The?Daily Astorian

County commissioners decided Wednesday to develop an additional local approach to regulating wetlands in Arch Cape and Cove Beach.

The Board of Clatsop County Commissioners voted 4-1 to pursue expanded county involvement in the zoning regulations that pertain to significant wetlands in the area.

The decision directs county staff to develop an ordinance based on a local wetland inventory conducted in Arch Cape and Cove Beach.

Local proponents of the ordinance urged commissioners that it would ensure greater consistency in zoning requirements and provide stricter regulations for property with significant wetlands.

Those who opposed the potential ordinance Wednesday, said property would be devalued because there would be less developable land and that there were inconsistencies in how the inventory was conducted.

The inventory identifies 40 acres of wetlands in Arch Cape and Cove Beach. With the help of Pacific Habitat Services, an environmental consultant firm, local watershed councils found 27 to be significant wetlands.

The local wetland inventory was submitted and approved by the Department of State Lands and began being used by the county as part of a statewide inventory.

However, an additional ordinance could provide stricter county oversight for property development near wetlands in the south county area.

At a future date, legislative amendments would have to be made to the county’s Comprehensive Plan in order for any changes to be formally adopted.

The ordinance could have stricter codes pertaining to fill on wetland areas, although Department of State Lands already has regulations in place that are enforced.

Some property owners in Arch Cape and Cove Beach see the local wetland inventory as an affront to their ability to build on their land. They also see it as being motivated by neighbors wishing to keep development around them sparse.

Reba Owen told commissioners that based on past work for the Audubon Society and other organizations she could qualify as an environmentalist. But she explained that she was against the possibility of an ordinance. Her family has owned a cabin at Cove Beach since the 1940s.

“No one can tell us exactly what techniques were used,” she said about the inventory. “No one will admit to putting red outlines on the maps.”

She told commissioners that a small amount of land was examined on site with others based on observation.

“Wetlands in the county and in the state are already heavily protected,” she said.

Kathren Rusinovich said she thinks the properties designated with wetlands were targeted because they have applied for permits to build or sell their property.

“The selective nature of the wetland study creates more questions than answers,” she said. “I am still puzzled as to how wetlands were estimated by view was possible due to the dense understory of many of these properties.”

Protecting wetlands

Members of the Ecola Creek Watershed Council pointed out the importance of protected wetlands.

Nadia Gardner explained to the board that she is not a real estate agent of a property in the area with wetlands. She said she is just someone who cares about Arch Cape and Cove Beach.

Gardner said that she and other volunteers have worked on getting the wetlands recognized for more than six years, working with DSL on drafts of the local wetland inventory and exchanging notes.

“We worked really closely with Department of State Lands in order to make sure that our wetlands inventory met their very stringent standards,” she said. “I know that if it’s accurate enough for them it’s a great start.”

Michael Manzulli, chairman of the Ecola Creek Watershed Council, said that DSL regulation wasn’t enough to ensure protection of the identified wetlands.

“Local county control and oversight should come before state and federal review,” he said. “Not only will this local first approach guide development sustainably, it will allow property owners to better understand the feasibility of their proposed development before they spend time and money at the state and federal levels.”

Residents of Arch Cape and Cove Beach also stated their support for the potential ordinance.

“It provides consistency of zoning, which I think is a public good,” said Steve Hill, who lives in Arch Cape. He added that the south county would be left in a less favorable position without an ordinance of the local wetlands inventory.

The Clatsop County Planning Commission recommended commissioners create the safe harbor ordinance and felt that it would best address the needs of the community and would increase wetland protection now and into the future.

County staff recommended the option to go with regulation already in place because of concerns about accuracy of the inventory, the cost of adopting the wetland inventory, and because DSL and the Army Corps of Engineers already have regulations in place.

Jennifer Bunch, senior planner for Clatsop County, said that the majority of the cost for creating the ordinance would be incurred through legal services.

The cost could be spread out through multiple fiscal years and range between $38,320 to $44,720. Bunch said that the process would utilize existing staff.

Chairman Peter Huhtala and Commissioners Sarah Nebeker, Scott Lee and Debra Birkby voted in favor of creating the ordinance.

Commissioner Dirk Rohne opposed the increase regulation, pointing out the county and state regulation already in place.