Shoreline battle over regs settled - A compromise removes the emphasis on the Endangered Species Act.

Rebecca Cook
The Associated Press
Bremerton Sun

December 21, 2002

OLYMPIA -- It took three years and three mediators, but environmentalists, business groups and policy-makers have finally agreed on new shoreline protection rules for Washington.
The new rules will affect everything from house and dock building to industrial development, with the goal of improving public access and reducing erosion, flooding and pollution.

"The citizens should expect to see a difference in environmental quality. They should expect to see a difference in access to public shorelines. They should expect to see a reduction of the impact of development on shorelines," said Tom Fitzsimmons, state Department of Ecology director.

What's remarkable about Friday's announcement is that leaders of both environmental and business groups agreed with him.

Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business, called it "a truly landmark agreement between parties who rarely agree."

Kitsap County, which has been awaiting this deal to proceed with its own rules, has 228 miles of saltwater shorelines, third in the state behind San Juan County (at 373 miles) and Island County (240).

New regulations for development and use of Washington's ocean, river, stream and lake shorelines have been a long time coming.

Voters in 1972 passed the Shorelines Management Act, which directed the state to protect shorelines. Counties wrote regulations based on the state's master plan.

Those regulations haven't been updated since. When the Department of Ecology wrote new guidelines in 1999, it unleashed a tidal wave of criticism and outright hostility from property owners, developers and rural leaders who feared the new rules would choke economic development in their counties.

Hearings on the proposed rules drew crowds of more than 1,000 in some areas. At one, uniformed sheriff's deputies warned state officials they couldn't guarantee Ecology employees' safety if the workers tried to enforce the rules. Ecology Department cars were vandalized, and a state senator told audience members at one anti-Ecology rally that they might have to "start shooting" to protect their property rights.

When the agency approved the new rules in November 2000, a coalition of business groups, local governments and citizens sued the state and appealed to the Shoreline Hearings Board. The board struck down the rules last year, and a lengthy court battle seemed inevitable.

In September 2001, Gov. Gary Locke appointed three mediators to try to negotiate a settlement.

The compromise removes the original rules' emphasis on compliance with the Endangered Species Act -- that's the biggest difference.

The original rules gave counties two paths to take with shoreline regulations. One path focused on vague outcomes involving shoreline health, and the other, developed with the federal government, set out specific steps counties should take to guarantee compliance with the Endangered Species Act's salmon protections.

Environmentalists complained the first path was too lax. Counties and business groups complained the second path was too strict and wrongly involved federal regulations in a state process. The hearing board agreed that Ecology had overstepped its authority by incorporating federal laws into state rules.

The settlement announced Friday falls between the two paths, said Washington Environmental Council President Jay Manning. He said environmentalists got the kind of protections they wanted, including a requirement that shoreline development cause "no net loss of ecological function." That means developers will have to inventory what "ecological functions" -- from marine life to shoreline plants -- exist on a site, and then protect them.

Business groups are satisfied the new rules won't cripple economic development in rural counties, said Kristin Sawin of the Association of Washington Business. "There was a recognition in this process that a certain level of economic activity is appropriate, as long as you protect ecological functions," she said. The rules exempt farmers.

Leaders of rural counties who worried about the burden of writing and enforcing the rules will get money and more time, Locke said. His budget request includes $2 million to help counties develop shoreline regulations. Also, the settlement includes a staggered schedule of deadlines. The first counties will start writing regulations in July and adopt them in 2005, and the last counties will have until 2014 to adopt regulations. It will be up to the Legislature to determine which counties will go first and which will wait.

While notable for the rancor the parties managed to overcome, the settlement is just the beginning. The agreement depends on legislative approval, and ultimately the counties will write, adopt and enforce regulations for protecting shorelines.


History of shoreline regulations in Washington
December 1970. Worried about deteriorating shorelines, environmental groups send an initiative to the Legislature called the Shoreline Protection Act.

1971. The Legislature creates a less-stringent compromise initiative called the Shoreline Management Act.

November 1972. Fifty-two percent of voters say the state should do something to protect shorelines; 68 percent chose the Legislature's less stringent alternative. Local governments write shoreline master plans based on state guidelines.

1995. The Legislature directs the state Department of Ecology to review the shoreline regulations and integrate them with the Growth Management Act.

1995-1996. The Department of Ecology works on new guidelines. An advisory group recommends statutory changes, and Ecology postpones work on the guidelines.

1997. Ecology forms a committee to propose legislative changes. The group can't agree in time for the 1998 Legislature.

June 1998. Ecology convenes a Shorelines Guidelines Commission to work on the new rules.

April 21, 1999. The department proposes new shoreline guidelines. Nine public hearings follow. A barrage of criticism prompts the department to withdraw the proposed rules and make substantial changes.

Dec. 17, 1999. Ecology presents a new working draft, which includes two paths of varying strictness for local governments to take.

June 7, 2000. The department begins a 60-day comment period on the final draft. Receives 2,000 written comments; 1,200 support the rule or say it should be stricter; 800 oppose it or say it's too strict.

Nov. 27, 2000. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department and National Marine Fisheries Service express support for the rules. Their letter says the rules' more restrictive path puts local governments in compliance with the Endangered Species Act in regard to salmon.

Nov. 29, 2000. Department of Ecology Director Tom Fitzsimmons signs the new shoreline master program guidelines. They take effect immediately.

Dec. 29, 2000. A coalition led by the Association of Washington Business appeals the new shoreline rules. The appeal is a precursor to a lawsuit.

Aug. 28, 2001. In a 4-1 decision, the Shoreline Hearings Board invalidates the rules.

Sept. 25, 2001. Gov. Gary Locke convenes mediation talks aimed at reaching a legal settlement.

November 2002. This was supposed to have been the deadline for local governments to update their shoreline plans to fit the new rules.

Dec. 20, 2002. The negotiators sign an agreement containing new shorelines guidelines and a package of shoreline-related legislation to propose in 2003.

 

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