WILLAPA VALLEY - "I know everybody. I'm a people person," says Marlene Martin, one of the longest serving planning commissioners and a life-long resident of the Willapa Valley.

Martin was born in South Bend and now lives in Menlo in the home her parents moved into when she was in eighth grade.

"It was the home of May Lilly, from one of the old pioneer families. She still lived in the house when we moved in. Some folks might think that's peculiar, but it was just extended family for us," she says.

"Back then everyone knew everyone. I still have letters from the Espys on the Peninsula to May. They were all early settlers here," Martin shares.

When asked what her main concerns are regarding the current review of the Pacific County's Growth Management Plan, Martin shares, "I want our farmland to stay farmland."

"There used to be more farmers in the valley than there are now. Years back we had 23 farms shipping milk and now there are only nine. And this new ruling - about five acres - well, that makes no sense to me. It's not enough land to have a horse or cattle or for a farmer to make a living from, but it's too much for a homeowner to take care of."

Martin has seen a lot of changes in the valley during her lifetime. Her family was always working on the land. Her parents had the same farm that Marlene and her son, Jerry Martin, keep up - 150 acres, now mostly in beef cattle and bees.

Martin says, "My son also produces what's called marshmallows or wrapped bales. He keeps very busy with that. The kids definitely have an interest in the place. I have one older daughter who has a farm - beef cattle - just outside of Olympia. And one of my grandkids called the other day - I have 13 grandkids, from 25 down to 9 years of age - and she asked 'Grandma, what kind of chickens should I get?'"

Martin talks about the ups and downs of the farming life, "Six years ago - the price of milk was down to nothing, people could hardly pay their power bills or they had to buy food instead of buying alfalfa. But now with the price of hay and feed from Eastern Washington or California so high, farmers are using the land again - it's valuable for hay and grass. There's a lot of pasture land really being used now."

One sore point for Martin is the amount of land that has been taken out of private hands by either Washington State Parks or environmental groups. "I am definitely against these people that want to save everything, like the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy. There's so much land take-over now. I think there's been enough of it. Isn't this whole county a preserve already?"

Martin is also concerned about the way that State Parks has spent money for new park facilities when some of the smaller and older parks are being closed. She mentions that parks have been closed in Grays Harbor and Lewis counties. Additionally, it was noted that Fort Columbia may get the axe as one of the measures to balance the state's $9.5 billion budget shortfall this year.

Martin remarks that the state spent $400,000 to take back the railroad right of way to create a paved trail for people to walk on from Chehalis to South Bend through Raymond instead of improving the existing Rainbow Falls Park.

"We fought against that for all we were worth," Martin says, "How many people walk that far anymore? The edge of that property comes within two feet of my back porch, and people walking through that are strangers. We're not used to that here. We're used to people we know."

She goes on, "I believe everybody should be able do what they want with their land to a certain extent. It's hard for us to understand the ecology folks. It has been terrible, very restrictive. The latest thing is that the cows are emitting gas. They're saying that you have to pay so much for each cow. We're also told when we can pump manure and when we can't."

"Flies get on the cattle when it's hot, we used to drive cattle into the river when the flies bothered them and there was never any problem with the fish. We actually think that it's the fertilizer for the trees that's washing down. But we've started to see algae in the river now in the summer time when the weather is just right, a long green streak of it."

Martin appears to be of two minds - she sees changes in land use that don't sit right with her, but is uncertain about the role of government in the planning process. She cites the fact that dairy farming cannot take place within 250 feet of a waterway but remarks that the two new condo buildings in Raymond are right at the river's edge.

Often dairy farming is in conflict with environmental goals in that cattle can tramp down or eat growth that keeps riparian banks intact; also cattle fecal matter can contaminate waterways.

Martin goes on, "And look what happened down by Bay Center, just in the last few years. That coastal area has been opened up to development along the bay."

Another issue Martin brings up is the Seaview dunes discussion. "The dunes is a totally different area. There isn't another area like it. I am supporting the dunes - but there is good land out farther toward the ocean that could be used [for development] so that's a real problem."

(As an interesting note, planning commissioner Jim Sayce thinks it might be possible that since accretion has reversed and our beach is losing sand - due to the jetties, current changes and the dredging of the Columbia River - there may be no dunes to speak of in the foreseeable future.)

Another concern Martin mentions is that lack of consensus among planning commissioners. "Our county is made up of two different areas - the coast and inland, it's similar in Lewis County - which makes it very difficult. I just wish we could all be compatible on the issues."

She notes that planning commissioners are appointed by the county commissioners. There is no apparent requirement that planning commissioners represent a particular area, profession, or constituency.

But Martin's view from the valley is clear. She re-emphasizes, "We want to keep the Willapa Valley rural. We want to keep our farmland - from Frances to East Raymond on both sides of the road and there's also a little area that goes out to the South Fork [of the Willapa River]."

"And we want our river clean - it's a slow moving river and the tide effects it. It floods out here, and how bad it floods depends on what time the tide comes down. If we have a snow melt and a heavy rain and the tide's in, we will flood."

Martin goes on, "Farmers want to preserve the land. That's what we are doing. A blue heron nests here and raises her babies here. We have geese - there's one pair that has come back to the very same spot for seven years. We know it's the same pair because he limps, so we know it's them."

"We have elk, we have deer, we have coyotes," Martin continues. "When these people in the city come out here and talk about the bear and the cougar - well we're taking their land."

Martin ends by saying, "One of the other issues is the annexation of land for Ilwaco. We make the decision about whether they can annex but then the city says what they want. But we need all the areas represented. We certainly haven't had very much input from the public."

The next Pacific County Comprehensive Plan review meeting is May 7 in north county at 1216 W. Robert Bush Drive, in South Bend.

For further information on the planning review call Mike Desimone, Department of Community Development director, at 360-875-9356, or 642-9382; or e-mail him at (mdesimone@co.pacific.wa.us)

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