Opinion

How big is your buffer

Should determining stream buffers be as difficult as rocket science? That’s what the county commissioners are making it out to be with their recent decision as part of the on-going revision of the Critical Areas Ordinance.

Instead of creating a boilerplate covering all streams, rivers, trickles and other various minor waterways — salmon-bearing or not — the commissioners have created three levels of buffers, all which are meant to protect the viability of surface waters by maintaining natural vegetation.

The largest creeks — Big Beef, Blackjack, Burley, Chico and Curley, along with the Tahuya and Union rivers — are stuck with 200-foot buffers along their lower sections. This is twice as wide as the 100-foot buffers called for by the Kitsap County Planning Commission, a pro-growth slanted advisory group, and 50-feet more than what the Department of Community Development said would work.

Why 200 feet? That’s what the county put in place seven years ago and the commissioners live in fear of the tribunal powers of the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board if they change it.

But why is Chico Creek stuck with a jumbo buffer? Its lower reaches have been straightened out, tweaked, bridged, blocked and corrupted as landowners (including the state) saw fit over the years. Very few spots are applicable to a 200-foot wide buffer. The creation of SR 3 put a culvert in the creek’s path. Does that mean the state has to reroute the highway since it clearly violates the buffer rule?

And in spite of all these changes, life on Chico Creek for salmon species has continued to flourish in recent years as many groups, such as the Great Peninsula Conservancy, have realized that improvements are best done in saving more pristine parts of the watershed through land acquisition. The CAO only looks at land issues in regard to saving salmon runs. It fails to take into account the things that happen out in the open water — transient orcas, declining herring runs, growing sea lion populations, pollution, non-native species, overfishing — which don’t care if there is 100 feet of native species along the stream borders or 1,000. The “Best Available” science doesn’t solve these problems, so it does little to improve the salmon runs.

And who is going to pay for these buffers? The county? The state? The Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board? Landowners? That question hasn’t been answered either.

Yet we have buffers saddled with bureaucracy, no funding and little solution to improving salmon runs all pointing to the fact that the state Growth Management Act has gone from protecting land to hampering the lifestyle we all hold dear.

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