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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Clark County Council delays action on climate plan, saying more public involvement needed

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: November 8, 2023, 6:08am

The Clark County Council unanimously agreed on Tuesday to push the passage of its public participation plan to late November, delaying a key element for shaping climate action in its comprehensive growth management plan.

Once approved, the county would establish three climate-focused advisory groups: a county, city and partner agency group; an environmental justice group; and a community group. In doing so, the participation plan would rally a range of voices to join decision-making processes with county staff related to its comprehensive growth management plan.

Together, they will guide how Clark County tackles its greenhouse gas emissions and works toward greater climate resilience.

Following a hearing for the public participation plan, councilors agreed with individuals’ testimony and cited a need for further public engagement before approving the document. The next public hearing for the participation plan will be held Nov. 28.

Clark County’s growth management plan serves as a 20-year policymaking roadmap for managing the county’s development. Periodic revisions — what is currently being pursued and must be completed in June 2025 — are required to reflect evolving state laws, land use changes, population growth and housing forecasts — and, more recently, climate considerations.

Jenna Kay, from the county’s Community Planning Department, told the councilors the public participation plan before them slightly differed from what’s typical, mainly because of its emphasis on climate action.

“It’s addressing a significant change to the state’s Growth Management Act,” she said.

In May, the Legislature passed a House bill amending Washington’s Growth Management Act to require that local governments incorporate climate action into their comprehensive planning. Examples of such efforts include touching on air and water pollution, increasing housing while preserving green spaces and incorporating multimodal lanes into roads.

Within new climate planning requirements, the county must craft a greenhouse gas reduction target for the first time. It also requires a “resiliency” component, which delves into community preparedness, response and recovery with natural hazards, such as frequent flooding, heat waves and drought. All considerations must prioritize equity, or environmental justice.

Each advisory group would meet multiple times throughout the course of the county’s comprehensive planning process, finding consensus on climate and resiliency goals.

Clark County staff anticipate forming advisory groups through January to draft greenhouse gas and resiliency targets by early 2025. The county’s planning commission and county council will hear and adopt the goals, incorporating them into its comprehensive plan, by spring 2025.

The county hired a consultant, JLA Public Involvement, to conduct public surveys related to the plan. It found “the public and stakeholders lack trust with the county and don’t see it as transparent in its processes and projects — particularly related to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

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Trust

Jim Bryne of Ridgefield wrote to the council Tuesday morning that trust is crucial, particularly in creating “a level playing field.” This includes adequately incorporating community feedback in decision-making and allowing the public proportionate access to county staff.

Though, he continued, the county has been “failing in the trust department,” partly due to the public’s shaken confidence surrounding its plan with Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad for the Chelatchie Rail Yard expansion.

Updates

Friends of Clark County, a local environmental organization that has fought urban sprawl for decades, wrote to the council Tuesday morning in support of the plan. Specifically, the group touched on protecting farmland from development, encouraging the inclusion of agricultural voices in a community advisory group.

Local food systems and food insecurity, or the lack of consistent access to nutritious food, must be addressed in conversations surrounding environmental justice, the group wrote, as they are significantly influenced by climatic changes and “cannot be overstated.”

Others who spoke during the council meeting, including councilors, said the public needs more time to review JLA Public Involvement’s findings and updates to the participation plan, which were submitted the day prior.

“I’ve been unable to familiarize myself with those changes,” Councilor Glen Yung said. “I would imagine the public hasn’t seen them, as well.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer