By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“There is nothing more that we can do this year,” said state Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, a Democrat from Sequim who introduced House Bill 1599 on Jan. 31.
“I was disappointed that the fish-farming industry and the [state] Department of Ecology worked so hard to defeat this,” added Van De Wege, who represents the 24th District, which comprises Jefferson and Clallam counties and part of Grays Harbor County, in the House along with fellow Sequim Democrat Rep. Steve Tharinger.
Ecology spokesman Curt Hart said his department’s position was consistent with previous policy.
“We have said that marine net pens are an approved water-dependent use, and it should be fairly considered,” Hart said.
“This doesn’t mean that net pens should be allowed without restrictions,” he added, “only that there should be a process in place for their approval.”
The one-page bill said: “Master programs may include provisions for siting or prohibiting the siting of marine aquaculture net-pen facilities.”
A companion bill by Sen. Jim Hargrove, a Hoquiam Democrat who also represents the 24th District, also was not moved out of committee by last Friday’s deadline for policy bills in their chambers of origin.
The House Local Government Committee had taken no action on HB 1599 since it conducted a public hearing Feb. 15.
Hargrove’s Senate Bill 5623 was referred to the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee on Feb. 6 but was never scheduled for a hearing.
County Commissioner Phil Johnson, who has led the effort to ban the industry in Jefferson County because of fears of harm to native fish, said he was “extremely disappointed” that the legislation had died.
County Commissioner John Austin said he had expected the bill to go farther in the House but not in the Senate, where Hargrove was the sole sponsor.
“We now need to see if we can protect the environment through conditional use,” Austin said.
“I look forward to whatever DCD brings us at the meeting on March 11.”
On that date, commissioners expect to see the latest draft of a conditional-use permit process for net-pen aquaculture.
The process is being developed in the event that any such businesses apply to be sited within the county.
The county’s shoreline management plan update, known as an SMP, has been on hold for two years during negotiations between the county and Ecology, which supervises net-pen aquaculture — the raising of species such as Atlantic salmon in pens.
County officials want to ban the practice, while Ecology has ruled that counties do not have the right to do so.
Stacie Hoskins, planning manager for the county Department of Community Development, said at a Feb. 18 meeting that after a final draft of the policy is written, planners 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.
Washington state has nine such facilities, including an American Gold Seafoods facility in Port Angeles.
Van De Wege said a future version of the bill may have a better chance of passage once more counties develop their new shoreline master program updates.
“I think this will become a bigger issue as more counties get involved,” Van De Wege said.
“It was hard getting support for the bill when my district was the only one affected.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.