Regulations at water's edge bring rural-urban tensions to surface
By REBECCA COOK
The Associated Press
2/3/01 5:07 PM
SOUTH BEND, Wash. (AP) -- The shoreline never fades from view as Robert Rose bounces across his cattle ranch in a red pickup truck. Three rivers and countless sloughs cross the 1,500 acres his family has farmed for three generations.
But Rose, 64, is convinced tougher shoreline protections from the Washington Department of Ecology could put him out of business. "City people just don't realize we have to utilize the natural resources of our country," Rose said.
The rules took effect in November, replacing less stringent guidelines written 30 years ago. With limits on everything from house and dock building to industrial development, they aim to reduce erosion, flooding and pollution.
But powerful politicians have threatened to blast the rules out of the water. The guidelines face attacks in the Legislature and in court -- 25 counties have filed an appeal, a forerunner to a lawsuit.
Gov. Gary Locke, environmentalists and others defend the rules as a commonsense way to prevent over development. Others, including Senate Majority Leader Sid Snyder, say bureaucrats are blithely making regulations that will cripple rural economies.
How you see the rules depends on where you stand.
Robert Rose's father started leasing land on the coastal plains of southwest Washington in 1922, eight years after the tidelands were diked to create pasture. Over decades, the family built it into a 1,500-acre ranch.
Mud is part of life on the farm -- it smears on jeans and sticks under fingernails. Robert and Janie Rose fight to control it because mud and manure can wash into sloughs and pollute the rivers.
The Roses fear the new regulations will prevent them from continuing their yearly mud-control ritual of filling old ditches and clearing new ones.
Ecology officials say the fear is baseless. Page 80 of the 187-page rule clearly states, "New shoreline master program provisions do not apply retroactively to existing agricultural uses."
But new farming near shorelines will have to follow "standards for setbacks, water quality protection, environmental impacts, and vegetation conservation."
The Roses wonder whether digging new ditches will be considered "new." If so, and they have to build fences or create buffers around every new ditch, they would soon have no land left for cows.
Ecology spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchinson believes people like the Roses have been misled -- that they haven't read or couldn't understand the rules.
The Roses, who have dealt with decades of environmental regulations, say they certainly do understand.
"Two people from Ecology sat right in the front room here and said if we're going to dig a new ditch, that would bring the buffers in," said Rose, overlooking the pasture below his kitchen window.
He heard a different message at the department's public meetings.
"They stood right up and said 'You're exempt, no problem, nothing to worry about,"' Rose said. "Then they come right down here and say 'You're out of business.' How can a person trust them?"
Brady Engvall is a lot like Robert Rose. Also a farmer, he lives just across the county line in Westport. His children run the family business he built over 35 years. And like Rose, he wonders whether his farm will survive another generation.
But Engvall farms oysters, not cattle -- and he thinks the shoreline regulations will save his livelihood.
Whenever too much pollution gets into the rivers, it shows up in shellfish first.
"We're kind of like the canary in the mine shaft," Engvall said.
Oyster beds around the state oftll has to shutter his business for a week whenever it rains more than an inch and a half in one day, because of pollution runoff.
The pollution comes from everywhere, including cattle ranches and failing septic systems.
To Engvall, requiring houses and industry to be set back from waterways makes sense. Bigger buffer zones, he reasons, will reduce the chance for pollution to get into the water and his oysters.
The man in charge of state shoreline policy speaks with the soft voice of someone who spends a lot of time trying to soothe angry people.
"I've been a pretty big proponent that we're not going to recover salmon or do a better job with our shorelines unless we have good, strong operating farms," said Gordon White, 45, a former potato farmer and now the Department of Ecology's program manager for shorelands.
Defending these regulations has put White crosswise with many old farmer friends.
White thinks the controversy comes from politicians trying to stir things up. He points to the Shoreline Management Act, a 1972 voter-approved initiative which commands the state to protect and preserve the ecology of its shorelines. Under the old regulations, White says, the state wasn't getting the job done. The new regulations had to be stricter to satisfy the law.
