Clallam County commissioner frets over flooding, other climate change mayhem — especially in Dungeness Valley
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A juvenile bald eagle lands atop one of the piers Monday from pioneer businessman Charles Seal’s 19th century dock at Dungeness. —Photo by Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County has an obligation to warn its citizens about the risks of winter storms and climate-driven sea-level rise, Mike Doherty told his fellow commissioners Monday.

Doherty, who regularly brings up climate change in board meetings, said people should make informed decisions about their investments knowing that low-lying areas such as 3 Crabs in the Dungeness Valley could be under water in a few decades.

He cited an 2013 study funded by the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe that predicted 3 Crabs, Jamestown Beach and portions of Sequim and Discovery bays will be at risk of flooding by the middle of the century.

“I think we have a duty to warn people,” Doherty said.

“And I think that there may be a liability later since we know and we don’t warn them. Somebody someday could sue the county and say ‘You had all this information and yet you kept issuing permits to us?’”

Doherty suggested a public meeting at the Jamestown schoolhouse to share information about sea-level rise and other impacts of a warming climate.

“Research is being done, but we’re not doing very much in Clallam County,” said Doherty, who will be up for re-election this year should he decide to run.

Commissioners Mike Chapman and Jim McEntire did not tackle the climate issue, which Doherty has repeatedly added to board work-session agendas.

After reviewing the Jefferson County and Port Townsend climate action plans, Doherty suggested that Clallam County revamp its own five-year-old climate plan.

He encouraged Chapman and McEntire to review the Jefferson County plan and read studies that outline risks of climate-driven flooding, well inundation and fire hazards.

“I guess for now, I’d just ask you to look through this material and think ‘What do we want to do?” Doherty told his fellow commissioners.

County Administrator Jim Jones used last month’s Oso mudslide in Snohomish County to complicate Doherty’s argument that Clallam County could be liable if 3 Crabs property owners aren’t warned about future flooding.

Although Snohomish County is being sued for allowing permits in the slide area, it was also threatened with a lawsuit for not allowing the developer to build, Jones said.

Clallam County could be liable if it allows development at 3 Crabs with knowledge of a rising sea, but it could also be sued if it restricts development.

“We’re kind of in a no-win there,” Jones said.

“I don’t know how it can ever be, really realistically, the local jurisdiction’s responsibility to make that decision for people.”

Rather than regulating development, Doherty said the county and realtors should disclose the risks of climate change.

“The longer you wait to inform people about the risk of their investment not being there forever, then I think that amps up the chances of some liability to the county for not sharing the risk and letting people make up their minds about what they want to do with their property,” Doherty said.

The Jamestown S’Klallam report on climate change can be found on the tribal website at www.jamestowntribe.org under “Programs” and “Natural Resources.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 21. 2014 6:17PM
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