A Bellingham-based non-profit environmental group has filed a lawsuit against the city of Blaine following city council’s approval of its critical areas ordinance.
City attorney Jon Sitkin told council members Monday that the group RE Sources has argued that the city’s critical areas ordinance does not meet minimum wetland setback requirements based on “best available science” as dictated in the state’s growth management act (GMA) and enforced by the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE).
The CAO increases the standard buffer for category two wetlands from 50 feet to between 75 and 150 feet and increases the buffer for category three wetlands from 25 feet to between 50 and 100 feet. Category four wetlands, which have not been regulated by the city of Blaine, will now be buffered from development by 25 feet.
Washington state requires cities and counties to review their development regulations every seven years as part of the GMA. That includes the revision of critical areas regulations and the requirement that counties and cities use the best available science in developing policies to protect environmentally sensitive areas.
In a June city council meeting meeting, RE Sources executive Wendy Steffenson called the ordinance “alarming” and urged city officials to review their priorities. She added the numbers put forth in the original ordinance were already insufficient to protect the value and function of wetlands.
“It’s not easy to recreate what nature has made,” she said.
In a separate letter, Steffenson said more generous wetland protections are necessary to protect the health of Drayton Harbor, which is “already degraded as evidenced by its listing on the DOE’s 303(d) list.” The letter goes on to read, “Given the importance of wetlands to the pollution removal, stormwater retention, aquifer recharge, and habitat, it is disturbing to see that the city of Blaine has chosen to add so much flexibility to the regulations at the expense of the resources.”
The DOE has also expressed their dissatisfaction with the new regulations. In their most recent letter dated July 27, DOE officials said while they understand the need to balance environmental protections with pressures faced by small governments to increase the local tax base, they are disappointed their previous suggestions were disregarded.
The letter stated: “We are concerned because there are many important natural resources in Blaine, including Drayton Harbor, that are at risk of further degradation if the city does not take action to preserve or restore the wetland functions that protect these critical resources.”
Another letter from the DOE dated June 8 also read that the ordinance would allow too high of intensity land uses adjacent to wetlands, inadequate buffer widths and inadequate protection. In addition, the buffer reductions allowed would further the risk of degradation to the city’s remaining wetland resources.
“[The DOE] cannot support this high-risk approach as it is not consistent with the best available science.”
Blaine city attorney Jon Sitkin said while he didn’t yet know all the details of RE Sources’ argument the city has a pre-hearing conference on October 29. “We don’t know the specifics of it yet except that they are arguing the buffers failed to meet requirements in the GMA for best available science.”