Forum talks to center on balancing growth and environment

County officials canvassed Kitsap in late March to gauge public sentiments about environmental protection, growth needs and economic development in the region.

County officials canvassed Kitsap in late March to gauge public sentiments about environmental protection, growth needs and economic development in the region.

Now that county officials have digested public comment gathered during the series of three “Speak Out” meetings, they are gearing up to host a second set of public forums.

This time, the goal is to talk specifics and discuss ways in which government programs can either be improved or implemented to support growth and the environment in a balanced manner.

As many as 200 citizens attended the first series of meetings, with many repeat visitors.

While county officials are pleased with attendance levels for the first meetings, they are shooting for a more user-friendly forum format to attract additional citizens to this series, scheduled for late May and early June.

“We are looking to get as good a turn-out as we can,” said Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen. “A lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking in big groups. We want more participation across the board.”

Each public forum are expected to provide intimate break-out sessions, during which attendants can speak about their ideas in smaller, round-table style groups.

Talks could center on existing county programs that currently balance growth and the environment, as well as any additional concepts that accomplish that same balancing act.

“We want to get a good idea of the incentives that would really work and what really motivates people and what makes it worth their while,” Endresen said. “We’ll start by looking at what we have.”

One existing incentive-based program is the county’s open space program. It provides property owners with the opportunity to preserve portions of their land as open space, in exchange for property tax breaks prescribed under the law, if certain criteria are met.

The Kitsap County Conservation District provides yet another incentive-based, volunteer service to county residents and farmers.

Conservation staff members can help local farmers develop farm-use plans so that their farm practices are environmentally sound and don’t harm nearby streams and waterways.

The District can also help link farmers to grants that will help pay for the implementation of the farm plans.

The first Speak Out meetings showed there should be interest in the second series of meetings.

An informal “supermarket” survey, completed by about 50 percent of the first Speak Out attendants — 137 people — reveals that Kitsap residents think maintaining quality drinking water, protecting natural areas, preventing floods and preserving forests and rural areas, are important to them.

Most respondents also tended to agree that the county has a role in protecting natural areas and streams and wetlands as well as protecting forests and rural areas and drinking water.

Most of the respondents were older citizens, in the 61-years old or older age group.

Almost all of them owned land, with half owning property that contains a wetland or a stream and the other half without.

Many agreed the listing of Puget Sound salmon under the Endangered Species Act would have a direct impact on their lives, while others weren’t sure, didn’t know or didn’t think there would be an impact.

While the county is holding public forums throughout the region this year, officials are also working under deadline to update certain ordinances.

For instance, the county’s stormwater ordinance must be updated to reflect the state Department of Ecology’s standards by next March.

The county is also required to update its critical areas ordinance under the state’s growth management law by December 2004. That comprehensive ordinance contains land-use regulations crafted to better protect fish and wildlife, preserve both water quality and quantity and preventing flooding and landslides wherever possible.