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County sees spike in building permit apps
Since the 2008 economic crash, business has been slow at the Clallam County Department of Community Development. But as 2012 came to a close, the permits desk was hopping.
Sheila Roark-Miller, the county’s Development director, said, “The exciting thing is permits are being issued.”
She credited the uptick to the new Dungeness Water Management Rule, which becomes effective today, Jan. 2.
The rule puts into place a new regulatory regime covering much of rural eastern Clallam County, “closing” that portion of the Dungeness Basin to new water uses. It largely does away with the permit exemption law that formerly allowed those who drill a well within the region to enjoy the resulting water at no cost.
Those who want to drill a new well, and those who put water from an existing well to a new use, are now required to pay a mitigation fee for the water.
Roark-Miller said the recent applicants filed in December in order to beat the clock.
While Ecology often has stated that a property owner in the affected area was required to draw water from a well before Jan. 2 to earn an exemption from the new rule, Roark-Miller said she was told by Ecology that those who simply had a building permit would be in a regulatory “gray area.”
“They’re not going to be watched,” she said, and therefore are unlikely to be required to purchase mitigation credits.
Credits now for sale
Miller said those seeking a new building permit can apply for the required mitigation credits for indoor water use through her office. Through June the credits are available at no cost, with the credits for the first 100 permit applicants purchased through a $100,000 grant given to the county by Ecology.
The fees go to the Washington Water Trust to buy additional mitigation rights and to fund mitigation projects.
The Washington Legislature is expected to consider a request filed by outgoing Gov. Christine Gregoire to fund additional credits for Clallam County landowners.
Water for outdoor uses can be purchased through the Dungeness Water Exchange, which is negotiating a purchase of water rights from the Sequim-Dungeness Agricultural Water Users Association. The exchange is operated by the Washington Water Trust through a contract with Clallam County.
Phone calls by the Gazette to the Washington Water Trust weren’t returned, but in a recent guidance document Ecology wrote, “Applicants for building permits will also be able to purchase mitigation packages for outside watering and higher consumption, subject to water availability.”
Water for outdoor uses is not expected to be available in all of the affected area.
Ecology noted that, “In areas where getting mitigation water for outdoor use may be difficult, requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”
Roark-Miller added that she is working with the Washington Water Exchange to track the water rights they issue. She said it’s possible the county may at some point handle all of the mitigation credit transactions.
Though a date hasn’t been set, Clallam County and Ecology will soon host an open house followed by a public workshop on securing mitigation credits for building permits. Those with site-specific questions are encouraged to attend the open house and discuss their issues one-on-one with the county, Ecology and Washington Water Trust.
The workshop will include a presentation followed by questions and answers.
In the meantime, property owners with questions on complying with the new Dungeness Rule should contact:
• Clallam County Department of Community Development for information on building permit procedures: 417-2317.
• Washington Water Trust for information on the new Dungeness Water Exchange: 206-675-1585, ext. 101.
• Washington Department of Ecology for water use requirements of the new Dungeness rule: 360-407-6058.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.