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Thursday, November 30, 2023
Nov. 30, 2023

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Judge blocks rezone on White Salmon River

Environmental groups fearful of sprawl hail ruling

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

A Clark County Superior Court judge has blocked the rezoning of more than 1,000 acres of land along the White Salmon River, handing a victory to environmental groups who had challenged the move because they say it threatened a sensitive watershed.

Judge Barbara Johnson ruled late last month that Klickitat County did not follow required rules and proper review when it converted broad swaths of farm and forestland to residential use, clearing the way for new developments at Husum and BZ Corner. Petitioners led by Friends of the White Salmon River, supported by Friends of the Columbia Gorge, argued the change could have prompted “unchecked sprawl” in the form of hundreds of new homes along the river on lots as small as 2 acres.

The change was first proposed in 2007. Subsequent legal wrangling eventually led to the court challenge filed in Clark County last year.

Johnson’s decision effectively voids the county’s plan on constitutional grounds, said Ralph Bloemers, a staff attorney for Portland-based Crag Law Center who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs. The county didn’t consider a reasonable range of alternatives, and illegally gave the right to individual landowners to up-zone their land to a level that constitutes invalid “spot zoning,” according to Johnson’s ruling.

Conservation groups welcomed the ruling as a positive outcome for the White Salmon River and its future.

“If you want to protect the river, you need to protect the land around the river,” Bloemers said.

It’s unclear if the county will appeal or continue to pursue the rezone. The Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which helped argue the case, declined to comment Monday.

The White Salmon River, a tributary of the Columbia River, has come under the microscope in recent years as a remarkable evolution process continues. It was on the White Salmon that Condit Dam was breached in 2011, then removed in 2012, opening up miles of new fish habitat for the first time in nearly a century. The dam’s removal also dramatically altered the landscape immediately upstream by draining Northwestern Lake.

Most of the proposed rezone affected land upstream of the former dam site.

Allowing hundreds of new homes would have threatened returning salmon and steelhead, advocates argued. New wells and septic systems would have adversely affected the natural seeps and shallow aquifers that feed much of the river’s volume, Bloemers said.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com

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