By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“I think the commissioners are getting closer to feeling comfortable about granting conditional-use permits,” said Michelle McConnell, deputy planner, after the three commissioners heard an update Tuesday.
“There are geographical requirements and a high bar for product assessment,” she added.
Would limit location, scope
The commissioners are working toward developing a conditional-use process that limits the location and scope of potential net pen businesses because the state Department of Ecology said counties lack the authority to ban the industry outright — which commissioners sought to do.
McConnell said no applications for net pens have been submitted to the county.
The draft rules are next up for discussion at the March 11 commissioners' meeting.
Planning Manager Stacie Hoskins said that after a final draft of the policy is written, the Department of Community Development will host a series of public hearings to discuss the conditional-use process.
The latest draft of the policy contains 21 potential requirements for net pens, including mandating a genetic similarity between farmed and native fish, controlling the odor and regulating the lighting used in a fish-farming operation.
While strictly governing the process itself, the plan imposes geographic restrictions on where a facility could locate in Jefferson County waters.
There are four areas where net pens could be constructed in the Port Townsend area, while a 20-square-mile area northwest of Port Townsend and extending up to the San Juan County nautical border also could house the facilities, according to the proposal.
Jefferson County has been developing an update of the shoreline master program, or SMP, since 2009.
Ecology last February approved all aspects of the plan except for a ban on net pens, which commissioners feel can have a negative impact on the environment.
Held up SMP
The net pen discussion, which has gone on for more than a year, has held up implementation of other aspects of the SMP.
“I'm concerned about how long this has taken,” said County Commissioner John Austin on Tuesday.
“I think we need to have an SMP in place in order to protect the environment.”
Hoskins said permit applicants are confused because they don't know whether to follow the current SMP rules or wait until the new ones are approved.
While the county works to comply with Ecology's direction, a bill introduced in the state House advocates allowing counties to ban fin-fish aquaculture.
State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, is sponsoring HB 1599, which would allow county governments to include outright bans of net pen fish-farming facilities proposed for shoreline areas in their state-required shoreline management plan updates.
State Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, has sponsored a similar bill in the Senate.
Van De Wege and Hargrove, as well as Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, represent the 24th District, which covers Jefferson and Clallam counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at email@example.com.