State weighs shoreline plan intervention
September 9, 2008
Spokane County’s efforts to craft new regulations for 750 miles of shorelines along rivers, lakes and streams are too little, too late, according to the Washington Department of Ecology, where officials are prepared to intervene and may end up rewriting portions of the county’s shoreline master plan.
In 2004 the county received $300,000 in state grants to update its 33-year-old plan. The county was supposed to adopt a new shoreline master plan by January 2007.
In addition to running nearly two years late, the draft plan lacks the buffers and development setbacks needed to protect the shoreline’s natural functions, said Brian Farmer, Ecology’s section manager for shorelines in the agency’s Spokane field office.
He said the state took the unusual step of alerting Spokane County that Ecology will finish the plan if the county doesn’t draft a more suitable one by the end of the year.
“With all the focus on cleaning up the Spokane River and the current development pressures, it’s critical that we get this right,” Farmer said.
Rich ecological communities occur where the water meets the land. Shorelines provide important habitat for fish; migration routes for birds and other wildlife; and diverse plant life, Farmer noted. Through interconnected wetlands, they also filter silt from the water and provide for flood control.
To protect shorelines’ natural functions, counties are required to regulate development within 200 feet of the high-water mark.
“I’m very sympathetic that we need to protect these resources,” Spokane County Commissioner Bonnie Mager said Monday. However, “I think there’s more than enough blame to go around” for the county missing the 2007 deadline.
The county points to Ecology for the tardiness of the plan, saying Ecology’s staff didn’t provide substantive input on the draft plan until three years into the planning effort. The Department of Ecology disagrees. Farmer provided a written list of staff contacts with the county planning department that dates to 2003.
How to best protect shorelines is another area of dispute.
Spokane County spent the $300,000 cataloging its shorelines – assessing which were pristine, which were degraded and which would benefit from rehabilitation. Farmer said the county should take those designations and develop clear standards for how many feet of native vegetation must be left along the shoreline and how far buildings should be set back from the water.
That’s the “science-based” approach, according to Farmer.
He said the shoreline ordinance should also match the county’s critical areas ordinance, which was adopted in June. The critical areas ordinance recommends buffers of 100 and 250 feet along some streams.
“It’s important for the public … to have clear and realistic expectations of what the regulations are,” Farmer said.