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Shoreline Master Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

Shoreline master programs are the cornerstone for carrying out Washington's Shoreline Management Act. Under state law, over 260 towns, cities and counties that have shoreline areas covered under the Act must develop these individual, locally-tailored programs to guide construction and development in regulated shoreline areas.



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General Questions

Q: What is a shoreline master program?
A:  Shoreline master programs carry out the policies of the Shoreline Management Act at the local level, regulating use and development of shorelines. Local shoreline programs include policies and regulations based on state laws and rules but tailored to the unique geographic, economic, and environmental needs of each community.

Under the Act, each town, city and county with "shorelines of the state" must develop and adopt its own shoreline program. "Shorelines of the state" generally refers to rivers, larger lakes, and marine waterfronts along with their associated shorelands, wetlands, and floodplains.

Updating a shoreline program is a complex and time-consuming process. Most comprehensive updates take two to three years. When updating their shoreline programs, local governments are required by law to engage and seek input from the public, interested agencies, and affected tribes.

Q: What do shoreline master programs do?
Development of each shoreline master program begins with an inventory and analysis of all shoreline areas in a given jurisdiction. Shoreline master programs help local governments avoid or lessen environmental damage as shoreline areas are developed. Based on current conditions and long-term needs, shoreline master programs reserve appropriate areas for water-oriented uses. They promote public access opportunities. Master programs include requirements for new development to stay well away from flood, landslide, erosion hazard and wetland areas. They are more than simply plans. A master program combines local plans for future shoreline development and identifies areas appropriate for restoration and preservation. They include statewide as well as local policies and related specific permitting requirements.

Q: Why are shoreline master programs important?
Shorelines are where the land meets state waters. If we ever hope to restore and protect state shoreline areas – including Puget Sound – at the same time we accommodate necessary and appropriate new development, we must be sure to manage our limited shoreline resources wisely. Whenever we build in our shoreline areas, we transform a unique and precious aspect of our natural environment. We clear native vegetation, build bulkheads, armor shoreline banks, and put in driveways, roads, roofs and other impervious surfaces. This development often has negative effects on our environment. Shoreline master programs are critical because they establish each community’s goals for its shoreline areas and implement policies and regulations to:

  • Help protect water quality for our marine waters, lakes and stream systems.
  • Increase protection of lives and property from flood and landslide damage.
  • Protect critical habitat as well as fish and wildlife.
  • Promote recreational opportunities in shoreline areas.

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Local Governments: Roles and responsibilities

Q: Why do local governments have to update their shoreline master programs?
In 2003, the state Legislature set up a timetable for local governments to update local shoreline master programs. Most haven’t done so comprehensively since the mid 1970s. Since voters passed the Act in 1972, Washington’s population nearly doubled from about 3.4 million to 6.7 million. The old shoreline master programs need review, updated to address current conditions, consider new science, and better align with other related laws. An effective shoreline master program update will reduce unsustainable development and provide shoreline land owners with a clearer set of standards.

Q: What economic and legal benefits do communities gain by updating their shoreline master programs?
Shoreline master programs help communities save time and money by integrating their shoreline programs with other existing land use and resource protection instruments such as local Comprehensive Plans and critical areas ordinances. Local governments will get economic benefits from integrating their shoreline master programs with port development plans, park and trail system development, watershed management, and salmon recovery plans. Communities also benefit economically because shoreline master programs:

  • Protect lives, property, and tax expenses by keeping development from occurring in unstable or unsafe areas.
  • Help towns, cities, and counties realize their vision for future waterfront development and uses.
  • Allow appropriate new development to occur in the shoreline areas.
  • Provide more certainty to the development community through shoreline building ordinances and permitting requirements.
  • Avoid costly restoration of degraded shorelines in the future.

