The Great County Land Grab

Kitsap County is planning to dramatically increase the number of shoreline properties designated Natural and Conservancy. You would think that Kitsap County residents would be outraged when their government takes their private property to establish large buffers without any real justification and without compensation. But, except for a handful of people, there is virtually no indication of public concern.

Is this complacency because the County has done such a good job of convincing people they need to give up their rights to their property to protect the environment; or is it because most people have no idea of what they have given away until they are forced to sign away control over a significant part of their land as a condition of a home improvement permit?

Conversations with homeowners suggest it is the latter. 

The latest example is the Planning Commission’s proposal to designate an additional 22 shoreline areas, containing 185 parcels, as “Natural”, the most stringent regulatory category, as recently reported in the Kitsap Sun. This requires the entire 200-foot area from the shoreline controlled by the Shoreline Master Program (SMP) to be maintained as a natural vegetation buffer zone.

Currently, only 94 parcels on the shoreline are designated Natural. In their draft SMP update the county proposed to increase this to 500 parcels. Now the Planning Commission, based on a request from environmental activist organizations, wants the total to be 685.

The County also plans to increase the number of parcels designated Conservancy from 1,238 to 3,789, again, forcing larger buffers on the owners.

What most people don’t know, is that the SMP actually allows the County a wide leeway — from no buffers at all, to 200-foot buffers. The law says that buffers may be used to separate incompatible uses from critical saltwater habitat, but the need for buffers is to be based on science that shows how the “incompatible” use harms the habitat and how applying buffers will mitigate the harm.

The problem is that neither the Department of Ecology nor the County has been able to produce data showing that Kitsap shoreline residences have any measurable impact on the nearshore habitat. Indeed, the quality of these waters and their marine life has been steadily improving for decades under existing regulations. And the vast majority of Kitsap’s nearshore waters meet EPA’s stringent water quality standards – the real measure of non-impact.

Rather than fostering legitimate development of the shoreline, as intended by the Shoreline Management Act, the clear intent of the County is to restore it to its “natural” condition over time. Indeed, this current effort to re-designate much of the shoreline to more restrictive land use categories constitutes de facto mandatory shoreline restoration.

Even when presented with published studies showing residences have no measurable impact on the nearshore, these bureaucratic “protectors” of the environment have no problem taking your land for buffers anyway – citing “guidance” documents issued by various agencies – which, when scrutinized, are curiously lacking in peer-reviewed science. This highly biased process ignores other studies that show otherwise – and even some of the cited studies are wrongly applied.

The County Commissioners go right along with this charade.

Something is terribly wrong with this picture — begging the question: Are these officials working for you or for the Department of Ecology – an agency that has demonstrated outright hostility to property rights in its zeal to protect the environment?

Unfortunately, when push comes to shove, the county has shown it would rather fight the property owners than do battle with Ecology.

Kitsap’s citizens deserve better. They should demand the county produce peer-reviewed studies showing how their residences are harming the environment, before they allow any of their land to be taken.

If the current commissioners can’t get this right, perhaps they should be handed their walking papers this November.

Bob Benze

Environmental Engineer

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