Monroe city staff are reviewing planning commission recommendations that the city adopt set widths for wetlands buffers during development projects.

The amendment is one in a series relating to wetlands protections presented by Monroe senior planner Shana Restall at the Feb. 7 city council meeting. The proposed ordinance was developed with input from Washington State Department of Ecology staff.

“We are trying to meet them in the middle, and this has been a negotiation,” Restall said.

Set widths would allow residents to forgo critical areas studies beyond delineation, but also makes it a challenge to reduce the buffer if desired, said Public Works director Brad Feilberg. The process began back in 2015, and staff that first tackled the draft with DOE is not here anymore, he said.

According to Washington code, cities are required to regularly update their wetlands protection regulations to align with the state’s Growth Management Act, which follows best available science. The DOE assists local governments going through the revision process, and provides approved literature, according to the agenda bill.

DOE wetlands specialist Doug Gresham favors the city codify ranges of widths, according to an agenda bill. He suggests following one of two charts from a DOE adopted wetlands management guide for jurisdictions, which assigns ranges based on the four types of wetlands. The four categories of wetlands are defined by criteria outlined in the Washington State Wetland Rating System.

The first chart assumes minimizing measures are being taken to reduce impacts to “adjacent land use on the wetland,” according to the bill. The second assumes no minimizing measures are being taken, so the minimum and maximum widths are higher.

“During phone conversations with Mr. Gresham, staff maintained that requiring a qualified professional to determine a wetland rating system score is particularly onerous for Monroe residents because of the expense,” according to the bill.

Catagory I “wetlands represent unique or rare wetland types, are more sensitive to disturbance... ecological attributes that are impossible to replace within a human lifetime, and provide a high level of functions,” such as bogs and old growth forest, according to the bill. Categories II through IV decrease respectively in functionality, and therefore require fewer protections.

There are categories within many of the categories, Feilberg said.

Initial feedback from the DOE was incorporated into the draft in 2015, and the updated version was sent to the Washington State Department of Commerce last August. The city’s planning commission held three public meetings last year, and recommended approval on Jan. 23. A State Environmental Policy Act review was conducted, and the approval was not appealed. The only comments received were from the DOE.

Gresham wrote in a Sept. 6 letter to the city that he still had concerns that the proposed ordinance wouldn’t provide enough protection to wetlands within city limits.

The planning commission believes the proposal “would be meeting minimum requirements and has the least infringement on people’s property,” Feilberg said.

Councilmember Jason Gamble said he wanted to see more concrete reasoning behind the set widths, and not just “meet them in the middle.”

“I just know, being within city limits, the difference between 100 feet is a big deal,” he said.

Restall said if councilmembers prefer, the city could adopt ranges or smaller set widths. Cities can legally adopt their own buffer requirements. She also went over two other comments from Gresham, including that the city adopt the state’s stream classification system. Currently, the city uses an interim system, and would have to “commission a new or updated stream inventory” to make the switch, according to the bill.

Restall said the Department of Natural Resources Forest Practices board will adopt the new system, so the city will have to either way. Neither of Gresham’s other comments addressed code that is up for revision right now, she said.

Interim City Administrator David Moseley suggested tabling the topic until a later date. He said the parks department staff has put a lot of time into the complex issue, “but it is not soup yet.” The city attorney and staff will flesh out and clarify areas of confusion, he said.

Other amendments are included in the proposal and can be viewed in full on the city’s website.