Q: What is the role of local governments in shoreline management?
Local governments are responsible for starting the shoreline master program planning, deciding which areas are in shoreline jurisdiction, analyzing the present uses and long-term needs for waterfront lands, and locally adopting a shoreline master program. Local governments must consult with other agencies, tribal governments, and all individuals interested in developing their shoreline master programs. Once adopted, local government is the shoreline master program administrator. The local government reviews new development proposals and uses the permit system to decide what is consistent with state law and the local program.

Q: Is the public involved in developing shoreline master programs?
The state Shoreline Management Act requires people representing different community interests develop local shoreline programs and permit processes. These interests usually include shoreline property owners, developers, businesses, environmental and conservation groups, recreation organizations, Indian tribes, farmers and agricultural interests, and local and state governments.

Q: Who approves local shoreline master programs?
Each local government approves its program after a public review and comment period. Then local government sends the shoreline master program to Ecology, who reviews it for consistency with state guidelines. Ecology must approve the locally approved and submitted master program, before it takes effect. To ensure respect for private property rights, local and state legal authorities are required to review a shoreline program before formal adoption.

Q: Who pays to have a local master program updated?
The Shoreline Management Act requires the state to provide “reasonable and adequate” funding for shoreline master program updates. Ecology gives the money provided by the Legislature to local governments in the form of grants. For the current budget cycle (from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2011), state lawmakers authorized $7.5 million in grants to jurisdictions in Clark, Clallam, Island, King, Kitsap, Mason Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, and Snohomish counties to update their shoreline master programs.

Q: How is each grant amount determined?
Ecology determines each jurisdiction’s grant award based on a number of factors. The department considers past levels of funding provided to local jurisdictions for shoreline master program updates to date. Ecology also looks at:

  • Miles of shoreline in each jurisdiction
  • Number and complexity of kinds of shoreline (marine, streams and rivers, and lakes)
  • Population
  • Area
  • Growth rate

Q: What if a local government doesn't want to update its shoreline master plan?
Ecology is required by law to prepare and adopt master program updates for any local jurisdiction that fails to update prior to the deadline established in the law. In that case, much of the opportunity for local determination of how to regulate shoreline areas would be reduced.

Q: What if a local government can’t get their update done by Dec. 1, 2014?
Once a jurisdiction has received a grant from Ecology to help them update their Shoreline Master Program, they have three years to locally adopt and submit the completed update to Ecology for approval.

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Guidelines, Funding and Review: Ecology’s role

Q: What is Ecology’s role in the shoreline master program process?
Ecology provides state guidelines to local jurisdictions outlining the essential elements their individual shoreline master programs must address. Ecology provides financial support technical assistance, guidance materials and regular training in support of local updates.

Q: What is the purpose of Ecology’s 2003 Shoreline Management Act guidelines?
The guidelines set minimum procedural and substantive standards for local governments updating their programs. Ecology and state Growth Management Hearings Boards also use the guidelines to review and approve local shoreline master program updates. The 2003 guidelines now in place resulted from a negotiated settlement between business interests, ports, environmental groups, shoreline user groups, cities and counties, Ecology, and the courts. Also in 2003, the state legislature provided funding and established a mandatory schedule for local shoreline program updates through 2014.

Q: What types of action can Ecology take when it receives an updated shoreline program?
After Ecology reviews the local program to determine if it complies with state guidelines requirements, the department can approve it as submitted by the local jurisdiction, approve it with changes, or reject it. Once Ecology approves a local shoreline master program, it becomes part of the statewide shoreline “master” program. At that point, local jurisdictions are responsible for carrying out shoreline development ordinances and deciding how the code applies to individual projects.

Q: Why is it important for local governments to get Ecology’s approval?
The Legislature appointed Ecology responsible for ensuring statewide policies are upheld and implemented when local shoreline master programs are adopted. Under the Shorelines Management Act, a locally approved program must meet state guidelines. Once an updated program receives approval at the local and state levels, the state becomes a full partner in defending any legal challenges to the updated program.

