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Each year since the Washington Growth Management Act was amended in 1995 to allow lightly populated counties with big growth rates to disregard state-regulated planning, Skamania County commissioners have voted to do so.

Officially, Skamania County’s population has grown by 20 percent since 1990, making it a candidate for state oversight, which requires the adoption of comprehensive management plans that protect farm and forest land. The actual numbers are less impressive, however. In 1990, the rural county was home to 8,289 people. Today, it has 9,900.

County officials say they have plenty of regulation already, including a county comprehensive plan, county zoning, the federal National Scenic Area rules, a critical areas ordinance, and shoreline management. Moreover, revised state shoreline rules and new federal restrictions to protect threatened salmon are on the horizon, county commissioners say. For a county of 3,000 households that is 90 percent publicly owned, that’s enough, officials say. Eighty percent of Skamania County lies within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and 10 percent is managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Only Skamania and Okanogan counties have taken advantage of the language that allows low-population counties to opt out of the GMA, state officials report. Counties with populations under 50,000 are subject to the GMA if their 10-year growth rate exceeds 17 percent. They can opt out annually, but once they’re in, they’re in for good.

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