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Islanders join forces to protest SMP at state level

Two familiar critics of Bainbridge Island's Shoreline Master Program have wasted no time submitting an "official protest" of the updated policies and regulations.

The state's Department of Ecology received an extensive letter of protest Monday, the first day of public comment on the matter.

"I do not feel the city council has complied with state law," said Linda J. Young.

Young sent a letter to Ecology and the state's Attorney General's Office with multiple claims, concluding that the updated program approved by the city council in May is unlawful.

The letter is cosigned by islander Gary Tripp, and the Bainbridge Defense Fund, an organization under the helm of Tripp.

The letter claims that the council passed amendments to the program without lawfully required public comment; that city staff made unapproved changes to the program after it was passed by the council; and that the council did not actually pass the program it submitted to Ecology, rather it only voted that it intended to pass it.

The pair have asked Ecology to reject the updated regulations and send the update back to Bainbridge officials for more work.

City Manager Doug Schulze, however, said that the council acted appropriately when voting on the program.

"The council can't actually adopt an ordinance initiating the SMP until it is approved by Ecology," he said.

Schulze said that after Ecology has its chance to review the submitted program and returns it to the city, then the council may approve such an ordinance.

"There will be a formal action after Ecology accepts the document, and essentially, it becomes state law," he said.

Schulze further noted that he is unaware of any changes that city staff has made to the program after the council approved the draft on May 15.

Young and Tripp maintain that staff changes were made and that the public must be afforded the opportunity to weigh in on them.

"The only draft the public was given was made available on May 8," she said. "The staff does not have the authority to make changes to regulations."

"What was submitted to (Ecology) was not lawful," Young added. "It should be returned to the city, and the city must have a public hearing. It must make the program available to the public. The city knew it was supposed to be doing this."

Young said that the council had a brief discussion on the matter before passing the program; some council members wanted to wait and give the public the opportunity to comment.

"And yet they went ahead and voted on it," Young said.

The letter states that the protest is the result of an analysis of an expert on the Shoreline Master Program; namely, Tripp.

"He went through a tedious comparison, line by line," Young said.

Tripp has been at the forefront of opposition to the island's Shoreline Master Program in the many years it has been under development.

Among the list of objections are protests to the title of nonconforming on some shoreline properties, and that staff have expanded areas designated natural conservancy.

"If you are in a natural zone you cannot do anything," she said. "They have prohibited any new development."

"The property you were going to use as your retirement home, it is now a nature conservancy," she added as an example. "You cannot build a home on that property."

Young also pointed to provisions that ban motors on boats in priority aquatic areas.

"It basically means you are banning sailing and any kind of boating," Young said. "You cannot safely moor your boat if you cannot use a motor for control. It imposes an extreme safety risk to people's lives if you cannot use a motor."

The Bainbridge Island City Council passed its updated Shoreline Master Program to Ecology in mid-May on a 4-3 vote.

Council members were harshly criticized for their vote in the days that followed, as well as the claim that city staff had made changes to the draft that weren't approved by the council.

Councilman Steve Bonkowski responded to an opponent of the update who asked for a revote on the SMP in a May 23 email, and he said the council was OK with city staff making minor changes to the plan after the council vote.

"Although I agree that the council did not adhere to the spirit of how I believe council meeting and votes should be taken, the council did operate within its authority," Bonkowski wrote.

He also noted that the entire draft SMP was available on the city's website for the public to review.

"The majority of council was agreeable to having the city staff incorporate 'minor language and formatting' that 'would not alter policy.'  As stated in the meeting I did not agree with this approach, but a majority of council ruled to move the SMP on," Bonkowski continued.

"Disappointing on many fronts, but consistent with our democratic process," he concluded.

Barbara Nightingale, a regional shoreline planner for Ecology and the agency's project manager for Bainbridge's SMP update, said in an email to the Review that it was too soon for any appeals to the Bainbridge update.

"Ecology’s 30-day public comment period is a clearly defined process. If these parties would like to appeal Ecology’s future decision on an 'approval' or denial of SMP, this is not the time for it," Nightingale wrote. "The SMP appeal period begins after Ecology approves an SMP. Up until that time, there is no state action to appeal.

"These 'official protest' comments submitted during the public comment period will be handled as any other public comment," she added.

Young said that the letter is not the final word she plans to submit on the Shoreline Master Program. She is also working on a legal analysis that will cite multiple violations of the federal constitution and the state's Shoreline Master Act.

Public comment on the island's Shoreline Master Program continues through Aug. 23. Ecology will hold a pubic hearing on the program at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 31 at Bainbridge Island City Hall.

 

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