The Kootenai County Commissioners, this morning, in continuation of deliberations begun three weeks ago, declined to create a massive new loophole in the County’s already-weak shoreline protection regulations. Although Commissioner Todd Tondee expressed a willingness to make more aggressive changes, the Commissioners voted unanimously to make “Band-Aid” styled changes to the law rather than major transplant surgery.
KEA had been concerned that the draft changes to the County’s “Site Disturbance Ordinance” which governs development activities near waterways, proposed a sweeping exemption for activities “of such size, scale, regional economic benefit and/or nature that allowing the work to proceed is found to be in the best interests of the public.” The abject subjectivity of the exemption would have created a decision-making nightmare for the County as any large project could have been able to apply under the vaguely worded exemption. Not to mention that these potentially-huge projects would be allowed to proceed within the most important buffer strips around our waterways without much in the way of regulation and permitting. Currently, development activities within very narrow stream and shoreline buffers are highly restricted.
Commissioners Dan Green and Jai Nelson stated that they were unwilling to go that far at this point. Both Green and Nelson declared that they were not willing to create a broad new exemption now, while the development code rewrite is in the works. Green signaled he was even unwilling to give a narrower exemption to only the County’s own projects, saying that if private citizens are not granted a loophole, then the County shouldn’t get one either.
The Commissioners all agreed, however, to make narrower “Band-Aid” changes. It will now be easier for landowners to use mechanical equipment and to work in the narrow shoreline buffer strips when necessary to repair or address erosion, soil instability, or stream bank stabilization. This new flexibility should actually make it easier to fix, or maybe even prevent, problems with properties that would otherwise threaten water quality.
All in all, very good news from the County this morning.