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Joe Remenar found the ideal spot to retire. After a long career in law enforcement, he bought three and a half acres near Blaine, Wash., which included a nice home and a little room to enjoy nature.
Just a few miles from picturesque Semiahmoo Bay and even closer to the Canadian border, the Pacific Northwest property seemed the perfect fit. "The family really fell in love with the place, as I did,” Remenar said.
Since much of his land was nothing but an empty field, Remenar wanted to improve the environment. Three years back, he constructed a small, kidney-shaped pond, being careful not to interrupt the flow of a stream or remove any trees or bushes. The water feature immediately attracted blue herons, nesting geese and even bald eagles, in addition to snakes, frogs and other local wildlife.
In January, he decided to build a small shed near the pond but first contacted Whatcom County's Planning and Development Services to make sure everything was up to code. "I wanted to do the right thing," Remenar said, but ended up creating nothing but problems for himself.
Whatcom County Senior Planner Lyn Morgan-Hill surprised Remenar with the information that his property had been designated a wetland. Not only was the shed disapproved, Joe had to fill-in the pond and hire an official wetlands consultant to tell him exactly how to do it.
To non-bureaucrats burdened with common sense, a pond seems the very definition of “wet land.” But government planners decided it was necessary to destroy the environment in order to save it.
Remenar pled with Morgan-Hill, telling her about all the birds that use the pond. She warned that the county is concerned with bird flu. He told her of the reptiles using it as a habitat. The county is concerned with invasive bullfrogs. All Remenar’s pleas for understanding were met with intimidation. “That's when I realized that the county wasn't here to help me,” he said.
Since no one from the planning department would visit his property, Remenar contacted a county-approved wetlands expert who recommended that Whatcom County let him keep the pond. He talked to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, which found no violations and reported that his pond was “a clear and obvious wildlife enhancement project.” Remenar even hired a lawyer to preserve his common sense environmentalism.
But none of this has mattered to the central planners of Whatcom County. He didn’t file the right paperwork three years ago so the wetlands must be destroyed.
County planners trump bald eagles every time.
Follow Jon on Twitter at @ExJon.