Too hasty on moratorium
June 9, 2008 · Updated 4:00 PM
"When the city council imposed a moratorium on some shoreline development, including docks and bulkheads, it acted on the belief that the city had only a year to revise such regulations to conform to new state requirements. Five days later, the state Shoreline Hearings Board kicked the props out from under the whole plan, when it tossed out those same state requirements and told the Department of Ecology to rewrite them. By law, local jurisdictions have 24 months to bring their programs into conformity with new state requirements, and that law is what triggered the city's time-line. But if the state requirements are being re-worked, that clock can't start ticking.If the only question was time, it might make sense to charge ahead and get the city's job done early. But there's more to it than that - there is also a real question about what the ultimate state requirements will be.The overturned rules were based in significant part on the concept of restoration - that is, returning the shoreline to something resembling a pre-Vancouverian condition.The restoration concept is hardly modest. Such rules could require, for example, that if a dock is repaired, a bulkhead has to be removed. Limitations would be placed on vegetation removal near the shore, which could impact views, and new planting could be required. And because a certain amount of erosion is necessary to maintain beaches, the state rules could have required moving homes away from failing slopes rather than shoring up the slopes.These are not necessarily bad ideas, and we believe incremental damage to our shorelines must be confronted, taken seriously and addressed. But they are big ideas, that would make a real difference in the way we live.The hearings board affirmed the restoration concept, but by a narrow 3-2 vote. Dissenters argued that the restoration concept was illegal under the state Shoreline Management Act, which they believe requires multiple use, and might even be an unconstitutional taking of property.That dispute appears destined for litigation, very possibly heading to the state Supreme Court. And that will take considerable time. This puts our city in a box. If the state ultimately requires a restoration standard, the city must conform. But if the city moves forward with tougher regulations, and that standard is later struck down, the city could be found liable for damages. Re-doing the city's shoreline regulations in the next year, then, is not only a no-hurry situation, it's pretty much no-win as well. So keeping a moratorium in place until the regulatory picture clears is problematic - it would mean an indefinite freeze. And because the existing city regulations are hardly ancient - a comprehensive new regime took effect in 1996 - it's hard to argue that the city is operating under outmoded rules.Too, an assessment of shoreline conditions is underway, and the city might want to wait for that data. Perhaps the council should shelve the moratorium until the need is at least better defined. "