Thurston County developers received some welcome news Friday when the county announced it had completed a record number of building permit reviews required to protect Mazama pocket gopher habitat.
Thurston County only conducts reviews of developable properties in the summer, when the gophers are active. Beginning June 1, the county set out to review 130 building permit applications to determine if gophers were present.
Instead, the county completed 200 reviews, and another 100 reviews are scheduled for completion before review season ends on Oct. 31.
“This pace not only cleared the backlog from the previous season, it also addressed all new applications submitted,” the county news release reads.
The county streamlined the process by reducing the maximum number of project site visits from three to two and getting U.S. Fish & Wildlife to supply additional field biologists. The county also had additional staff help with in-office, pre-screenings of permit applications.
Olympia Master Builders government affairs director Joel Baxter said Monday the building industry welcomes the improvements and praised the decision to cut site visits from three to two.
Yet there’s “still plenty more that can be done to improve the process,” Baxter said.
OMB wants the county to approve the use of private biologists and to create a pathway for smaller building projects, he said. For example, someone building a deck shouldn’t have to go through the full-blown gopher review process because that kind of project has little impact on soils, Baxter said.
Not all building permit applications submitted to the county are subject to gopher review. Only about 10 percent of the county’s 4,000 building permit applications require a review, according to the news release.
Despite the improvement in processing applications, the county also announced that because the site-review season ends Oct. 31, the property site-review schedule is now closed until next year.
“Any new building permit applications requiring review will have to wait until 2018 to move forward with the process,” the county news release reads.
The schedule is closed because there is not enough time for reviewers to complete two reviews, 30 days apart, as required by U.S. Fish & Wildlife.
For more about the gopher review process, go to www.thurstonplanning.org.