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Shoreline Master Programs

Shoreline Master Program (SMP) Overview

What is the Shoreline Management Act?

Eelgrass along Padilla Bay in Mt. Vernon, WA. Photo by Hugh ShipmanWashington’s Shoreline Management Act was passed by the legislature in 1971 and affirmed by voters in 1972. The Act governs the use and development of Washington’s shorelines and creates a unique partnership between local and state government. The Act strives to achieve responsible shoreline use and development, environmental protection, and public access. Local governments develop programs based on the Act and state guidance, and the state ensures local programs consider statewide public interests. More

What is a shoreline master program?

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.

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What are the SMP Guidelines or Rules?

When the legislature adopts a law, state agencies must adopt rules that guide how the law is carried out. Rules are part of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) and as such, carry the force of law. Ecology’s Shoreline Master Program Guidelines (Chapter 173-26 Part III WAC) translate the broad policies of the Shoreline Management Act into guidance for both Ecology and local governments.

Most of the existing local shoreline programs were originally written between 1974 and 1978. Some have been updated over the years, but most have not. Since that time, we have made significant advances in our understanding of ecological processes, Washington’s population has nearly doubled, and the use and development of shorelines has increased dramatically.

Ecology's adoption of updated Guidelines in 2003 began a new era of shoreline planning in Washington. Between now and 2014, towns, cities and counties across the state (about 260 in all) must comprehensively update their shoreline programs to meet the requirements of the new Guidelines. Ecology offers funding and guidance to support these local governments. More

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How can I get involved in updating my local shoreline master program?

Ecology’s Citizens Guide can help you learn more and get involved. The first step is to determine if and when your town, city or county will be updating its program. Please note, however, that many local governments receive grant funds from Ecology to complete their updates, which may affect their update schedule and deadline.

For the best and most current information on your local shoreline program, please contact your local planning department.

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