New Fish Rules Costly for Owners of Private Roadsby Rene Featherstone
Capital Press - April 12, 2002
TWISP, Wash. -- Farmers in many parts of Eastern Washington have worked with their conservation districts to make their operations more fish friendly.
But the Okanogan Conservation District has had a rather difficult time selling property owners on irrigation upgrades because farmers are suspicious of government. New rules -- Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plans -- by Washington's forest Practices Board are seen by some as proof the government has a hidden agenda.
Late in March, the Farm Bureau called a meeting in Okanogan that drew more than 800 irate people, said Darlene Hajny, farm Bureau spokeswoman.
Hajny said the rules hold private landowners to the same road maintenance standards as those of the Department of Natural resources. Any road condition that hurts fish passage and stream quality has to be rectified at the landowner's expense.
For hay farmer Kim Maltais the road issue ties in with another controversy. For more than a year, Maltais has been building opposition to the Twin Creeks Coordinated Resource Management project.
The collaborative project intends to make two Methow tributaries, Beaver and Frasier creeks, accessible to fish. The first phase replaces diversion dams with weirs, with much of the funding coming from the Natural resources and Conservation Service.
As president of the Beaver and Frasier Creek Water Users Association, Maltais doesn't object to irrigation upgrades. There are 11 major diversions of the creeks, he said, conceding that some of the ditch operations could be improved.
What Maltais fears is "a ruse." His suspicions were fueled when he found a document he feels the conservation district should have submitted to water users at the start of the CRM process. It's a memorandum of understanding signed by the governor and government agencies including NRCS. One clause can be interpreted as an agreement by water users to have their water rights subjected to target stream flows -- if they accept federal money for irrigation upgrades.
Maltais conceded that the wording doesn't precisely spell that out, however, nobody from the government is assuring water users of anything, especially not in writing.
"We feel we're in jeopardy," Maltais said. "We want some certainty."
Enter the RMAP regs. Once again, Maltais sees it as a hidden clause trap. The foundation for the regs was laid back in 1999 when the Legislature passed HB2091.
But since the Forest Practices Board came out with specifics last year, land-management agencies have been quiet about the new rules, despite the fact that the regs could entail costs so high as to put small farmers like Maltais out of business.
Hajny adamantly said she first heard about RMAP regs at a small DNR meeting on another topic.
"There were only 10 or 12 people there aside from agency personnel. DNR sprang this RMAP business on us at the end of the meeting. They kind of tacked it on. I said, 'Hey, what's this?' They told us they want us to sit down at the table with individual landowners. I said, 'this is something that needs to get out to everybody.'"
The Farm Bureau meeting attendance surprised Hajny.
"It was the largest Farm Bureau meeting I've ever been to in Okanogan. We had to set up extra bleachers and people still had to stand."
Before the meeting was called, Hajny did some research. The impact of the RMAP regs could be enormous.
"Just putting in one culvert according to official specification runs $10,000 to $20,000," she said. One DNR document cites an overall estimated cost to private landowners of $375 million.
Maltais said the RMAP regs are another example of private property rights erosion. The basis for the regs, he believes, "is science with an agenda."
Hajny predicts "landowners will be standing up to this."
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