"People pick at the rule but really they're criticizing the Shoreline Management Act," he said.
One reason White started working for Ecology was the devastation he witnessed during the 1990 and 1996 floods -- devastation caused partly from foolhardy development on flood plains, a problem the new shoreline regulations try to solve.
Local governments will still write their own shoreline management plans, putting specifics to the broad outlines of the state guidelines. The state denies or appeals fewer than 1 percent of the 1,000 shoreline permits granted by local governments each year.
LeRoy Tipton, president of the Gray's Harbor Chamber of Commerce, thinks the new rules penalize rural areas.
"The people in Puget Sound have soiled their nest. Now they're making requirements and regulations that will not even allow us to enter our nest," he complained.
Tipton is upset because the rules affect new development more than existing development. If your business is too close to a shoreline now, you won't have to move it back. But new businesses will have to be built further from the water, putting some land off-limits. In cities like Seattle, where most shorelines are built out already, the impact may not be huge. In places where city planners hope to develop vacant waterfront areas, the rules' effect will be more noticeable.
Grays Harbor County is struggling to diversify its economy to make up for timber losses. Tipton is afraid the new regulations will drive employers away.
White said urban development will be under closer scrutiny because of the damage already done. That doesn't appease Tipton. "It destroys our future," he said.
When you're battling a powerful state agency supported by the governor, it's good to have Senate Majority Leader Sid Snyder on your side. Snyder controls the only majority in the Legislature, the Senate Democrats, and he strongly opposes the shoreline regulations.
"It would devastate any chance of growth in our area," he said. Snyder wants to exempt from the new regulations counties with at least 75 percent of their land in timber, farming or preservation. Senate Bill 5458 puts the burden of the Shoreline Management Act on urban counties.
"Our areas aren't polluted," said Snyder, who represents Pacific County, home of the Rose Ranch. The bill is sponsored by a bipartisan group, with Sen. Ken Jacobsen as the prime sponsor.
Jacobsen, chairman of the Natural Resources, Parks and Shorelines committee, is noncommittal, saying only that he wants shoreline issues to be discussed fully. But his name on the bill encourages supporters. A Seattle Democrat, Jacobsen has displayed a knack for crafting compromise solutions to sticky natural resources problems.
Environmentalists have already started a letter-writing campaign against the bill. If Snyder and other rural legislators can persuade enough urban colleagues to support their cause, they will still have to face the governor.
Locke calls the rules "commonsense guidelines," and he pledged last week to veto any legislation that would "gut" them. Snyder's influence over the budget and other issues will play a key role if the ultimate fate of the regulations hangs on Locke's signature.
On the Net:
Association of Washington Business:
Washington Environmental Coalition:
History of shoreline regulations in Washington
The Associated Press
2/3/01 5:09 PM
A history of shoreline regulations in Washington state:
--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 are required to write shoreline master plans based on state guidelines.
--1995. The Legislature directs the Department of Ecology to review the shoreline regulations and integrate them with the Growth Management Act. The directive is part of a regulatory reform package aimed at cutting red tape.
--1995-1996. The Department of Ecology starts working 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.
--October, 1999. A barrage of criticism prompts the department to withdraw the proposed rule and make substantial changes.
--Dec. 17, 1999. Ecology presents a new working draft of the rules and holds public hearings.
--June 7, 2000. The department begins a 60-day comment period on the final draft of the proposed rules. 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 national Fish and Wildlife Department and National Marine Fisheries Service expresses 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 of groups led by the Association of Washington Business appeals the new shoreline rules. The appeal is a precursor to a lawsuit.
--May 4, 2001. The Shoreline Hearings Board is scheduled to hear the appeal of the new guidelines.
--November, 2002. Under current law, this will be the deadline for local governments to update their shoreline plans to fit the new rules.
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