Monday, April 12, 2010

Jefferson County’s shoreline update in state review

Jefferson County approved its new comprehensive Shoreline Master Program update and now it is up to us at Ecology to determine if it meets state law. Our shoreline experts are reviewing the county’s program, and we are asking you — the public — to provide your comments April 12 through May 11, 2010.

We’re also coming to Port Townsend April 20 to answer questions in an open house format. We’ll be at the Fort Worden Commons from 5 to 7 p.m. Immediately afterwards, we’ll transition to a public hearing where you can formally provide your comments on the county’s shoreline program.

Why update the shoreline program?

The Jefferson County shoreline program hasn’t had significant changes since 1989. But Jefferson County’s shorelines have changed since that time — in the form of development and restoration. One reason to update the county’s program is to incorporate these changes and plan for appropriate future restoration, public access and development. The new program is intended to do just that — assessing what the shoreline is like today and looking forward to the future.

In 1995, the state Legislature recognized that in the face of significant population growth, existing shoreline policies and regulations were inadequate to prevent piecemeal and uncoordinated shoreline use and development, save endangered salmon and restore Puget Sound. They directed Ecology to develop new guidelines for the shoreline update process. However, this was easier directed than done.

It took until 2003 — after years of intense stakeholder work and a lawsuit — for Ecology to adopt new guidelines. What we have today — which is what guided the county through its update — is the direct result of a negotiated settlement between building and business interests, agriculture representatives, associations of counties and cities and environmental advocates. That same year, the Legislature directed Ecology to work with cities and counties to update their shoreline programs by Dec. 2014.

What we’re hearing from the public

You may have questions about what Jefferson County’s shoreline program is or will do. I want to share with you a few of the questions we’ve heard and offer some responses.

Question: Do the new regulations make many shoreline homes non-conforming to current regulations?
Response: Any changes to the shoreline program only apply to new development. If your house was legally built, you will not be affected by new regulations. Your house is considered “grandfathered.” If you submit a county application to redevelop or further develop your property, then those changes would be reviewed in light of the new regulations.

Question: If my house burns down, can I rebuild it in the same location?
Response: A “grandfathered” house that burns down can be re-built in the same footprint and, with certain provisions, can even be expanded. There are certain exceptions that may apply to a house that was originally built in an unsafe or dangerous location.

Question: Do the new regulations block a property owner from protecting their property from shoreline erosion?
Response: The County’s updated shoreline program is designed to prevent the need for new armoring. But if a property owner clearly shows a need, they can use an approach that protects their property as long as it doesn’t endanger other properties or the values of healthy shoreline for others. You can protect your property.

As residents of Washington, all of us have a vested interest in managing and protecting our shorelines, statewide and in our local communities. We may have diverse opinions about the best ways to protect them, but we can appreciate what our shorelines provide: recreation, water access, amazing views, business and economic opportunities to name a few.

I invite you to weigh in during this public comment period and take some time to learn about the citizen role in shaping shoreline master programs. Looking forward to seeing you April 20th at the Fort Worden Commons.

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