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Shoreline plan becomes issue in Bainbridge city council race

A candidate for the Bainbridge Island City Council is vowing to do all he can to kill the city’s controversial rewrite of its shoreline regulations.

The city council gave its OK to the rewrite of the Shoreline Master Program on a 4-3 vote after more than three years of work by the city and citizens on the plan.

The update has been controversial in some circles, with many shoreline property owners claiming the regulations are too restrictive and will hurt land values and tramp on property rights.

Other islanders, however, have countered that the update was watered down in deference to coastal landowners but the regulations are still needed to protect the coastline and Puget Sound waters and wildlife.

Richard “Dick” Haugan, a candidate for the North Ward, Position 7 seat, recently sent a fundraising letter to islanders that repeated some of the worst fears about the updated Shoreline Master Program, which is currently under review by the Department of Ecology.

Haugan is running against Val Tollefson for the council seat; Councilman Bob Scales, who voted in favor of the updated plan, chose not to seek another term.

In the three-page letter, Haugan said the new rules would “severely limit” the rights of people to enjoy their property, and that people will need the city’s approval “to do almost anything” with their property.

The warning echoed charges made by some opponents of the new shoreline plan, who have claimed that city permits will be needed for everything from hosting a child’s birthday party to mowing the yard.

“You can count on this: They will try to extract massive concessions from you every time you go in for permits,” Haugan wrote in the letter.

He also said the new plan was unconstitutional and would ban new docks, bulkheads and floats.

“It will be harder to sell your home. And when you finally sell it, you will sell it for less money,” Haugan warned in the letter.

He also noted that if a single change in the shoreline plan is suggested by the state after its review, the plan will come back to the council for a vote, likely after the election. Haugan vowed to vote against the shoreline plan and indicated he could be the crucial swing vote for its defeat.

“I promise you, if elected, I’ll vote NO on this SMP or any SMP that even looks like it. When the last vote was taken, it passed 4-3. So we’re only one vote away from overturning this travesty,” he wrote.

Haugan said in an interview earlier this week that the new shoreline plan puts the city at legal risk and will lead to extensive litigation against the city.

“I think they are going to get sued,” Haugan said of the city. “I think there are lawyers in the wings waiting to make a living off this. And I’m not one of them.”

Haugan’s fundraising appeal also included charges that city hall was wasting taxpayers’ money, and he cited the Winslow Tomorrow effort from years ago and stormwater utility spending in 2009-2012 as prime examples.

“It’s not their money, it’s our money,” Haugan said this week. “I don’t see much, if any, fiscal oversight.”

Tollefson, his opponent in the race, said he wasn’t ready for a do-over on the shoreline plan and was reluctant to dwell on old issues.

“If I’m elected, I’m not going to vote to go back to Square One,” Tollefson said. “I think we need to move forward.”

“I’m deeply concerned about preserving our natural environment,” he said, noting his involvement in the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, a nonprofit that has preserved and protected significant amounts of the island from development.

“I think that the widespread support that the land trust has, has shown me the vast majority of Bainbridge Island share that value.”

Tollefson said the new shoreline regulations would affect him personally.

“I’m a shoreline property owner. And I value my property rights,” he said.

“There are things about the SMP that I’m personally not particularly happy about. But I recognize the need in a lot of areas of our life to strike a balance between our private liberty and the public good. It’s a bedrock principal for society.”

That’s not to say the updated plan is perfect, Tollefson added.

If problems arise with the plan, they will be fixed.

“If I’m happy to be on the city council next year, we’re going to be, I think, very concerned with how the new regulations are implemented. We’re going to need to pay careful attention to problems that arise,” Tollefson said.

Tollefson said the updated plan has undergone years of work and the input of many.

“I think that we need to respect that process and move forward,” he said.

Tollefson held the same on revisiting controversies of the past.

“Isn’t that Winslow yesterday?” he quipped when asked about Haugan’s criticism of Winslow Tomorrow.

“It’s all history,” Tollefson said. “There have been plenty of things that haven’t gone right in the city government over the last years. Going back and rehashing those things isn’t getting us anywhere.”

He also noted there have been big changes at city hall since Bainbridge’s more troubled times.

“We have a relatively new city manager. My sense is that he’s got his head on straight,” Tollefson said.

“By and large, the council as a whole is working well with him,” Tollefson said, though he acknowledged some “glaring exceptions.”

“I’m going to try to make my campaign about me and what I hope to do, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about Mr. Haugan,” he added.

“I don’t think the city would be particularly well-served by having somebody come to this job angry,” Tollefson said.

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