Ecology will complete Spokane County’s Shoreline Management Plan
Washington Department of Ecology
Contact Jani Gilber for additional information: 509-324-3495, email@example.com
The Department of Ecology (Ecology) has initiated a formal process to finish Spokane County’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) to protect and enhance shorelines along the Spokane River and area lakes. This will allow Ecology to complete the work the county began four years ago, in case the county cannot finish the program itself.
Normally, Ecology limits its involvement in SMPs to providing funding and technical assistance and reviewing local programs and permit decisions. However, the county has struggled to complete the overhaul of its shoreline regulations and is more than a year late for meeting the statutory deadline.
Ecology is required by law to finish the SMP if the county does not. The county was notified in November 2007 and again in May 2008 that Ecology would initiate the regulation-setting process in July 2008 to adopt an SMP for the county. If Spokane County adopts a complete and approved updated SMP before the end of the year, the state regulation-setting process may end.
Ecology has worked in partnership with the county from the onset and plans to continue doing so while working on the final document. The Spokane County Commissioners are scheduled to deliberate on the unfinished draft SMP later this month.
Shoreline Master Programs serve to protect shoreline natural resources including the land and its vegetation, wildlife, the water itself, and aquatic life. An SMP also needs to support and promote public access to shorelines so the public has opportunities to enjoy the physical and aesthetic qualities of natural shorelines and provide for economic development.
Under the Shoreline Management Act, cities and counties with larger bodies of water are required to develop shoreline master programs.
Spokane County voluntarily accepted state funding and began to update its Shoreline Master Program in 2004. The deadline for completing the SMP was March 2, 2006, but was extended to January 2007. As of July 1, 2008, the SMP was 20 months late. The incomplete draft also contains several points of unresolved contention. They include:
* The county’s proposal would greatly reduce the setbacks and buffers along rivers and lakes mandated by existing county regulations. The proposed regulations are inconsistent with the county’s own “critical areas ordinance,” which is a requirement of the state’s Growth Management Act.
* The county has not developed regulations for keeping development out of areas where the river might change course over time.
* Additional lakes must be added to the county’s inventory of protected shorelines, based on their size. Development regulations must also be applied to these shorelines.
* The county’s assessment of cumulative impacts, or the combined effects of several projects, is inadequate. The SMP needs to provide an analysis of what would happen if many projects are built in a shoreline area, such as the long-term effects of docks built on several different properties at the same time.
“We will continue to depend on Spokane County’s planning expertise to help us develop an SMP that meets the needs of the county and yet satisfies the requirements of the state’s Shoreline Management Act,” said Gordon White, Ecology’s program manager for shoreline management. The Shoreline Management Act was an initiative passed by voters in 1971.
Whatcom County recently celebrated the adoption of its updated county Shoreline Master Program – a landmark effort that will significantly increase protection of Puget Sound. It is the result of extensive collaboration and hard work among representatives of state agencies, builders, farmers, tribes, local governments, and environmental groups.
“Whatcom County’s SMP provides buffers to protect water quality and shorelines from being degraded by buildings and activities too close to the water,” White said. “It also requires some restoration work and protects fish and wildlife habitat and more. To accomplish all that is a great success, and I believe we can still accomplish that in Spokane County.”