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Legal Issues

Q: Aren’t requirements for shoreline vegetation buffers a “taking” of private property rights?
No. The U.S. Constitution allows state and local governments to limit private property activities provided it’s for a legitimate public benefit and they do not deprive the landowner of all reasonable use of the property. For example, state and local governments can adopt regulations that prevent sediment from running off private property and entering a salmon-spawning stream. These regulations protect salmon, a public resource. In most cases, buffers do not deprive landowners of all reasonable use of their property and, in fact, all property tends to benefit from reasonable setbacks and buffers. In those limited instances where the buffer precludes or significantly interferes with a reasonable use, the property owner may obtain a variance.

Q: Hasn’t Whatcom County’s Shoreline Master Program been challenged and overturned in court? A: No. A local developer and the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County took Whatcom County and Ecology to court and lost on all issues except one. All other issues addressed by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, and in a separate Skagit County Superior Court case, were found in Whatcom County and Ecology’s favor. The issue the Board found in the appellant’s favor was “despite critical areas being originally approved through a county critical areas ordinance public process, they need to revisited and justified if incorporated into an updated shoreline master program.”

The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruled:

  • Ecology’s approval of the shoreline master program was valid as originally approved on August 8, 2009.
  • The public process was proper and legally correct.
  • The county’s inventory and analysis supported the designation of all marine near shore areas, streams, and lakes as critical areas.
  • The issue challenging the required 100 to 150 foot buffers was dismissed.

The Skagit County Superior Court found:

  • The shoreline master program is not subject to certain statutory limitations on the regulation of development because shoreline master programs constitute state, not merely local, regulations.

Q: We keep hearing that “junk science” is being used, our property rights are being stolen, and that our land is being condemned. Is this true?
Unfortunately, some people are worried and angry at times based on misinformation about how buffer zones or shoreline regulations would affect their property values. Many exaggerated claims have been made about how shoreline master programs will affect what they can and can’t do on their property. The Shoreline Management Act requires local and state government to include the views of all interested persons in developing shoreline master program goals, policies, and regulations. We want to encourage open and honest dialogue with all stakeholders to develop strong shoreline programs that are supported by the best, sound science.

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Scientific Information

Q: What kinds of information do local governments use to help modernize their shoreline master programs?
Ecology’s 2003 guidelines require local governments to “make use of and, where applicable, incorporate all available scientific information.” This includes reports, documents and materials, such as:

  • Inventory data.
  • Technical assistance materials.
  • Manuals and services from reliable, scientific sources.
  • Aerial photography.
  • Other applicable information.

Q: What is scientific information?
Common sources of scientific information include:

  • Monitoring data collected periodically over time to determine a resource trend or evaluate a management program.
  • Inventory data collected from an entire population, such as individuals in a plant or animal species, or an ecosystem area.
  • Survey data collected from a statistical sample from a population or ecosystem.
  • Assessment, which entails the inspection and evaluation of site-specific information by a qualified scientific expert. An assessment may or may not involve collection of new data.
  • Research data collected and analyzed as part of a controlled experiment,or other appropriate methodology, to test a specific hypothesis.
  • Modeling which entails the mathematical or symbolic simulation or representation of a natural system. Models generally are used to understand and explain occurrences that can’t be directly observed.
  • Synthesis, which is a comprehensive review and explanation of pertinent literature and other relevant existing knowledge by a qualified scientific expert.

Q: How do we know if information is scientifically valid?
Scientific studies are generally expected to have the following characteristics:

  • Methods. The methods that were used to obtain the information are clearly stated and able to be replicated. The methods are standardized in the pertinent scientific discipline or, if not, the methods have been appropriately peer-reviewed to assure their reliability and validity.
  • Logical conclusions and reasonable inferences. The conclusions presented are based on reasonable assumptions supported by other studies and consistent with the general theory underlying the assumptions. The conclusions are logically and reasonably derived from the assumptions and supported by the data presented. Any gaps in information and inconsistencies with other pertinent scientific information are adequately explained.
  • Context. The information is placed in proper context. The assumptions, analytical techniques, data, and conclusions are appropriately framed with respect to the prevailing body of pertinent scientific knowledge.
  • References. The assumptions, analytical techniques, and conclusions are well referenced with citations to relevant, credible literature and other existing pertinent information.
  • In addition, for research and modeling, an appropriate quantitative analysis is essential. The data must be analyzed using appropriate statistical or quantitative methods.
  • Moreover, peer review is a vital characteristic of research, modeling and synthesis of scientific information. Publication in a peer reviewed or “refereed” scientific journal usually indicates the information has been appropriately peer-reviewed.

