A bill co-sponsored by Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, and Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, that would provide relief to small counties struggling under the Growth Management Act went before the Senate Committee on Governmental Operations Tuesday.

Prime Sponsor Sen. Brian Dansel’s bill allows certain counties to opt out of the GMA and revert to independent land planning that still complies with state and federal regulations.

Republican Dansel, the senator who represents Ferry County — a county with 7,500 people and no stop lights — said that removing the GMA would decrease the financial burden on small, economically-troubled counties.

“It would stop counties from having to fight appeals to the Growth Management Board for, what I would consider, frivolous reasons, and would save the county attorneys’ fees,” Dansel said during the committee meeting Tuesday.

“We’re looking for some relief,” he went on. “We’re still protecting animal habitat, buffer zones, wetlands, shorelines, it would just simply mean we wouldn’t have to spend the dollars to litigate GMA issues.”

Enacted in 1991, the Growth Management Act is a comprehensive land use planning framework for county and city governments intended to preserve rural areas by moving 80 percent of the people to 20 percent of the land mass.

It establishes numerous requirements for local governments obligated to the GMA and a reduced number of requirements for all other counties and cities.

Any county with a population of 50,000 or more that has experienced a population increase of more than 17 percent in the last 10 years or has experienced a population increase of more than 20 percent over the previous 10 years, regardless of population, is automatically obligated to Growth Management.

Other counties, however, have chosen to adopt the GMA; Benton, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Kittitas, Pacific, Pend Oreille, Stevens and Walla Walla all opted it over the last 20 years.

Grant money was provided for those counties that chose to opt in.

Under Dansel’s bill, a county that adopted the GMA voluntarily can remove itself, as long as it has a population of 20,000 or less at some point between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2015 and no more than 40 percent of its cities oppose opting out.

Once a county has opted out, it must adopt development regulations within one year of leaving.

These regulations must assure that the use of lands adjacent to the designated agricultural, forest, and mineral resource lands does not interfere with the continued use of these designated lands for the production of food, agricultural products,  or timber, or for the extraction of minerals.

Local legislators, including Braun, Hatfield and Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, have long sought GMA-reprieve for all rural counties, including Lewis County.

Each year though, GMA bills come and go, and seem to make little headway.

Currently, there are about 10 bills aimed at loosening the GMA, and one, House Bill 1167, that aims to repeal it altogether.

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