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Shoreline Master Programs

Bulkhead exemption

The SMA exempts construction of the "normal protective bulkhead common to single-family residences" from SDP procedural requirements.
Under state rules, a "normal protective" bulkhead is exempt only if:

  • it is installed at or near the ordinary high water mark, and
  • it is for the sole purpose of protecting an existing single-family residence and/or appurtenant structures from loss or damage by erosion.

Bulkheads proposed for undeveloped property are not covered under this exemption and require a permit.

A normal protective bulkhead is not exempt if constructed for the purpose of creating dry land. For example, a proposal for a bulkhead that extends waterward of the ordinary high water line and then backfilled to create a recreation area, would not be exempt. When a vertical or near vertical wall is being constructed or reconstructed under this exemption, not more than one cubic yard of fill per one foot of wall may be used as backfill.

When an existing bulkhead is being repaired by construction of a vertical wall waterward of the existing wall, it must be constructed no further waterward of the existing bulkhead than is necessary for construction of new footings.

When a bulkhead has deteriorated such that an ordinary high water mark has been established by the presence and action of water landward of the bulkhead then the replacement bulkhead must be located at or near the actual ordinary high water mark.

Beach nourishment and bioengineered erosion control projects may be considered a normal protective bulkhead when any structural elements are consistent with the above requirements and when the project has been approved by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

For more information

Contact Ecology's shoreline permit reviewer serving your town, city, or county.