Public Invited to Open Houses on Critical Areas Ordinance Updates

The Thurston County Planning Department will hold a series of community open houses regarding updates to the County’s Critical Areas Ordinance and prairie habitat protections.

The proposed amendments will affect activities in environmentally sensitive areas of the county, such as wetlands, prairie habitat, and other fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas. The proposed amendments also apply to areas that pose a threat to human safety, such as frequently flooded areas, geologically hazardous areas, and aquifer recharge areas.

The community open houses will all take place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and are scheduled as follows:

  • Tuesday, October 5, 2010: Great Wolf Lodge, 20500 Old Highway 99 SW, Centralia, WA 98531
  • Thursday, October 7, 2010: Thurston County Fairgrounds, 3054 Carpenter Rd., Lacey, WA 98503
  • Tuesday, October 12, 2010: Rainier Sportsmans Club, 404 Alaska St., Rainier, WA 98576
  • Monday, October 18, 2010: Thurston County Courthouse Complex, 2000 Lakeridge Dr. SW, Olympia, WA 98502 in Room 152

The open houses will consist of two components: informational displays with staff available to answer questions, and a presentation followed by an opportunity for participants to address a staff panel with questions and concerns. There will also be opportunities for interested parties to submit written comments. Public comment from the open houses will be used to inform changes to the 2010 draft. The comments will also be distributed to the Thurston County Planning Commission and the Thurston Board of County Commissioners.

In addition, in the next several months the Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners will both hold public hearings on the proposed amendments to the Critical Areas Ordinance. The public will be notified of those hearings once they are scheduled.


The process of updating Thurston County’s Critical Areas Ordinance began in 2003. In 2005, the county presented its first version to the public and held a series of open houses. In August 2005, the Thurston County Planning Commission held a public hearing to gather more comment on the draft.

Beginning in 2006, county staff and the Thurston County Planning Commission made hundreds of revisions to the proposal in response to public comments; however, work on the project ceased because of budget and staffing constraints. In early 2010, the Board of County Commissioners directed staff to create a public process and revisit the draft ordinance. Staff analysis and public comment suggests that a significant revision of the 2005 draft is necessary. That process is now underway. The County Commissioners’ goal is to consider and ultimately adopt an ordinance which brings the county into compliance with state regulations and is consistent with the latest Best Available Science, protects critical areas and recognizes the needs of property owners.

In 2010, the County received a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to amend its Critical Areas Ordinance and incorporate updated protections for the County’s prairie and Oregon white oak ecosystems. These ecosystems are rapidly disappearing due to development pressures, and they support a wide array of wildlife including the Mazama pocket gopher, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and the Streaked horned lark. These species are candidates for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Updating the Critical Areas Ordinance is also a way to ensure that county regulations “stay local.” If Thurston County fails to protect critical areas – especially certain habitats and species – the state and federal governments may step in and enact stricter requirements.

Click here for more information regarding the process of updating the Critical Areas Ordinance.

More information is available at the Thurston County Permit Assistance Center at the County Courthouse address above or online at, or by contacting Andrew Deffobis at or (360) 754-3355 ext. 5467. To receive project updates and hearing notices, click here to sign up for the Planning Department’s webmail list.

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