OLYMPIA - Pacific County farmers say they are pleased Washington has finally reached an agreement on a set of highly controversial shoreline management guidelines, which are designed to contain flooding, prevent erosion and provide habitat for a host of aquatic life. The settlement comes as the result of negotiations among business groups, environmental groups and local governments.
Two years ago, the Washington Department of Ecology updated the state's shoreline management guidelines for the first time since 1972.
Alarmed by proposed setbacks within the guidelines, the state's Farm Bureau, Cattlemen's Association, Grange and two individual farm families joined a coalition headed by the Association of Washington Businesses and filed an appeal with the state's Shorelines Hearings Board.
Last summer, the board invalidated the guidelines as proposed by Ecology. As part of its decision, the board ruled that the department went past its authority when it tried to implement the Endangered Species Act through the new shorelines regulations. That decision prompted the mediation talks, which were aimed at reaching a legal settlement.
During last week's announcement about the settlement, Gov. Gary Locke praised the agreement, saying it will help the state move forward to protect its shorelines.
"By bringing businesses and environmentalists together, we have proven that we can achieve consensus on even the most controversial issues," he said.
"The successful mediation avoided further litigation that would have been costly and time consuming for all parties," Attorney General Christine Gregoire said. "This is an example of how business, environmentalists and local governments can work together to achieve their mutual goals."
Under the negotiated shoreline guidelines, local shoreline programs must abide by these terms:
Respect constitutional and legal limits on regulating private property.
Manage shoreline development and uses in a manner that preserves and protects the environmental functions of the shorelines.
Assure that new development will result in no net loss of shoreline ecological functions.
Set priorities and include a plan for restoring past shoreline damage, where appropriate.
Coordinate shoreline programs with local comprehensive plans and regulations and with other state and federal requirements.
Passed in 1971 and adopted by the public in a 1972 referendum, the Shorelines Management Act seeks to prevent the inherent harm that comes with the uncoordinated and piecemeal development of the state's shorelines. The act applies to more than 20,000 miles of shoreline, 2,300 miles of lake shores, 16,000 miles of streams and 2,400 miles of marine shoreline. While cities and counties are the primary regulators of the act, Ecology has the authority to review local programs and permit decisions.
Bob and Jane Rose, beef raisers in Bay Center on the eastern edge of Willapa Bay, were part of the coalition opposed to Ecology's guidelines. Bob said he's glad that under the agreement, the guidelines are no longer tied to the Endangered Species Act, which would have required setbacks of up to 200 feet from the ordinary high water mark.
"We gained a lot," he said. "Hopefully, we'll get something we can live with."
The Roses and other farm families in the county's Willapa River Valley enlisted a variety of politicians and officials in their fight against the regulations, including County Commissioner Pat Hamilton and Bryan Harrison, director of the county's Department of Community Development. They and other concerned parties spoke at a large rally in Montesano two years ago at which fears were expressed about economic impacts from the rules.
Dan Wood, government affairs specialist with the state's Farm Bureau, said that the recent settlement recognizes legislation already passed by state lawmakers that exempts existing agriculture from the new guidelines.
"Anyone in agriculture will certainly have his interests protected through this settlement," Wood said.
Looking to the future, Wood believes that the new rules will give counties more flexibility in making decisions for their areas.
"It's not a stellar agreement, but certainly a far cry from what we had before," he said.
Ecology spokesperson Sheryl Hutchison said it's important for people to understand that the shorelines guidelines don't pertain to specific pieces of property. Instead, they will be used by local governments as they craft their own shoreline management programs.
"If people want to know what they can do with their property, they need to check with their local governments," she said.
While Ecology still has to go through the formal rulemaking process before the new rules can be put into place, it will wait until the legislative session ends to do that.
Hutchison explained that the reason for that is twofold:
The Legislature needs to change the act to allow local governments more time than the originally proposed two years to come up with their own shorelines guidelines.
The lawmakers will also have to appropriate money so local governments can afford to draw up new master shoreline programs.