Q: How do I know if a paper or a report has been credibly peer-reviewed?
Scientific publications are evaluated through a peer-review process administered by a scientific journal, public agency, consulting research firm, or scientific non-profit entity. Before the document is published, other researchers with appropriate areas of expertise evaluate the quality of the research and provide written reviews – and the document is improved as a result of the process. The document must include a complete citation showing where, when and by whom it was published. An example of an appropriately cited article is:

Diefenderfer HL, SL Sargeant, RM Thom, AB Borde, PF Gayaldo, CA Curtis, BL Court, DM Pierce, and DS Robison. 2004. "Demonstration Dock Designed to Benefit Eelgrass Habitat Restoration (Washington)." Ecological Restoration 22(2):140-141.

Two examples of peer-reviewed scientific journals are: Estuaries & Coasts, the journal of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation, and Ecological Applications, a journal of the Ecological Society of America. An example of a report that has gone through a documented peer review process is the Department of Ecology’s synthesis of information on wetlands.

Q: If a document contains a lot of numbers and statistics, does this mean it is credible science?
A: No. On the surface, it may be difficult to assess the quality of the methods and statistics reported in a document. Technical documents should always include a clear description of the methods used and undergo a rigorous review by other experts in the field. This ensures proper scientific methods, research procedures, and review protocols were used.

Q: Can local governments accept technical comments and information from citizens that has not gone through a formal peer-review or publication process?
A: Yes. Local governments have a process for receiving all kinds of comments, including anecdotal information, from their citizens regarding local shoreline master program updates. Information, experience, and anecdotal evidence provided by interested parties may offer valuable information to supplement scientific information. However, nonscientific information shouldn’t be used as a substitute for valid and available scientific information. Where information collected by or provided to local governments conflicts with other data or is inconsistent, the local government is obligated to base its shoreline master program provisions on a reasoned, objective evaluation of the relative merits of the conflicting data.

Q: Where can I get more background on the use of science in city and county shoreline master program updates?
See Ecology’s shoreline master program guidelines. The state Department of Commerce also has guidelines for its “best available science” for critical areas ordinances.

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Property Issues

Q: Won’t buffers and other shoreline regulations decrease my property values?
Property values are relatively unaffected by buffers. Waterfront property has skyrocketed in value in the past 30 years despite shoreline buffers of 25 to 125 feet being in place for the same period. Protecting native vegetation along the shoreline actually enhances property values by:

  • Stabilizing slopes.
  • Screening adjacent development from view.
  • Providing attractive landscaping and habitat.
  • Blocking noise and glare from adjacent properties.

Q: Is it true if my house burns down I can’t rebuild it in the same location?
Each local jurisdiction may modify their approach to this issue. Exceptions may apply such as if the existing location is dangerous or unsafe for building, such as on a failing bluff.

Q: Whatcom County updated its shoreline master program in 2008. Have property owners applying for improvements such as new additions and garages run into any problems?
Since Whatcom County adopted its updated shoreline program, the county has received 20 applications to make building improvements. These building permits received approval and were issued in a timely manner. No decisions have been appealed.

Q: Could updating the local shoreline master program require me to tear down my existing shoreline structure?
No. Updating a local shoreline program only applies to development occurring after adoption. There are no retroactive shoreline master program requirements.

Q: Will waterfront property owners still be able to protect their property with a bulkhead under an updated shoreline master program?
If property owners can clearly demonstrate a need exists, they can use an approach that has the least impact on the natural shoreline.

