Builders’ forum decries government regulations

Herrera Beutler: Jobs must be able to grow

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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A state Department of Ecology requirement that newly developed sites drain as slowly as they did prior to Euro-American settlement was used as an example of a job-killing regulation Thursday, and a federal injunction requiring Clark County to adhere to the standard has stopped all construction in the county, said Ron Frederiksen, president of RSV Building Solutions.

“That’s the reality of this,” said Frederiksen, speaking to approximately 100 people at an invitation-only forum held at the Vancouver Community Library.

“These regulations stop projects … pure and simple.”

Clark County’s alternative plan for managing stormwater runoff remains on appeal in state court. A federal judge ruled Dec. 28 that until the case is resolved, the county must follow the state’s more stringent guidelines.

Under the county’s plan, a developer has to ensure that current on-site flow conditions do not change, with the county making up the difference between that level and the presettlement standard by restoring flow conditions elsewhere in the same water resource inventory area. The county argues its approach allows for locating restoration in areas that will provide the most ecological benefit, including reforestation that cannot occur at the development site.

Prior to Euro-American settlement, 95 percent of the county was forested. The rest was prairie. Modeling systems allow engineers to determine what flow conditions would have been.

Frederiksen was one of six speakers at the Responsible Growth Forum, which was organized by the Southwest Washington Contractors Association.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, made brief opening remarks, pledging to fight to get back what Clark County residents pay in federal gas taxes in order to help fund crucial infrastructure to help make the county more business friendly.

She said she was at an earlier event during which she was asked what keeps her up at night.

“The thing that really keeps me up at night is the amount of people in our region who don’t have work,” she said. She said she has friends and family members who’ve been in unemployment lines and her goal “is to help create an environment where jobs can grow.”

Stopping those jobs are burdensome regulations and environmental groups that have been successful in taking local governments to court, speakers said Thursday.

The county ended up in court over stormwater after being sued by environmental groups, which argued the county’s approach didn’t go far enough to protect water and fish.

Frederiksen said public notification requirements have also gone too far, citing a client who wanted to remodel a property in Gresham, Ore. to build a bank. His client had to pay his engineer and other professional staff to host three open houses for three neighborhood groups so people could come and ask questions. They were required to bring cookies, coffee and juice. How many members of the public showed up? Zero, Frederiksen said.

“We, in my view, are pandering to the general public,” Frederiksen said.

He said local political leaders need to push back on state and federal officials who impose the regulations and say, “Our job is to follow the rules but our mission is to create jobs.”

Roy Heikkala, a construction and development consultant, recalled working in 1975, when he could build anything in the county with one permit.

Most elected officials don't understand the costs of development, Heikkala said.

He gave an example of a drive-through espresso stand in Hazel Dell that cost $183,773. The construction cost $43,000, and the rest went for design and engineering fees and permit fees. Another client needed to obtain 35 permits to remodel Summit Grove Lodge, he said.

Clark County Director of Community Development Marty Snell pointed out most of those permits are required by the state, and if the group really wants to have regulatory reform it needs to be speaking to state officials.

Mike Bomar, executive director of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association, said no state lawmakers were able to attend because they are in session but there will be additional Responsible Growth Forums and state lawmakers will be invited.

Local elected officials who attended Thursday's forum included Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and Marc Boldt, chairman of the Board of Clark County Commissioners.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.