By NICK NIKKILA
ROSBURG — Pending changes in rules for shoreline use and development stirred concern Wednesday, April 13, when about 40 mostly west-end citizens attended a briefing organized by the Wahkiakum County Real Property Rights Committee.
Discussion of the final draft of the Wahkiakum Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) was arranged by Lily Kolditz. She was a member of the county’s Shoreline Management Plan Advisory Committee earlier in the drafting process, but now chairs the property rights committee.
Although the SMP initially appeared to apply only along the Columbia and other significant rivers such as the Elochoman, Grays River and Deep River, Kolditz said a deeper reading shows new restrictions would be imposed on most property in the county. She said there would be 200-foot minimum setbacks from rivers and streams with flows of at least 20 cubic feet per second, with even greater setbacks in some cases. Areas subject to flooding would have additional restrictions placed upon them.
Kolditz noted, “I was told by a DOE [state Department of Ecology] representative that if you run cattle on your property and then shift to something else for a year, you would not be allowed to run cattle on that property again.” However, a subsequent review of the draft SMP could not substantiate the referenced restriction against shifting back to cattle.
Kolditz went on to characterize the restrictions imposed by the draft SMP as, “This is eminent domain without compensation.”
Chuck Hendrickson, also a member on the property rights group, said permitting would become a much more lengthy and expensive task. Coincidentally, in the next day’s Wahkiakum County Eagle, an article discussed how a church on Coal Creek purchased a wheelchair lift to accommodate older people who couldn’t otherwise enter. Because the church is within 200 feet of a shoreline, it appeared they would have to apply for an SMP permit, at a minimum expense of $5,400. Before that became necessary, state Rep. J.D. Rossetti, D-Longview, was able to obtain an amendment exempting disability retrofitting from the Shoreline Management Act.
Kolditz agreed with Hendrickson and added, “If your house is located within a designated wetland area, you would not be allowed to add on to your home without going through a lengthy permitting process. That would also apply to outbuildings as well.”
Concern also was expressed about the impact on property values, since rural properties would be prevented from being fully utilized. One attendee, a cattle farmer in Grays River Valley, noted that if setback requirements apply to his operation, it lowers the number of acres available for pasturing cattle. If so, he said he would have to reduce his herd, thereby losing a significant portion of his livelihood.
Another criticism of the draft SMP is it is prone to varying interpretations by different individuals and agencies involved in enforcement. Discussion ensued about how to draft a more straightforward plan sensitive to impacts on county residents. No clear solution was formulated.
Attendees were asked how many of them were opposed to the plan as currently drafted. Immediately, every hand in the room was raised — an expression not lost on County Commissioner Dan Cothren.
“I don’t support the plan as currently written,” Cothren said. “Organizations such as the Department of Ecology have, over time, gathered too much authority without sufficient oversight.”
The SMP was prepared by the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce (CREST) located in Astoria. According to Kolditz, members of the advisory group asked to have changes made to the plan but were told the state Shoreline Management Act does not allow them. CREST’s plan indicates, “The SMP was created from the community’s input.” The latest draft prepared by CREST was not provided to the SMP Advisory Committee before being listed as a final draft and made public.
According to the CREST report, the state’s SMA was originally passed by the Legislature in 1971 and adopted by a public referendum with a goal to prevent the inherent harm in uncoordinated and piecemeal development of the state’s shorelines. Meeting participants indicated, however, that the implementation approaches articulated in CREST’s draft SMP are too restrictive and invasive on rural residents.
The final draft of the SMP is scheduled to be addressed by the Wahkiakum County Planning Commission on April 28. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. on the third floor of the courthouse in Cathlamet and is open to the public. It is expected the SMP will go to the county commissioners for consideration soon thereafter.
The final draft SMP and associated documents can be viewed on the county’s website, www.co.wahkiakum.wa.us. Scroll down to the bottom of the county page and click on “Wahkiakum County and Town of Cathlamet Shoreline Management Program Update Material.”