer of 2015.  Please check the Calendar of Events for public hearing times.  Critical Areas include protection of streams, rivers and wetlands and their buffers, riparian conservation areas, frequently flooded areas, aquifers and geologically hazardous areas, such as landslide areas. 

Below are Futurewise's recommendations to ensure the Critical Area Regulations will best protect people, water and wildlife. 

1.    Clarify SCC 30.62A.020 to provide that agricultural activities continue to be managed under the CAO as RCW 36.70A.480(3)(d) requires. This will ensure that agricultural activities generally exempt from regulation under the Shoreline Master Plan will be managed under CAO; it will add that “Agricultural activities within shoreline jurisdiction shall comply with 30.67 SCC.”

2.    Limit buffer averaging reductions to no more than 25 percent of standard buffer width.  The current critical area regulations allow up to 50 percent reduction.  There is no scientific evidence to support buffer averaging and Ecology recommends no more than 25 percent reduction.

3.    Clarify that buffers not vegetated with native vegetation must either be expanded or planted in native vegetation so they will adequately function as buffers.  This is necessary to comply with the requirement to base critical areas regulations on best available science which documents that the buffers widths in the Snohomish County critical areas regulations are assumed to be vegetated and if they are not, they either need to planted or widened to adequately protect critical areas.

4.    Amend SCC 30.62A.630(1)(c)—to prevent impacts on wetlands from agricultural activities and the conversion of agricultural lands.  Ecology concludes that there is no scientific basis for exempting wetlands that are prior converted croplands (PCC) from wetland regulations under GMA.  Ecology states that the conversion of wetlands that are not currently in agricultural use to a new agricultural use should be regulated by the same regulations as any new development.  The scientific literature does not support the conversion of wetlands to new agricultural uses without review and conditioning through a CAO.  Snohomish County has allowed exemptions that have led to conversion of farmland to residential uses. In the past, Snohomish County has allowed development, such as rural subdivisions, that were once farmland with wetlands, and it has put people, property and emergency responders at risk due to flooding.  In addition, the  Growth Management Hearings Board has rejected exemptions such as the PCC exemption and exemption that allows for the expansion of agricultural uses into wetlands.

5.    Amend the Geologically Hazardous Regulations to Better Protect People and Property.  With the Oso Landslide still on everyone's mind, it is imperative that Snohomish County do more to reduce the risk of landslides to people and property.  Futurewise recommends a required review of any landslide hazard capable of damaging the proposed development, not just within 300 feet of proposed building site as SCC 30.62B.130 requires; require site specific identification of landslide top of slope and slope areas subject to failure and sliding, toe of slope areas subject to impact from down slope run-out, and buffers for areas subject to landslide hazards, as recommended by Oso Landslide Commission; require that construction not be allowed on landslides, landslide run-out areas, and their buffers even if that means that a lot is unbuildable.  Over $120 million was spent in the Oso Landslide remediation, shows, allowing construction in these areas results in the creation of nuisances and so Snohomish County is not legally obligated to allow construction in these areas; regulate all the landslide hazards identified in WAC 365-190-120(6) that occur within the community; require adequate public notice of landslide hazards, which could include mailings in tax statements, notices on plats, and signage around the landslide area, as recommended by Oso Landslide Commission.

6.    Amend SCC 30.62B.530(1)(c) to prevent impacts on wetlands from agricultural activities and conversion of agricultural lands. 

7.    Amend SCC 30.62C.140(3)(m) to comply with the requirements of state law and to protect senior water rights holders and instream flows. RCW 19.27.097(1) requires as evidence of an adequate water supply for building permits a “water right permit,” but proposed SCC 30.62C.140(3)(m) does not require a “water right permit” or other proof of an adequate water supply that the applicant has a legal right to use. RCW 58.17.110 also requires Snohomish County to assure adequate potable water supplies are available when approving subdivision applications, but proposed SCC 30.62C.140(3)(m) does not require evidence that the development will have a legal right to use the proposed ground water withdrawal or that developments proposing to use exempt wells are within the withdrawal limits applicable to those wells.  Futurewise recommends language in our comment letter to address this issue under SCC 30.62C.140(3)(m).

8.     Add a groundwater protection requirement for farm plans to protect drinking water and water quality. Nitrate pollution problems are mostly associated with failing septic systems and overuse of fertilizers, which can cause “Blue Baby Syndrome”.

9.    Amend SCC 30.63A.200(8)(c) to discourage the conversion of agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses.

10.    Amend SCC 30.63A.200(9)(c) to prevent impacts on wetlands from agricultural activities and the conversion of agricultural lands.
Futurewise recommends adding the language: "The activity is within an area that on the effective date of this amendment was legally developed with buildings used for agricultural activities, fields, cropland, pasture, grazing land, feedlots, or similar cleared or developed areas used for agricultural activities"; and deleting the language: “The wetland is an area of no greater than 5,000 square feet of non-riparian wetland Categories II or III or 10,000 square feet of non-riparian Category IV wetlands, pursuant to SCC 30.62A.230(2).

11.    Protection for Open Space/Habitat Corridors.  Futurewise has recommended the County add a policy that would protect open space/habitat corridors, and this added regulations would implement that policy, meet the GMA request to identify open space corridors to link habitats, recreational areas and open spaces into a connected network, and will help toward efforts to protect wildlife and fish.

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