Planning commission under gun to fix shooting ordinances

Posted 10/23/19

The funding for a Port Hadlock sewer project hangs over Jefferson County’s revision of two shooting range ordinances.

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Planning commission under gun to fix shooting ordinances

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The funding for a Port Hadlock sewer project hangs over Jefferson County’s revision of two shooting range ordinances.

The link to the sewer project is this: If the county doesn’t get the shooting range rules wrapped up by a March 2020 deadline, the commissioners might be ineligible for state funds necessary for the sewer project.

But, to revise the shooting range rules, the County Commission needs the cooperation of the Planning Commission, many of whose suggestions were requested and then ignored the last time the county adopted the new gun range rules.

“We’re up against a wall, due to funding for the sewer system in Port Hadlock,” said Planning Commission Chair Mike Nilssen.

County Administrator Philip Morley has set a series of deadlines for the complex revision process and that is raising hackles.

“Some of us strongly objected to that forced rapid timeline because we need to do it right this time,” said Planning Commission member Lorna Smith.

The county’s volunteer planning commission has just over a month to review and suggest improvements to the commercial shooting range ordinances, with its work due by Dec. 4 to the elected Board of County Commissioners.

This is their second time through, and this time changes will be required. The county’s original commercial shooting range rules were challenged by a citizen group and the state’s Growth Management Hearing Board struck down the ordinances in September, because they did not comply with the Growth Management Act.

Morley and the county’s paid professional planning staff are hoping the volunteer planning commission will work to a tight schedule.

“There are two important drivers for a Dec. 4 deadline,” wrote Morley in an email response to questions from The Leader.

The first is that the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board set a March 2, 2020 deadline for the county to come into compliance with the board’s order.

The second is that the county commission has set itself a Feb. 28 deadline to finish another project: adoption of a state-mandated ordinance declaring protection of areas critical to clean drinking water, wildlife habitat and nature preservation, called the “Critical Areas Ordinance.”

The planning commission must have time to review both the shooting ordinances and the Critical Areas Ordinance by the county’s deadlines.

Morley said the deadlines imposed on volunteer planning commission members are a necessity.

“This timeline is necessary to preserve $1.422 Million in funding that the State Legislature appropriated this year for the County’s Hadlock Wastewater Treatment System project.”

The planning commission’s work on the shooting ordinances must be wrapped up in time to allow the commission to shift its attention to the critical areas ordinance so that the board of commissioners can meet their Feb. 28 deadline on that project.

NO EXTENSION, MORLEY SAYS

Why not ask for an extension to the deadline?

That could put the Hadlock Sewer project in limbo, says Morley.

At the planning commission meeting on Oct. 16, members of the Tarboo Ridge Coalition offered to seek an extension from the state environmental appeals board, but the County Commission rejects that course.

“Even if the Growth Board would grant us an extension, the extension would further jeopardize the funding for the Hadlock sewer project under the Public Works Board’s rules,” Morley wrote.

But for some members of the planning commission, forcing a fast timeline on the shooting ordinance revisions will only cause the county to repeat its mistakes.

“I and many other members have jobs,” Planning Commission member Lorna Smith said. “Trying to fit in review of the documents is going to take time. This is not a very fair and respectful timeline for the Planning Commission. We have to do this deliberately and that takes time.”

At the planning commission meeting on Oct. 16, Morley and DCD director Patty Charnas presented the commission with a 50-page document detailing proposed changes to the commercial shooting range ordinances in order to come into compliance with the GMHB.

“The crux of it is that the Growth Management Hearings Board felt that the Title 8 ordinance should have gone through the Planning Commission for a hearing,” Nilssen said. “That’s the biggest hiccup in this whole thing.”

Last year, only the Title 18 ordinance went through the Planning Commission. This time around, they get a chance to look at both ordinances and make recommendations for changes.

For Smith, who was one of several commission members to make a list of recommendations last fall that the county commissioners did not include in the final draft, many of her recommendations are the same as they were a year ago.

“Depending on my reading of what they presented to us, I’d probably be presenting the same issues,” she said. “I still find the same faults with the ordinances that I did a year ago.”

Smith said she feels frustrated that the planning commission must revise the ordinances, when all their additional recommendations were ignored last year.

These suggested amendments included prohibiting military and law enforcement training at commercial shooting facilities, requiring shooting hours to be restricted to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., prohibiting landing an aircraft or discharging firearms from an aircraft or drone at a commercial shooting facility, requiring a 500-yard setback of shooting areas around any lake greater than 20 acres, requiring a 16-foot-high noise barrier above grade at shooting ranges, and requiring all shooting areas to be fenced to a minimum height of 8 feet.

“I am certainly going to recommend those be added,” Nilssen said.

But will the commissioners take their recommendations this year?

“I do not feel like the Board of County Commissioners gives adequate weight to the recommendations of the planning commission,” Smith said. “We don’t want to feel like we’re sitting there wasting our time.”

For Smith, who is the executive director of Western Wildlife Outreach, her planning commission position is a volunteer role that she takes very seriously.

“I see my role as representing the citizens for the county and making sure we abide by the rules of the county’s comprehensive plan,” she said.

Nilssen feels like the Board of County Commissioners has done a good job of listening to the Planning Commission in the past.

“It’s not just about what the Planning Commission wants,” he said. “They have a lot of angles they have to deal with, including their legal advisors as well as community input.”

POSSIBLE APPEAL

The county filed a motion for reconsideration with the Growth Management Hearing Board, but the motion was denied.

“We believe they ruled on an issue (SEPA compliance) that was not put before them by the Tarboo Ridge Coalition, the organization that challenged the County’s ordinances at the Growth Board,” Morley wrote. “This violated the Growth Board’s own rules and violated due process. The County also believes the Board’s decision also was based on factual and legal errors.”

Despite this, the board reaffirmed its decision, only correcting one factual error in its original decision and order.

The county can still appeal the board’s decision to the Superior Court.

“A decision on whether or not to appeal will likely be made by the County Commissioners within the next two or three weeks,” Morley wrote. “Regardless, work continues to revise the two ordinances to comply with the Growth Board’s decision.”

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