Envision Skagit 2060: A Failure of Implementation

Positioning Skagit County for the challenges bearing down on us has been particularly difficult under the present system of county government. To preserve what we value about Skagit County we must do the best we can to anticipate those challenges and devise plans to meet them. As described below, Skagit County attempted this, but basically junked the effort when a very small but extreme and vocal group convinced, or intimidated, two of the three county commissioners to put aside almost all the work that had been done. Under the three commissioner system, any issue can be decided by just two people. The county charter option provided in the state constitution allows creating a council of part-time members. With 5 to 9 council members, a small minority with views out of the mainstream would clearly be less likely to convince most of the council and drive key decisions.

Between 2009 and 2012, Skagit County undertook a collaborative, long-range planning and visioning process called Envision Skagit 2060, which sought to identify long-term opportunities and challenges facing residents and communities in Skagit County over the next 50 years.

The project was funded with federal grants and received significant local contributions of time from participating organizations.

Skagit County launched the project with the help of a diverse Steering Committee composed of 18 community leaders from cities, towns, tribes, and the Port of Skagit, conservation organizations and agencies and the farm and forestry sectors, and Skagit Valley College.

The Board of County Commissioners and the Mayors of Anacortes, Burlington, La Conner, Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley also appointed a 12-member Citizen Committee consisting of a broad cross-section of Skagit County residents tasked with making policy recommendations for the elected officials to consider.

The County Commissioners promised the Citizen Committee members, who devoted nearly a year of their lives to the project, that their recommendations would be seriously considered and would not simply sit on a shelf.

The Envision Skagit Citizen Committee worked between September 2010 and June 2011 to develop its recommendations. The committee gathered information from dozens of local elected officials and business and community leaders, made site visits throughout the county, and sponsored more than a dozen community visioning sessions and open houses in communities throughout the county.

Citizen Committee Final Report and Recommendations were released in October 2011 and emphasized the following key goals and policies, among others:

  • Promoting stronger cooperation and coordination among elected officials and jurisdictions on issues including economic development, land use and transportation planning, and land conservation.
  • Encouraging new growth to occur in existing cities and towns, spurred by investments in jobs and amenities to make those cities truly great places to live; and
  • Protecting the County’s rural character, agricultural landscape, healthy ecosystems, and unique quality of life.

The State of Washington recognized Envision Skagit 2060 with a 2012 Governor’s Smart Communities Award for Excellence in Comprehensive Planning. The Skagit Valley Herald ran several editorials supporting the process, one of which ( Skagit Valley Herald, May 13, 2012) described its impact as follows:

    Conversations are taking place all over the valley that simply weren’t necessary a few years ago — or at least not necessary enough. Some of the credit for getting those talks going must go to the citizens involved in the Envision Skagit 2060 initiative and the county commissioners who set it up. That initiative included asking a variety of area residents to think about how they want this place to look in 50 years with the likely addition of 100,000 more people. They took the job seriously and offered up a series of recommendations that uncovered some of the challenges we will face over time as the population grows and puts pressure on our natural and fiscal resources. Not everyone agrees with all of the recommendations, but the plan has been a conduit to draw everyone to the table to talk. Fifty years is not a long time, and we will answer to our children and grandchildren for the decisions we make today.

Unfortunately, as the Citizen Committee’s recommendations moved to the Skagit Council of Governments (SCOG) for consideration, a small but vocal opposition group began attending those meetings, asserting that Envision Skagit 2060 was a United Nations conspiracy to dictate local land use planning – despite the fact that the Citizen Committee consisted of local residents selected by local elected officials.

While many of the mayors urged the Council of Governments to move forward with several recommendations, two County Commissioners – both of whom were approaching reelection – failed to defend the process and the Citizen Committee members who had invested vast amounts of time and energy to develop those recommendations.

Lacking full County support, the SCOG discussions ground to a halt, and Envision Skagit 2060 lost its forward momentum. This happened largely because two County Commissioners, facing re-election, failed to stand up for the value and credibility of the effort they had helped to set in motion. Voting “Freeholders Yes” on this November’s ballot and choosing freeholders (delegates) in your district who support drafting a county charter for positive change are key steps towards preventing outcomes such as happened to Envision Skagit.