Department of Ecology authority is upheld for shoreline rules
August 30, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
In a recent ruling, the state Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the state’s authority to sign off on shoreline management plans and regulations.
The decision came just before the state Department of Ecology approved the Sammamish shoreline regulations, or shoreline master program. Meanwhile, Issaquah is updating a 20-year-old shoreline master program.
The efforts establish shoreline rules in Issaquah and Sammamish aimed to determine appropriate creek and lakeside areas for construction, plus offer more clarity to landowners along creeks and Lake Sammamish.
Washington voters approved the Shoreline Management Act in 1972 to help minimize environmental damage to shoreline areas, reserve areas for water-oriented uses, and protect public lands and waters. The act grants local governments flexibility to tailor shoreline programs to respond to local conditions and needs.
“While local jurisdictions play a role in tailoring SMPs to local conditions, the Shoreline Management Act dictates that the Department of Ecology retains control over the final contents and approval of SMPs,” Associate Chief Justice Charles Watson wrote in the unanimous Supreme Court decision.
Under the 1972 law, local governments and the Department of Ecology cooperate on shoreline master programs.
Citizens for Rational Shoreline Planning, Ronald Jepson and the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County brought the case against the Department of Ecology and Whatcom County.
The lawsuit attempted to invalidate key protections in Whatcom County’s state-approved shoreline master program. The state approved the shoreline rules in 2008.
The plaintiffs said because Whatcom County developed a proposed shoreline master program at the local level, approving the updated rules should be a local decision. The petitioners also said the rules violated state tax law.
“The court’s decision clarifies that the collaborative process Ecology and local governments use to manage our shoreline areas is fair, transparent and flexible,” agency Deputy Director Polly Zehm said in a statement. “We all have a stake in protecting our treasured shoreline resources for ourselves as well as our children and future generations. Our shorelines make Washington a great place to live.”
The court reaffirmed the Department of Ecology’s final approval for shoreline master programs.
The agency must also ensure a list of requirements negotiated in 2003 among 58 different parties — including businesses, environmentalists, local governments, ports and shoreline user groups — is being met.
Moreover, after the Department of Ecology approves a local shoreline master program, the agency commits to helping to defend the rules against legal challenges.