Q: Will homeowners face more limits on building new docks?
That depends on the local circumstances and the choices made locally about how a community wants its future shoreline to look. If new docks can be shown not to harm the natural shoreline they can be allowed.

Q: Could there be limits on repairing houses, barns, fences, bulkheads, docks or other structures?
Provisions in state law allow the repair and maintenance of existing, lawful constructed structures. State shoreline guidelines allow repair and maintenance of existing structures, subject to any building requirements imposed separately by local jurisdictions.

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Bulkheads, Sea Walls and Other Armoring

Q: What is shoreline armoring?
Shoreline armoring is the construction of bulkheads, seawalls, riprap “revetments” such as sandbags or cement, and any other structure to harden a shoreline against erosion. In the past, shoreline erosion was seen as a problem and armoring the best method to control it. We now know that erosion is really the way that Puget Sound replenishes beaches and rivers respond to changes in flow and energy. Scientists estimate that about 700 miles (one-quarter) of Puget Sound shorelines are already armored. As Washington continues to grow, the pressure to armor shorelines will grow, too.

For more information

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No Net Loss and Restoration

Q: What is “no net loss” of ecological or environmental functions?
The new environmental protection standard for updated shoreline master programs is “no-net-loss of shoreline ecological functions.” While restoration of degraded areas is encouraged, this does not mean all shoreline areas are required to be made “pristine” or returned to pre-settlement conditions. Local governments are required to inventory current shoreline conditions – including identifying existing ecological processes and functions that influence physical and biological conditions. When a shoreline program is adopted, existing ecological conditions on the ground must be protected while development of shoreline areas is continued in accordance with adopted regulations. This is accomplished by avoiding or minimizing the introduction of impacts to ecological functions that result from new shoreline development.

Q: Do the new guidelines require restoration?
Local governments must plan for restoration in their shoreline master programs. Restoration is not a direct requirement for private development. Local government must consider its restoration needs, identify resources available to conduct restoration, prioritize restoration actions, and make sure development activities don't interfere with planned restoration efforts in the community and vice versa. A shoreline master program may include incentives for developers to invest in shoreline restoration.

Q: Why are some “conservancy” or “urban” shoreline areas being designated “natural?”
State guidelines establish criteria specifying that if an area meets those criteria, they should be thus designated. This is an important part of achieving the broad policy objective of “no net loss.”

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Q: My home is on a shoreline. How will new buffer standards in an updated shoreline program affect me?
A: Existing homes won’t be affected by new buffer standards because they are “grandfathered” under the Shoreline Management Act. Houses built or expanded after the state adopts the updated shoreline program will be subject to the new buffer standards.

Q: How do homeowners benefit from natural buffers between their homes and the shoreline?
Depending on the type of shoreline, buffers can protect homeowners from floods and landslides as well as help stabilize bluffs and riverbanks. Healthy, natural buffers help filter pollutants and improve fish and wildlife habitat. Homes set farther back from the water’s edge are safer from floods and wave action, keep residents out of harm’s way, and are less likely to require expensive shoreline armoring. This in turn supports a more natural, healthy shoreline which may increase property value.
Q: What is the difference between a shoreline buffer and a setback?
Although similar, shoreline buffers and setbacks are not quite the same thing. Shoreline buffers are intended to protect ecological functions. A shoreline buffer is an area that is to be maintained in an undisturbed state yet allows some development in most situations. Keeping native vegetation, trees, and shrubs in our shoreline buffer areas has many benefits. Buffers:
  • Help protect water quality by filtering out pollutants in stormwater runoff.
  • Provide organic material to the food chain.
  • Offer shade and habitat for critical fish, bird and wildlife species.
  • Help stabilize slopes and riverbanks.

