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Islanders pack Bainbridge city hall for last hearing on new shoreline rules

Islander Laura Peterson spoke to the council about her objections to the term
Islander Laura Peterson spoke to the council about her objections to the term 'nonconforming' being applied to many shoreline homes.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review

Bainbridge’s update to its Shoreline Master Program will soon leave the island’s shores and move into the next phase toward completion, but not before the community and the council has had one last opportunity to weigh in.

Donning badges stating “Send it on,” a large contingent of supporters of the updated but controversial Shoreline Master Program showed up for Wednesday’s public hearing on the updated plan.

It was perhaps the largest show of support for the SMP in the wake of considerable opposition that has consumed past meetings on the plan.

Even so, their combined message was clear: Enough is enough; send the update to the Department of Ecology for review.

But supporters weren’t the only ones in the room Wednesday. The hearing also attracted the passionate criticisms of shoreline homeowners and others that oppose the updated regulations.

Activist Gary Tripp, who has championed the opposition to the update of the program, began rallying his supporters early in the week via email. Tripp showed up to city hall an hour early for the meeting and claimed once again that the rewrite of the regulations will make it impossible for homeowners to build docks, beachside stairs and bulkheads.

Tripp said. “The reason we live on the island is for water-dependent uses. Docks are not a blight on the environment.”

“Anyone who has had a dock knows that it is a reef. Fish congregate there, plants grow there, mollusks grow there,” he said.

Tripp wasn’t alone. Some pointed the finger of blame at upland sources of pollution, such as stormwater runoff, as the real threat to the Puget Sound.

“Why are, from what I understand, four council members adamant on passing this draconian shoreline management plan that does not solve the real problem,” asked Claes Hagstromer, apparently calling out council members Bob Scales, Kirsten Hytopoulos, Debbi Lester and Anne Blair, who many shoreliners have targeted as supporters of the Shoreline Management Program update.

Hagstromer said stormwater and upland pollution is the real threat to the Puget Sound, not shoreline homeowners.

“I am pleading with you four members to please clean up the real problems of Puget Sound instead of using the SMP as a red herring by pretending you will clean up the Puget Sound,” he said.

“This is a tactic apparently used in North Korea. I think we are better than North Korea,” he said.

Others claimed that the process did not represent shoreline homeowners adequately. And some argued that the science used was not the best available.

Others said the regulatory plan was too long and confusing.

“I’ve been reading this document, 350 pages, for eight weeks now and I don’t understand what it means. I don’t understand how you use it,” said John Tawresey. “It’s a poorly written document and it appears to me to be written by amateurs.”

Supporters did their best to counter the opposition, requesting that the council send the program to Ecology without further weakening it with compromises.

“It’s been three-and-a-half years,” said Lisa Macchio.

“I was on the vegetation management and buffers work groups, I sat on the task force and sat through planning commission meetings. What you are hearing has already been said,” she continued.

“People get up here and say what the problems are with Puget Sound and with stormwater,” Macchio added. “The real problem with the Puget Sound is that there are too many of us unwilling to change the way we are living.”

Houston Wade also came out to support the program, and used his background in science — which includes degrees in geography, geology and astrophysics — to defend the changes that have been proposed.

“The science isn’t just about water but about animals on the land that use the water as well,” Wade said. “For every home you have built where a lawn is cleared, you probably lose between 10 to 15 shore birds, raptors and gulls.”

“I don’t find it as confusing of a document as many make it out to be,” he said of the new regulations.

“I’m sure the Department of Ecology will come back with many of suggestions as they have with other SMPs in the past. I think its about time that we send it on and let the Department of Ecology work on suggestions and take it from there,” Houston said.

Parks District Commissioner Ken DeWitt objected to the new designation of Blakely Harbor Park as “natural,” especially given its past as home to the world’s largest sawmill.

“The site is highly degraded and doesn’t fit the natural designation,” DeWitt said.

“As written, the natural designation will, with one exception, exclude 50 to 75 percent of historic area for any kind of active use,” he said. “It prohibits any picnic tables within 200 feet of the shoreline. People cannot sit on a bench near the water and read a book and enjoy the view.”

“The district believes the natural designation is not appropriate for any portion of Blakely Harbor Park,” DeWitt concluded.

In the end, supporters and objectors to the program applauded at the conclusion of the hearing.

The Shoreline Master Program has been on the city’s to-do list ever since the state altered shoreline rules in 2003.

Since then, cities have been forced to update their shoreline programs.

Bainbridge Island accomplished the feat through multiple citizen workgroups, public workshops, study sessions and other outreach efforts that have stretched for nearly three years.

The workgroups drafted the beginnings of the update before handing it off to the city’s planning commission in 2011. The commission spent nine months on the update, adding more meetings, and more hours to their meetings, to get the job done. The update was then handed over to the city council in April 2012.

After months of discussion over the update, the council is expected to give the update its approval or disapproval this month. The program will then head to the state’s Department of Ecology.

Ecology will go over the program with assistance of the state’s Attorney General’s office to ensure property rights are honored.

After Ecology gets its hands on the program, the process isn’t yet complete.

Ecology officials have said that the department will either accept the update and incorporate it into the state’s shoreline program, or the city will receive a list of alterations to the program to consider before it is approved.

The city council is expected to vote on the program on

June 12.

“It doesn’t do any good to say we are going to protect the island by taking away water-dependent uses,”

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