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New direction anticipated for Planning Commission

Members of the reduced Washington County Regional Planning Commission could have their hands full if a proposed rule involving increased regulatory control by the Environmental Protection Agency is passed.
The planning commission size was halved from 15 to seven at the Sept. 22 board meeting in an effort to improve its effectiveness. With repeated meetings cancelled due to lack of a quorum, the new Committee on Committees recommended a reduced body made up of two county commissioners and five representatives from the public.
During a called meeting the following week, county commissioners gave unanimous approval to Mayor Dan Eldridge’s appointments of Tim Hicks, Sam Lindley, Joe McCoy, Grant Summers, Pat Wolfe and county commissioners Mark Larkey and Robbie McGuire.
All of the former planning commissioners’ terms had expired, and McCoy is the only one who was reappointed.
Eldridge said his goal in significantly changing the makeup of the planning commission was to appoint individuals with the ability to contribute applicable experience in the areas of civil engineering, surveying, property valuation, construction and development.
The appointment of Wolfe, a former county commissioner, also was in response to comments that rural residents did not feel they were represented, he said.
“There is merit in having someone consider those issues as a priority, and Pat Wolfe is uniquely qualified to represent the rural areas,” Eldridge said.
“Folks want to know their lifestyle and desire for living in a rural area are being considered and preserved.”
In addition to a change in members, a shift in leadership is expected. “This commission has statutory authority to conduct planning and zoning on its own, and the (Zoning Department staff) are here to support the directives of the planning commission,” said Eldridge. “The (planning) commissioners are the ones who will be setting the lead.”
Improved effectiveness will be needed as Washington County faces potential effects of the Environmental Protection Agency/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “Waters of the U.S.” Proposed Rule.
The executive summary of the proposed rule printed in the Federal Register of April 21 states:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) publish for public comment a proposed rule defining the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA), in light of the U.S. Supreme Court cases in U.S. v. Riverside Bayview Homes, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (SWANCC), and Rapanos v. United States (Rapanos).
The purposes of the proposed rule are to ensure protection of our nation’s aquatic resources and make the process of identifying ‘‘waters of the United States’’ less complicated and more efficient. The rule achieves these goals by increasing CWA program transparency, predictability, and consistency. This rule will result in more effective and efficient CWA permit evaluations with increased certainty and less litigation. This rule provides increased clarity regarding the CWA regulatory definitions of “waters of the United States” and associated definitions and concepts.
The West Virginia Farm Bureau opposes what it sees as unwarranted federal involvement. According to a recent opinion:
“The proposed rule would significantly expand the scope of ‘navigable waters’ subject to the Clean Water Act jurisdiction by regulating small and remote ‘waters’ — many of which are not even ‘waters’ under any common understanding of the word.
“Because of this proposed rule, farmers, ranchers and other landowners across the countryside will face tremendous new roadblocks to ordinary land-use activities. By increasing federal jurisdiction over lands by calling them ‘navigable waters,’ the rule would establish federal power to regulate farming and other land uses such as building homes, drilling wells and mining coal.
“There is no legal ‘right’ to a permit to discharge into navigable waters. If ditches and ephemeral streams — streams that are dry most of the year — in and around farm and ranch lands are deemed ‘navigable,’ many routine farming and ranching activities such as building a fence, spraying for or pulling weeds, and insect control will be deemed to result in a ‘discharge’ to those so-called navigable waters. The same is true for other landowners.
“EPA will have ultimate control to deny a discharge permit and therefore restrict the ability to farm, build homes, drill wells, mine coal, cut trees, etc. For the same reasons, the proposed rule would make many of these routine activities vulnerable to lawsuits by environmental interest groups threatening penalties of $37,500 per ‘discharge’ into these so-called ‘navigable waters.’
“The proposed rule would adversely affect jobs and economic growth. In reality, the proposed rule will subject more activities to CWA permitting requirements, National Environmental Policy Act analyses, mitigation requirements, and citizen lawsuits challenging the applications of new terms and provisions. The impact will be felt by entire regulated communities and average Americans, including small landowners and small businesses least able to absorb the costs.
“The potential adverse effect on economic activity and job creation in many sectors of the economy has been largely dismissed by the agencies and certainly are not reflected in EPA’s highly flawed economic analysis for the proposed rule. Neither do the agencies adequately address the effect on state and federal resources for permitting, oversight and enforcement.”
The comment period ends Monday, Oct. 20. “Based on what I’m hearing from Washington, the legislature is not going to intervene,” Eldridge said. “This has the potential to negatively impact everything we’re wanting to do to stimulate the economy.”
In addition to the planning commission, Eldridge said he soon will be asking various committees to engage and weigh in on this issue.