Who is driving the Shoreline Master Program update train?

By Jackie Rossworn, Kitsap Alliance Executive Director,
and Robert Benze, Environmental Engineer

Waterfront property owners in Kitsap County would do well to ask themselves why they should be required to dedicate up to 200 feet of their property as a natural vegetation buffer, with this dedication recorded in a notice to title that is perpetual in duration and binding on all future owners, as a condition for obtaining a permit to improve their property – when there is no underlying scientific or legal basis for having to do so? Because that is exactly what the County’s proposed Shoreline Master Program update ordinance would require them to do.

The law, the Shoreline Management Act and its implementing guideline WAC 173-26, says that although buffer zones are required around wetlands, it clearly states that buffers are not mandated for marine shorelines but can be used “to separate incompatible uses from the (critical saltwater) habitat areas”.

In deciding whether such buffers are needed, the guidelines require the County to assemble and analyze “the most current, accurate, and complete scientific and technical information available”. They have failed to do so.

Indeed, they have ignored published studies provided to them showing that the nearshore habitat is not measurably affected by shoreline residential development and, instead, they have elected to use information from studies of agricultural runoff, including feedlots with over 100 cattle peracre, as justification for big buffers. Repeated requests to the County and the Department of Ecology for published studies showing documented harm from shoreline residences have gone unanswered.

The methodology used by the County in their shoreline assessments declares that man-made shoreline residential features “stress” the environment; but the real life data in the reports using these stressor models does not support such an assertion – with the data showing that the nearshore habitat in front of residential properties exhibits essentially the same degree of health as that in front of undeveloped properties. This is clearly demonstrated in the Battelle Marine Science Laboratory studies of Jefferson County, Bainbridge Island, and even in the limited data set for East Kitsap County.

So why would the County decide large buffers are necessary? Perhaps a little history is in order. When the Growth Management Act controlled the shorelines, the County originally defended 35-foot shoreline setbacks as protective. But then the environmental activist community got involved and convinced a hearings board they were not adequate. The County didn’t have the time or money to do the science, so they somewhat arbitrarily chose 100-foot buffers for rural areas (50-foot for urban) as being large enough to satisfy the environmentalist critics. They said they would do the scientific studies when the Shoreline Master Plan was updated.

But the same activist organizations that fought the 35-foot setbacks now seem in control of the County’s SMP update. When the County’s SMP program manager was recently asked why he wasn’t representing the interests of the shoreline property owners, he replied that he represented all interested parties. When asked specifically who that might be, he replied “Futurewise” and said that they wanted larger buffers.

So instead of being a scientific decision, it turns out that politics will determine how much of your property you will cede to the government – unless you demand otherwise.

The Kitsap Alliance has fully documented the County’s failure to follow the law and its science requirements in a series of letters extending over the last two years.

Are you content to stand by and watch environmental extremists intimidate your elected officials and dictate that you can’t use and enjoy your own property even though there is no clear evidence you are harming the environment, or are you willing to tell your county commissioners to enact reasonable regulations that protect the environment and the rights of the County’s citizens?

A version of this post was published today in the Kitsap Sun

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