Draft salmon plan now in feds' hands

"After months of public meetings and research, the county finally published the first draft of its Kitsap Salmon Habitat Protection Plan this week.Written to comply with National Marine Fisheries Service rules to protect two types of threatened salmon, the guidelines are Kitsap's effort to exempt some forms of development from Endangered Species Act liability.Whether or not these proposed rules will make it into the books relies entirely on the National Marine Fisheries Service, since NMFS is the enforcement arm of the Endangered Species Act.It's ultimately their call, said county Natural Resources Coordinator Keith Folkerts.The draft rules rely heavily on already established development rules in the county: in particular, the Critical Areas Ordinance. We think that our existing ordinances that are in effect today are excellent and we are relying on them, Folkerts said.We'll find out if NMFS thinks there are weaknesses we need to address, he added.County and city officials will find out fairly soon - next week, in fact, when they sit down with a representative from NMFS to go over the draft.Once the Salmon Advisory Council reviews the draft this weekend and the policymakers pick it through next week, the different governmental bodies have only a few days until the NMFS March 6 deadline for public comment.This has been on an extremely fast schedule ... in order for the cities to look it over and develop their comments and for the citizens to look it over, Folkerts explained. Since public comment expires on March 6, we have to bring any comments we have about the rule itself, including things like 'We think what we're doing currently should, and does, meet the ESA standard and we should be exempt from it' and 'Here is what we're doing.' Since NMFS listed Puget Sound chinook and Hood Canal summer chum as threatened salmonids last May, the biggest fear voiced from the development community has dealt with stream buffers.In particular, developers say the ESA will make it untenable to build in Kitsap.Right now, developers and private property owners who want to build on their streamside property have two options: a 200-foot buffer with a 5 percent or 5,000-square-foot cap on impervious surfaces (black top, asphalt, house foundation) or they can hire a biologist to develop a site-specific habitat management plan.The site-specific habitat management plan would allow you to not abide by those standards (200 foot buffer) but would provide the same amount of conservation, Folkerts explained.Although he has fielded a lot of complaints, Folkerts said only three of the 80 applications for development in the tender streamside areas went through the management plan option to circumvent the wide buffers.But the new plan brings even more flexibility.Instead of that setup, a developer would have a riparian management zone of 190 feet, Folkerts said. The site specific habitat management plan will remain an option, and two others have been added: an area-wide analysis that allows natural functions and an option Folkerts anticipates will be widely used. The former option requires an analysis that looks at the streams reach and the watershed. The latter allows for a buffer between 112 and 165 feet.If NMFS approves it, I think that one will be used quite a bit, Folkerts said.The Kitsap Salmon Advisory Committee will review the plan discussion draft from 9 a.m. to noon today at the Givens Community Center in Port Orchard."

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