Shoreline setbacks, on the other hand, are the minimum distance between a structure and the shoreline area. Setbacks are intended to keep homes out of harm’s way or prevent the future need for environmentally-harmful activities such as shoreline armoring. Setting back a home on a bluff or riverbank, for example might prevent the future need for armoring the toe of the slope when the bluff naturally and inevitably erodes. Setting a home back from the shoreline in a low area can reduce the need for armoring when floods come or sea levels rise over time. Setbacks also keep homes from being built too close to the water’s edge, making them safer and less expensive to maintain. An added benefit is that setbacks prevent adjacent owners from building in front of your home and blocking or diminishing your waterfront view. Other setbacks are used to separate residential structures from roads, side yard property lines, and to provide access for emergency activities and maintenance and repair.

Both shoreline buffers and setbacks offer opportunities for unique landscaping, screen nearby developments from view, and block noise and glare from adjacent properties. Shoreline master programs do not set rigid “one-size-fits-all” standards. Buffer and setback sizes depend on environmental conditions, current development patterns, and future planned development. However, buffers and setbacks must meet the no-net-loss of ecological functions standard.

Q: How does the public benefit from having natural buffers along the shoreline?
In Washington, state waters belong to the public and are managed for everyone’s economic, environmental, and cultural benefit and enjoyment. The Washington Legislature has passed a number of measures that require all of us to protect public aquatic ecosystems from harm. Vegetated buffers provide the most cost-efficient, long-term method to protect and maintain the quality of our lakes, rivers, and marine waters and their associated shorelines. We all benefit from good water quality, reduced impacts from floods and landslides, and healthy fish and wildlife populations.

Q: What activities are allowed within a buffer?
Each local government decides what is allowed within a buffer. Things typically allowed by most local shoreline programs include:

  • Trails that provide access to the shore.
  • Water-related and water-dependent structures such as docks and boat storage.
  • Native plantings that enhance the buffer and your aesthetic enjoyment of it.
  • Trimming trees to enhance views provided habitat functions are not affected.
  • Removing and replacing invasive plants with native species.

These trails, structures, landscaping, and other activities should be designed in a manner that, when considered together, also protects the ecological health and functions of shorelines based on local conditions and sound science. The overall effect of an updated shoreline program should be maintaining the current state and health of local shorelines.

Q: I have an undeveloped piece of property. If I build a house on it, will I need to locate that house outside of the buffer area?
A: Most new buildings will be required to be located outside of the buffer area. However, exceptions are made if the lot is so small that you would be unable to build a house on it without going into the buffer area. Some shoreline programs allow for buffers to be reduced in exchange for enhancing buffers. In other cases, buffers may be reduced based on view blockage caused by the location of neighboring homes.

Q: Can I still have a nice view if I have a vegetated buffer between my home and shoreline?
Yes. Careful planning to locate a residence to take advantage of elevation differences for views and avoid tree and shrub removal is the first step. Then, depending on the kind of plants, shrubs and other vegetation, careful pruning can enhance views. There are a wide variety of native plants you can plant to contribute to aesthetically pleasing views, reduce maintenance, and provide habitat.

Q: How can building a home close to the water affect the shoreline?
A: Building homes too close to the shore often removes vegetated buffers that naturally stabilize our slopes, filters out yard chemicals and polluted runoff, and provides food and critical shelter for fish and wildlife species. Setting homes back from the shoreline allows the natural buffers to work for us by:

  • • Reducing flood damage by slowing a river's speed.
  • Filtering toxic chemicals and other pollutants before they can enter and poison our marine waters, lakes, and streams.
  • Providing food, shelter and nesting areas, and nutrients for economically important fish and wildlife which are a source of jobs, and recreational enjoyment.

Q: Why do buffer widths differ from place to place?
The buffer width needed to keep shoreline slopes and riverbanks stable, water quality protected, and fish and wildlife healthy depends on many factors. These site specific factors include:

  • Plant types
  • Soil types
  • Steepness and stability of the slope
  • Groundwater flow and direction
  • Habitat requirements for fish and wildlife
  • Speed and amount of river or stream flow
  • Frequency, direction, and strength of wave action
  • Density and kind of development in adjacent areas

Since these factors vary widely among Washington's shorelines, buffer widths are necessarily different. A buffer width that works well for a river may not work well for a lake shoreline. In addition, a buffer that does a good job for the calmer parts of Puget Sound may be unsuitable for our stormier coastal areas. This is why it’s critical that each local government complete a thorough inventory and characterization of its local shorelines to effectively update their shoreline program.

