Buys appointed to serve on House Environment Committee, continues work on Hirst Decision fix

Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, was selected by House Republican Leadership to serve on the House Environment Committee. The shift came after then-Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, was appointed to the Senate, vacating her position on the committee.

Buys says the new assignment will be a good fit as he continues to serve on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, of which he is the ranking Republican, while the Legislature works to resolve the Hirst Decision.

“Addressing the water and Growth Management Act policy implications made by the Hirst Decision is a top priority for lawmakers like me who represent diverse, rural communities,” said Buys. “The ruling has not only imposed a massive burden on home developers and landowners, it also threatens affordable housing throughout the state. It’s not fair to leave families in a lurch — we must find a solution this year.”

In October, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, referred to as the “Hirst Decision,” that put developers and landowners in a stand-still. The court determined Whatcom County’s comprehensive plan had failed to provide for protection of water resources in accordance with the Growth Management Act. This placed the exemption of private wells at risk even though the county had complied with the Department of Ecology’s rule allowing permit-exempt wells so long as fewer than 5,000 gallons of water are drawn per day. It’s estimated that in 2015, 20 percent of Whatcom County residents were served by non-public or private water systems, yet permit-exempt wells throughout Washington represent only 1 percent of the state’s total water use.

While the court decision concerns Whatcom County, the ruling could reach statewide. Twenty-eight other Washington counties are required to draft comprehensive plans and submit them to the Growth Management Hearings Board for review. Counties like Spokane have already taken preemptive measures to avoid potential litigation, such as requiring costly hydrological evaluations for building permits.

Lawmakers have put forth a number of proposals that address aspects of the court decision. Two of those bills — House Bills 1459 and 1460 — are sponsored by Buys, and would reform the review process for permit-exempt wells and address the legality of available water as it relates to relinquishment. Both bills received a public hearing in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee this week.

Aside from Hirst, Buys says serving on the House Environment Committee will benefit the 42nd District as many of the policies considered by its members affect industries and businesses throughout Whatcom County.

The committee considers issues relating to the Growth Management Act, shoreline management, climate change, aquatic lands, air quality, oil spill prevention and more.

The 2017 legislative session began Jan. 9 and is scheduled to last 105 days.


Washington State House Republican Communications