Friday, March 26, 2010

Setting the record straight: No ban on shoreline property erosion control

By Gordon White, manager, Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program

Contrary to what you may have heard, shoreline development regulations in Whatcom County don’t put environmental protection ahead of erosion protection on shoreline properties, and Whatcom County did not ban shoreline erosion control.

I can’t talk about a specific case that is still having its day in court, but I can share the facts about our state’s shoreline requirements.

Alternative shoreline protection method:
Seahurst Park, Burien

Seawall removal project: Before

Seawall removal project: After

Photos by Hugh Shipman, Washington Department of Ecology
Washington’s shoreline development rules recognize that environmental protection and property protection go hand in hand.

Our approach respects the values of the people of Washington state. Shorelines are where people go swimming, where they put their boats into the water, where they go for walks, and where salmon and other cool things live. In our state, we want to maintain that connection to the shoreline.

Whatcom County was the first of the state’s 39 counties to update its segment of statewide shoreline development rules, called the shoreline master program, as required by state law. (You can read the news release.) The state Department of Ecology must approve local jurisdictions’ updates.

Shoreline master programs protect the ecological integrity of our shorelines while protecting private property and allowing water-dependent uses. The shoreline rules also recognize erosion control as a safety issue, protecting people from unstable slopes or floods.

Armoring a section of shoreline may increase erosion elsewhere on a shoreline, inflicting harm on other property owners and natural resources. However, in cases where no other shoreline protection method will work, the county’s shoreline regulations and state law allow armoring shorelines to protect legally-built structures that are shown to be threatened.

If there are alternatives to armoring, that’s what we want to see. We work with property owners and local governments to find those solutions.

In approving the Shoreline Management Act in 1972, Washington’s voters made it a priority to preserve and protect the ecological integrity of their shorelines as a means of protecting their property.

Because most jurisdictions hadn’t comprehensively updated their shoreline master programs in more than 30 years, the 2003 Legislature directed more than 260 towns, cities and counties to comprehensively update their shoreline rules.

The statewide update allows individual jurisdictions to avoid the environmental harm inherent in piecemeal and uncoordinated shoreline development. Most of these updates will be completed by 2014.

Our environment is one of our state’s most treasured assets. We live here because it’s beautiful here, and we can keep it that way while protecting our private property.

Here are some links to more information:
Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program
FAQs: Shoreline master programs
Introduction to the state Shoreline Management Act
Shoreline master programs overview
FAQs: Marine shoreline armoring and Puget Sound
Focus on shoreline armoring

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