EVERSON, WA – Last month, the Washington State Riparian Taskforce, funded by state resources, came under intense scrutiny following the release of their preliminary recommendations. The contentious recommendation document outlines several intentions to leverage eminent domain against landowners who fail to meet specified targets related to riparian habitat restoration. This move has sparked outrage among stakeholders, particularly within the agricultural community, who decry it as a violation of property rights and democratic principles.

The 10-page preliminary report submitted to the Governor’s office and key legislators outlines four recommendations aimed at establishing and enforcing a riparian regulatory program. Critics point to biased treatment across sectors of the economy, highlighting exemptions for cities while subjecting agricultural lands to full regulation.

Jason Vander Kooy, a Skagit County farmer, emphasized the crucial role of agriculture as a buffer between development and the environment, expressing concern over the disproportionate burden placed on agricultural lands. “Agriculture is the buffer between development and the environment. All we have to do is look at the past three generations in Western Washington. We have seen 70% of our agricultural land developed.”

Of particular concern is Recommendation 3, which proposes the use of eminent domain to acquire critical lands within watersheds to meet restoration targets. The recommendation explicitly states, “Recommendation 3 proposes an acquisition program come into effect in those watersheds to help meet those targets…The State’s targeted riparian acquisition program shall rely upon the State’s eminent domain authority to acquire critical lands within the watershed that are necessary to achieve these three-year outcomes.” If the state does not approve of the progress that a watershed is experiencing and if the landowner is not meeting the state’s requirements, then the state claims authority to simply take the land.

The recent revelation of eminent domain authority within the draft recommendations for riparian habitat restoration in Washington state has ignited a firestorm of outrage among affected stakeholders, particularly those within the agricultural community. This provision, which grants the government power to seize private property for public use, has been met with staunch opposition for its blatant disregard of property rights and fundamental democratic principles.

“This is a blatant disregard for the fundamental rights of property owners,” remarked Larry Stap, dairy farmer, and President of Save Family Farming. “The agricultural community made a good faith effort to engage constructively in the policymaking process, only to have their concerns callously disregarded and told that, if you don’t meet the government’s imposed targets, which are not completely supported by science, by the way, then they are simply going to take your land from you.”

The decision to endorse eminent domain as a tool for riparian restoration has been characterized as a process foul of the highest order, signaling a troubling willingness on the part of the government to use whatever means necessary to achieve its objectives, even at the expense of private property rights.

Stakeholders are demanding that eminent domain be unequivocally removed from the final recommendations and that property rights are respected and protected in any future policy initiatives. The Riparian Taskforce is expected to issue the final draft of their recommendations within the month.