Franklin County commissioners voted 3-0 Wednesday to hire a consultant to assist the county with a state-mandated update to its Shoreline Master Program.
The plan initially was approved by Washington voters in the early 1970s, and all cities and counties are required to update it, said Jaime Short, who heads the shoreline program for the state Department of Ecology's eastern regional office.
The Ecology Department is providing a $250,000 grant for the county to complete the update.
Wednesday's vote approved a contract with Anchor QEA for $189,995. The company has a Kennewick office. County planning and building director Jerrod MacPherson said the extra grant money would be set aside for potential cost overruns.
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The law requires 260 cities and counties with shorelines to preserve the public's right to access the shore, limit environmental damage and reserve some areas for water-oriented usage, ecology officials said. It was part of a settlement between 58 parties including businesses, environmental groups, ports, cities and counties.
The plan has come under criticism from some. When the Pasco City Council cast a vote on its Shoreline Master Program update last week, Councilman Tom Larsen cast the lone dissenting vote, calling it an "Agenda 21" mandate from the state. He was referring to a voluntary sustainability plan passed by the United Nations in 1992.
But Franklin commission Chairman Rick Miller would rather see local governments manage their own shorelines, instead of allowing the state to do it. He fears changes would categorize irrigation ditches near farmland as "Waters of the United States," which could lead to buffer zones for pesticide use. That could threaten a number of farms.
"Because it's a navigable waterway, they could say you cannot spray within these distances," he said. "It could be 200 feet. It could be 1,000 feet."
Short acknowledged that a failure of a city or county to complete its own shoreline plan can cause the state to use a process called rulemaking to create a plan. But she said the process still would include input from the public.
"We work very, very hard to make sure it doesn't get to that point," she said.
The state can identify waterways with certain average flow levels as critical, Short said. But it is careful to work with governments and their consultants.
"That's something we would work on in a case-by-case basis," she said.
Short and MacPherson pointed to a recent case in Grant County where Anchor QEA assisted the governments of the county and small cities in coordinating with the Department of Ecology in de-listing designated "shorelines of the state."
Franklin County has a similar issue with the Esquatzel Coulee, a drainage area that runs through Connell that has been designated a state shoreline, where it hopes to use the consultant, MacPherson said. Other Franklin County waterways that are regulated by the Shoreline Master Program are the Columbia, Snake and Palouse rivers, as well as lakes larger than 20 acres.
"It's a master plan to guide development within 200 feet of the water bodies," said Gregory Wendt, the county's assistant planning and building director.
Cities and counties are expected to turn in their shoreline programs by December 2014, and the Department of Ecology should complete its work on the Franklin County and Pasco plans by June 2016, Short said.
-- Commissioners approved hiring a groundskeeper at a step 4 level, which pays around $5,000 more per year than a step 1 position. Facilities director Gordon Hanscom said it was difficult to hire someone at the initial price.
-- Commissioners hired Construction Ahead Inc. of Kennewick, which does business as Pavement Surface Control, to complete intersection safety improvements for $90,162. The project will add flashing lights to stop signs and install rumble strips.
-- Commissioners appointed Jennie L. Weber to the Benton Franklin Workforce Development Council.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; email@example.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom