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.

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One Response to “Department of Ecology authority is upheld for shoreline rules”

  1. Martin Nizlek on September 13th, 2011 10:50 am

    Was Court Ruling Less than Supreme?

    I read with interest the Press’ August 30th article titled “Department of Ecology Authority is Upheld for Shoreline Rules”. As a Lake Sammamish resident of 20 years and a retired civil engineer, I’ve carried my interest in our lake’s health to involvement in shoreline planning for both Redmond and Bellevue. If there’s accuracy in your article’s review of a recent State Supreme Court ruling, that the Department of Ecology dictates shoreline programs, this is unfortunate.

    The first disappointment is that local jurisdictions have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to research and tailor their programs to local conditions. Tax payers will find this waste unacceptable if Ecology, from the start, was to impose its own agenda.

    Second, of greater concern is the illusion being created that strict regulation of lakeside residential property will resolve lake environmental issues. Undeterred dumping of untreated storm water (and, often, raw sewage) to our lakes will, for the foreseeable future, overwhelm any shoreline resident actions. It is easier to be “eco-fashionable” and finger the taxpayer than to acknowledge this reality and take effective action.

    Issaquah and other lakeside residents need to be aware that the “clarity of regulations and list of requirements” referenced in the Press’ article may take significant amounts of their shoreline property. Lake Sammamish water levels have been allowed to rise in recent years due to “eco-fashionable” native plantings allowed to block the outflow channel at Marymoor Park in Redmond. These artificially-shifted, higher water levels establish the line from which shoreline regulations will be measured.

    If the State Supreme Court ruling removed local control of these issues, we will have cities flooding the lake with basin-wide, polluted runoff; while King County struggles for permission to remove outflow blockages; and the State, via Ecology, dictating that property owners solve the resulting problems by giving up their property. Perhaps it’s time for a higher level court to rule on the issues of property rights and use of Lake Sammamish as a detention pond.

    Martin Nizlek
    Lake Samm. Resident

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