by Jan Angel, State Representative, 26th Legislative District
Within the 26th District, there are hundreds of miles of shoreline — from our rivers, streams and lakes, to the beaches of Puget Sound. Thousands of people within our district live along or near a shoreline.
Recently, the state departments of Ecology and Commerce began to issue new guidelines to local governments about land-use rules related to shoreline properties. The new guidelines would implement restrictive rules beyond the state’s Shoreline Management Act.
I am very concerned how this would affect and/or limit the ability of property owners to develop on their lands within the shoreline areas. I also question the legal authority of these state agencies to issue new guidance and policies that go farther than the Legislature has provided.
I have issued letters to both agencies asking them to cease and desist, and have also asked state Attorney General Rob McKenna whether the agencies are acting in defiance of legal authority by issuing the new guidance and policies.
If you have time, I invite you to read the letters I have sent:
History of shoreline laws
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the confusing issue of shoreline laws in our state, some history is in order to help you understand.
In an effort to preserve and protect our state’s pristine shorelines, but also provide for balanced and controlled development within shoreline zones, the Legislature in 1971 adopted the Shoreline Management Act (SMA). The law was formally affirmed by voters in 1972 through Initiative 43-B.
In 1990, the Legislature passed the Growth Management Act (GMA), which also provided for counties to adopt ordinances as a part of their growth plans that would protect critical and sensitive lands. These are known as “critical area ordinances” or “CAOs.”
Although the SMA and GMA have been generally compatible, the laws have also clashed because both call for shoreline protections. CAOs written by counties under the Growth Management Act are typically more restrictive, providing for extensive buffer zones along any type of shoreline.
This is important because buffers affect whether a person could build or add onto a home or business. Both laws treat home ownership, personal and commercial property, and development rights differently within shoreline zones.
SMA recognizes the importance of allowing people to work and play along Washington’s shorelines. It gives the ability under certain criteria for restaurants, businesses, marinas and docks to be built along with other limited development within those areas. CAOs, on the other hand, are generally more restrictive and may prohibit such activities.
Shoreline Management Act is prevailing law
The conflict in both laws is the subject of litigation involving Kitsap County’s shoreline buffer zones. However, the state Supreme Court ruled last year that the SMA is the governing jurisdiction for the state’s shorelines.
In the case of Futurewise v. Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, the high court quoted the statute and stated, “We hold that the Legislature meant what it said. Critical areas within the jurisdiction of the SMA are governed only by the SMA.” Even the dissent agreed with this statement.
Department of Ecology tries to exercise heavy-handed guidelines
I am very concerned that the Department of Ecology (DOE) is attempting to take advantage of the confusion between the two laws by issuing “interim guidance” until the state Supreme Court makes a decision on the Kitsap County shorelines case. The guidance pushes for enforcement of the more restrictive CAOs, beyond the SMA.
The DOE’s guidelines would result in conflicting policies beyond those outlined in the SMA. This could really muddy up things and result in more litigation involving state agencies, local governments and shoreline property owners.
That’s why I issued letters to both Ecology and the Department of Commerce, which oversees the GMA, that essentially told them: “Stop this guidance!”
The guidance these agencies are issuing is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Ecology is going too far by giving opinions, which I don’t believe it has the legal right to do. The state Supreme Court made it clear last year that the SMA takes precedence. DOE needs to abide by that ruling.
Shoreline management laws in Pierce and Kitsap counties will be updated within the next two years. Until then, we need to let the shoreline master program control the shorelines, without new guidance from state agencies, until the Legislature provides further direction on the issue. This will save great confusion and expense to all local governments and citizens who own shoreline properties — property along creeks, lakes or rivers.
It is an honor to serve you.
26th Legislative District