Critical Areas Update

2016 Update

Whatcom County is in the process of updating its critical areas regulations. The critical areas regulations are those rules in the County Code (WCC 16.16) that address how various environmental resource and hazard areas, including wetlands, geologically hazardous areas, frequently flooded areas, critical aquifer recharge areas, and fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, are to be addressed when using or developing property. It is anticipated that any amendments will adopted by mid-2016.

Counties and cities are required to conduct periodic updates of their comprehensive plan and development regulations, including but not limited to consideration of critical area ordinances (RCW 36.70a.130). Whatcom County is required to review, and if necessary, update its critical areas regulations. Review consists of using the Department of Commerce’s checklist (DOC), and reviewing and considering whether there have been any new:

  • Best available science
  • Changes to state law
  • Court cases
  • Growth Management Hearings Board cases

Additionally, this is an opportunity to address any amendments that the Council would like to see, including issues that the public raise or administrative issues that staff has identified.

Public Outreach / Participation

It is required to provide early and continuous public participation in updates to plans and regulations, and Whatcom County has adopted a Public Participation Plan (PDF) that provides for that. To assist and make recommendations to Whatcom County regarding the update, two advisory committees were formed.

Citizens Advisory Committee

One is a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), whose purpose is to advise staff, the Planning Commission, and the County Council on potential policy or code amendments. Eight members were appointed by the County Executive, each representing various interests.

Technical Advisory Committee

The second is a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), whose purpose is to advise staff and the CAC on Best Available Science and other technical and scientific matters related to critical areas. It was comprised of representatives of federal, tribal, state, and local governmental agencies, as well as qualified consultants who work in the field. This committee had 8 members as well, appointed by the Planning and Development Services Director.

The CAC and TAC have been meeting since mid-2014, and their meetings were open to the public. However, both of these committees have completed their work and no more meetings are anticipated unless the Planning Commission or County Council sends something back to them for consideration.


Planning Commission Review


The Planning Commission has now finished its review of the proposed amendments. Their recommendations can be found by clicking on the Planning Commission Review link at the upper left of this page. 

County Council Review

The draft amendments to the CAO will now move to Council. It is anticipated that they will commence their review on 9/20/16 with an overview by staff. Tentatively, they will hold a public hearing on October 25, 2016 to get early comments. However, due to their schedule, it may not be until January 2017 that we can get back before them for review of specific chapters. Click on "County Council Review" menu item to the left for more  information

Project Manager / Staff Contact
The Project Manager for this project is Cliff Strong, Senior Planner. Please contact him with any suggestions or concerns. If you would like to get on an email distribution list for periodic updates and announcements, please email Cliff and let him know.