Larsen talks coastal resiliency with Coupeville business owners

The restrictive nature of permitting requirements was one of the complaints business owners shared.

The restrictive nature of permitting requirements was one of the complaints Coupeville business owners shared with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen when the congressman visited Central Whidbey on Wednesday to discuss coastal resiliency.

Larsen visited Kingfisher Bookstore, which sustained thousands of dollars of inventory loss and structural damage when it flooded during a king tide event in December. Kingfisher was not the only Coupeville business to suffer during the floods, and owner Meg Olson warned that it won’t be the last.

“All of Front Street is eventually going to have flooding issues,” she said during the meeting with Larsen.

Von and Barbara Summers, whose historic Front Street property houses a cidery tasting room, a retail space and three vacation rentals, said their building also suffered serious damage during the flooding.

Von Summers said incoming flood waters caused driftwood to ram into the building’s substructure, knocking out a sump pump and breaking protective sheeting. Barbara Summers added that the piles that make up the building’s foundation were damaged. After investing millions of dollars into restoring the building, the entire structure is now compromised because of the substructure damage, she said.

Now they must consider how to save the entire building, she said, but pouring concrete isn’t allowed under Department of Ecology requirements.

“There is just an uphill battle to be able to do what you need to do,” she said.

Olson echoed the sentiment. Kingfisher Bookstore is the only Front Street building on a concrete slab, but there’s no way other building owners could get the permits to do similar work on the shoreline nowadays.

“There are certain regulatory requirements that, if they don’t budge, this whole strip of buildings is in the sand,” she said.

Larsen told the business owners and other town leaders present at the meeting that existing programs relating to coastal resiliency and climate change mitigation under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021 can give Whidbey stakeholders an idea of what types of tools they can use in the future. There are also provisions for tax credits for certain types of shoreline resiliency infrastructure investments.