Shorelines move to forefront of growth management

"The Growth Management Act may still be a work in progress across the state, but more rules and regulations governing growth, its effects and environmental protection could be a common occurrence in the future. The listing of the salmon as an endangered species last year will likely have a wide-ranging effect on development along salmon-bearing streams and rivers. Other Puget Sound species - such as herring and some bottom fish - may soon join salmon on the list, causing even more restrictions on what can be done near the shoreline.The state Department of Ecology recently proposed updated guidelines for protection of streams, lakes over 20 acres, and marine waterfronts. Current city and county shoreline management programs were written under 1972 guidelines.The new proposals, which require setbacks from shorelines, buffers along streams and stricter rules on bulkheads and docks, have generated plenty of heat with developers and landowners who see them as nothing short of a taking of private land.Department officials say that many county plans already require setbacks, buffers and other restrictions, so the new proposals won't make much difference. The also say they are responding to federal agencies such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that implement the Endangered Species Act. Here is a brief rundown of what the the Department of Ecology is proposing. Any new regulations based on the proposals will have to be approved by the Legislature.* Protecting shoreline vegetationLocal governments will be required to protect shoreline plants that keep banks from eroding, shade the water, and create habitat for fish. They may do this through the use of clearing and grading standards or setback and buffer standards. A second approach would set a vegetation buffer of one tree height (the maximum height that a tree could potentially grow at a particular site) along rivers where trees naturally grow and 60 feet along rivers where trees don't grow. The proposal also sets a minimum 100-foot buffer along lakes and marine shorelines.* BulkheadsLocal plans will need to slow the spread of bulkheads and other hard shoreline armoring. Applicants will have to demonstrate a need for new bulkheads before getting approval. Fish-friendly erosion-control methods will be given first priority. Repairing and maintaining existing bulkheads is allowed but it may be necessary for a property owner to get a a geotechnical report showing the bulkhead needs to be replaced before getting approval.* Docks and piersPiers and docks will be restricted to the minimum size needed for the proposed use and must be built to reduce harm to the shoreline environment. Property owners are encouraged to share piers and docks with neighbors to reduce the spread of individual structures.* Agricultural landsLocal governments will be required to develop standards to prevent new agricultural uses from harming shorelines. A previous proposal to make the standards apply retroactively to existing agricultural activities was dropped form the new proposal.* TimelineThe law currently requires counties to produce new shoreline plans within two years of adoption of a state plan. The Department of Ecology has suggested that the deadline be extended and that more state funds be made available to counties to help them comply.You can get more information on the department's proposals by calling the shoreline hotline at (888) 211-3641 or by visiting the department's Web site at Seven public hearings on the proposals have already taken place around the state. A final hearing will take place tonight, July 12, at the Whatcom County Courthouse Council Chambers, 311 Grand Avenue in Bellingham. An open house begins at 5:30 p.m. The hearing starts at 7 p.m."

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