County commissioners to conduct hearings on habitat protection rules
Protections for an endangered butterfly top the agenda for the Benton County Board of Commissioners meeting at noon Tuesday in the basement of the Benton Plaza, 408 S.W. Monroe Ave.
The commissioners will resume a pair of hearings continued from Sept. 20 on implementing the Benton County Prairie Species Habitat Conservation Plan. The plan aims to protect the endangered Fender’s blue butterfly while streamlining the permitting process for certain construction activities in areas of sensitive habitat.
The plan has already been approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but enacting it locally has proven tricky.
County planners are now recommending against creating an overlay zone for butterfly habitat, Community Development Director Greg Verret said.
“It would just be a general requirement that, in cases where habitat for endangered species has been identified, steps would be taken to avoid taking habitat.”
Instead of creating a new zoning designation, Verret said, the county is now moving toward a “belt and suspenders approach” that involves adopting an implementing ordinance while also amending its comprehensive plan to incorporate the habitat conservation plan.
That strategy should cover all the bases legally, Verret said, but it promises to be a long and involved process. It will likely require joint hearings with the planning commissions and city councils of Philomath and Corvallis because both have butterfly habitat within their urban growth boundaries.
“We think the most prudent approach is to have the HCP adopted into the comp plan,” Verret said. “That has not been done yet, so we’re proposing to start the land use process over.”