In a story that is familiar to many landowners in south Thurston County, Deborah McLain took to the podium Tuesday to address Thurston County commissioners about her inability to build on her land.
Federal restrictions involving the endangered Mazama pocket gopher are holding up McLain and her husband’s plans to build a home on a half-acre of an 8-acre plot in the county south of Tumwater.
“There is no permanent plan in place and it leaves us no way to move forward,” she said.
McLain said she has never seen a pocket gopher on her property.
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Property owners throughout south Thurston County have been caught up in a series of inspections and negotiations between the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the county when they try and develop on land where the gophers might reside.
Finding a solution to landowners’ headaches was one of the campaign promises both newly elected commissioners, Gary Edwards and John Hutchings, made last year.
“We’d like to see it done tomorrow,” Edwards said after the meeting. “… We’re hamstrung in the process.”
Hutchings and Edwards met with Fish and Wildlife representatives in December before they were inaugurated, and again last week.
Hutchings said they hope to develop both a long-term policy solution as well as interim steps to help landowners already in the process of seeking a permit to build. A meeting with county staff is scheduled for Feb. 23 at 9 a.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room.
Hutchings said he hopes to strike a balance between protecting the pocket gopher’s environment while tipping the scales to favor landowners.
McLain said the process has already dragged on too long, and a loan she and her husband had applied for was recently denied due to the lengthy environmental review process.
To compound her frustration, McLain said, she had come to an agreement with Fish and Wildlife, which they approved, where they would set aside about 1 acre of their property for environmental mitigation.
So far, she said, the county has not issued the $182 pocket gopher development permit they need, and the agreement with Fish and Wildlife stipulates a third party, in this case the county, must oversee the development and conduct inspections.
“We have nothing against preserving what’s already there, like I said, we’re not paving paradise to build a parking lot,” McLain said.