Setbacks are first for salmon protection plan

"Protection of the island's salmon spawning areas may begin with wider buffer and setback requirements around local streams.Policies to that end were laid out in an ordinance made available to the public this week, expected to be introduced to the city council at next Wednesday's meeting.The main thing is, we're getting buffers up to speed, said City Councilman Michael Pollock, who drafted the ordinance with the assistance of local fisheries experts.Key to the ordinance are wider buffers and new management zones around streams. Restricted activities in both buffers and management zones would include removal of native vegetation; paving or other creation of impervious surfaces; construction of homes or other buildings; and application of pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers.The island's zoning code now defines five different types of streams. The new ordinance would simplify matters by paring that to two - fish bearing, and non-fish-bearing streams.Buffer requirements around fish-bearing streams would be expanded to 100 feet on each side of the bank from the current 50-foot requirement. Buffers around streams that don't support fish spawning would be expanded to 50 feet from the current requirement of 25 feet.Management zones would stretch another 50-100 feet beyond the buffer, with new construction to be set back 15 feet from the buffer's edge.The management zone would be less restrictive, in that it would easier to get a variance for construction or other land-use activities in those areas.It's one level above saying, 'please don't do these things.' Pollock said.The ordinance would not affect properties already improved, and a reasonable use exception would still protect landowners' interests.No matter what, you're not going to deny someone the right to build a home on their property, Pollock said.The ordinance is the city's first response to a mandate by the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the region's remaining salmon stock. Currently, about a dozen species of salmon are listed as endangered in the Puget Sound region.Next, Pollock said, the council will look at revisions to local stormwater management and shoreline uses. Those are seen as particularly key on Bainbridge, where stream buffers are of marginal importance because of the degree to which the island has already been developed.City officials have to submit a comprehensive salmon-protection package to federal authorities by mid-October.Kitsap and King counties recently introduced similar policies. In both areas, the proposals have come under fire from both environmental and construction camps - the former saying the regulations don't go far enough to protect salmon, the latter calling them too restrictive on land use.I hate to sound doom and gloom, but the whole system's kind of collapsing, Pollock said, noting the variety of marine species besides salmon now being contemplated for protection.We've got a whole ecosystem that's going down the tubes, he said. It may be too late...but we kind of have a moral obligation to try, as well as a legal one."

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