Columnist off base about CAO

In response to the column by Kate Miller (May 6) on the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO): I applaud all efforts to involve people in local policy, but I think it is important to understand the complexity of the facts first.

The CAO is a way to maintain life as we know it in the Valley. It helps guide new development so that forested areas will be retained between properties, it keeps stream banks stable to minimize flooding, it helps provide clean drinking water, and as a result of those three we get salmon habitat out of the deal. Most importantly, it provides the flexibility for landowners to expand on existing structures and build new buildings as needed.

Unfortunately, this has to happen in the form of county regulations, but once you dig a little deeper into what the policy says you'll find they are not as restrictive as they may seem at first glance.

1. The largest impact of the 65/10 Proposal will be on newly developed land (in short, limiting the clearing to 35 percent of the property), and even then there are exceptions. But for property that already has a residence on it: when you go to get a permit to expand on your house or build a new out-building, land that has already been cleared can continue to be mowed or grazed. Land that is covered in blackberries is considered to be cleared (because it is already in non-native vegetation) and can be cleared and seeded for pasture, lawn, etc. Native forest land that is managed for timber and/or recreation can count toward your uncleared percentage.

2. Wetland definitions will be determined by the state manual. They use soils and hydrology to determine wetland boundaries. In addition, all state codes include a statement that people must be able to glean an economic use from their property.

3. Wetland buffers, critical for drinking water and flooding prevention, will not make almost every lot in King County unbuildable. These guidelines have been formed to balance the needs of people and the environment. There are adequate flexibilities in the ordinance to prevent property from becoming un-buildable.

For more information, the county has a set of (surprisingly readable!) factsheets on these topics and more: http://www.metrokc.gov/ddes/cao/#factsheets

This ordinance would enhance many of the features of rural life that we love and make life here possible the privacy of woodlands, clean drinking water, and reduced flooding - while allowing you the opportunity to use your land as you have been already.

Melissa Borsting

North Bend

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