Q: My home is on the shoreline. I am interested in voluntarily reducing the adverse environmental effects that come from my home. Where can I find information?
A: Ecology has many helpful homeowner suggestions. Another valuable document is the Puget Sound Shoreline Stewardship Guidebook (PDF).

Other information sources are your local conservation district, Washington Sea Grant office, or Washington State University’s Extension Master Gardener Program. Your community also might have programs like local “stream teams” that specialize in shoreline restoration. Check your local phone book, government planning office, or Puget Sound Starts Here for contacts, publications, and workshops in your area.

Q: Where can I find information on the science related to buffers and protecting marine shoreline habitat?
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Aquatic Habitat Guidelines has several useful documents that can be downloaded, including Protection of Marine Riparian Habitats in Puget Sound, Washington and Protecting Nearshore Habitat and Functions in Puget Sound, June 2010 Revised Edition. Another useful document is Marine Riparian Vegetation Communities of Puget Sound prepared by the Washington Sea Grant Program. Another is the Proceedings of the DFO / PSAT Sponsored Marine Riparian Experts Workshop, Tsawwassen, British Columbia, Feb. 17-18, 2004.

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Agricultural Issues

Q: How do Shoreline Master Programs apply to farms / agriculture?
A 2002 state law requires when local shoreline programs are updated, the new standards, setbacks and buffers do not apply retroactively to existing agricultural development. Updated shoreline program requirements will however apply to new agricultural activities located in shoreline areas and where agricultural activities are converted to other uses. Local governments will need to be aware of this requirement when updating their master programs. Agricultural interests represented in the negotiations agreed with this approach.

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Other Shoreline-Related Issues

Q: Why are critical areas ordinances often incorporated into local shoreline program updates?
A recent state Supreme Court decision (Futurewise v. Anacortes) decided that the shoreline master program solely regulates the shorelines and critical areas covered by the program, once Ecology approves it. Many existing master programs contain buffer requirements but are based on outdated conditions and science. Rather than repeat the work local governments have already done developing their critical areas ordinances under the state Growth Management Act, relevant portions of existing critical areas ordinances may be placed in updated shoreline master programs under the Shoreline Management Act.

Q: What are differences between critical areas ordinances and shoreline master programs?
Local governments and Ecology implement the Shoreline Management Act using locally-tailored Shoreline Master Programs. Local governments implement critical areas ordinances under the authority of the state Growth Management Act. The two laws have many similar requirements for environmental protection but they are administered with different kinds of regulatory procedures. The two laws also have many similar and some different objectives for dealing with future land use and development. Integrating Growth Management and Shoreline Management Act goals, policies, and regulations is required but often difficult to accomplish.

Q: Do the rules surrounding “best available science” apply to shoreline master programs?
No. Current science is the basis for shoreline master programs while “best available science” is a term from the state Growth Management Act, and does not apply to shoreline master programs. Shoreline management requires use of the “most current, accurate and complete scientific and technical information” as the basis for decision making.

Q: What is Ecology’s role in developing and providing wetlands guidance to local governments?
Local governments and the state Department of Commerce implement the GMA. Ecology, however, has expertise in managing and protecting wetlands. We knew most local governments didn’t have the resources to develop a science-based standard for protecting wetlands. To help local governments meet GMA requirements without reinventing the wheel, Ecology got a federal grant in 2002 and spent three years crafting wetlands guidance. We scanned over 15,000 scientific articles and summarized another 1,000 related to protecting and managing wetlands. Ecology continues to provide this guidance and technical assistance, as applicable wetland regulations are updated all across the state.

Publication: Shoreline Master Programs: Frequently Asked Questions (pdf)

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