Deer using wetland

Bog, marsh, swamp.  American fervor to drain or reclaim these landscape features has been high throughout our history.  As the impacts of these actions have become evident, the state and federal governments have taken action to recalibrate how these wetlands are viewed.  Instead of blights or wasted lands, these features are now valued for their ability to support wildlife, filter pollutants, and moderate both flooding and low water periods. At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish & Wildlife Service, and Corps of Engineers are all involved in a program of defining, identifying and protecting wetlands. At the state level, these duties fall primarily to the Department of Ecology and local jurisdictions like Stevenson. As a result, Stevenson’s regulations incorporate and reflect the efforts of the other agencies involved.

Figure describing the multiple benefits of wetlands.

Past & Current Regulations

Stevenson’s first attempt to regulate development in and near wetlands was adopted as part of the 2003 Critical Areas Ordinance.  That simple program defined 4 types of wetlands and the situations in which each of the types could be altered.  In addition, the program defined 4 standard buffer widths for the 4 wetland types and limited the alterations and activities that could occur within buffers.  If an applicant’s proposal could not comply with those regulations, then 4 standard mitigation ratios were required based on the area of the wetland and/or buffer impacted.

The state of the science changed a great deal between Stevenson’s adoption of its initial Critical Areas Ordinance and its review in 2008 when the current regulations were adopted as SMC 18.13.100.  The program put in place at that time required greater complexity but maintained the basic structure for regulation based on 4 wetland types, buffers, and mitigation ratios.  Deficiencies found in the previous regulations included a lack of wetland exemptions, the differing methods for approving wetland alterations, the widths of and standards for buffers, a lack of options to reduce buffer width, the size of the mitigation ratios, and the standards for preparing wetland delineation and mitigation reports.  The replacement program addresses those issues and balances the increased wetland buffer widths and mitigation ratios with new methods to provide exemptions and reductions to the increased buffer widths.

2017 Review & Amendment Process

Since 2008, only 3 developments have been proposed near wetlands. So, to better assess the effectiveness of the City’s program, staff sought guidance from Donna Bunten with the Washington State Department of Ecology.  Ms. Bunten is responsible for coordinating with local jurisdictions during the review and update of wetland regulations and provided both specific and general guidance for necessary updates to Stevenson’s regulations. With her help, Planning Department staff identified 1) deficiencies in the delineation and rating methods for wetlands, 2) scientifically-unsupportable methods to exempt wetlands and reduce buffer widths, and 3) better methods to mark wetlands in the field. Using the state’s model program as a guide, staff also identified ways to provide a more complete, but simplified regulatory program.  The proposal continues to regulate based on 4 wetland types.  The buffer widths are unchanged.  Provisions to reduce buffer widths rely on a scientifically-accepted method. Mitigation ratios for impacts to wetlands remain unchanged and a new ratio has been added to apply specifically to wetland buffer impacts.  The program also attempts to coordinate with the regulatory programs for shorelines management and fish & wildlife habitat areas.

Documents

  • Pending