01/11/2012: "With Fingers Crossed, Council Votes On Ag Stewardship Program"
r the last two reviews [related story] of the Voluntary (Agricultural) Stewardship Program (VSP) -a part of the Ruckelshaus Process bill (.pdf 81\k file), it seemed the Council was ready to embrace it, but when in came for a vote on Tuesday (01-10-12) at a special meeting, the Council balked, then passed the bill by a split vote.
The bill includes a program designed to come up with a way to protect critical areas (as defined in the Critical Area Ordinance the County is currently struggling to pass) on agricultural lands while at the same time protecting agricultural lands.
How that works, what it means in practice, how much will it cost the County, and -the big question- can the County change their mind and leave the program without penalty.
Patty Miller said she had been told by the local representative for the program they opt out early on by simply not acknowledging they had received funding from the state, but Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord disagreed, stating the law did not say that. Gaylord said the County could opt out, but only after three years.
But there were other questions from the Council for which there were no answers, or conflicting answers, and councilmember Richard Fralick (participating by video from Hawaii) said there was lack of information and too much uncertainty, and he was unwilling to vote for something that was not fully explained.
Ostensibly the program will allow farming in areas not otherwise allowed under the CAO (Critical Areas Ordinance), in other words it will set up some form -unknown at this point- of exemptions for those farming; and perhaps even for those planning on farming in the future. But then again, maybe not, exactly.
One argument put forth against the program is that it could end up being one more expensive and devising process, like the GMA and the CAO update.
But then on the other hand, the CAO update has only really become an contested issue because the County has allowed it to become a spring board for enhanced and new restrictive regulations that have the potential to go beyond what the state has required.
In any case, the County is now committed for at least three years.