State finds few faults with Bainbridge SMP

Bainbridge Island’s controversial rewrite of the city’s shoreline regulations has largely passed muster with the state Department of Ecology.

Ecology officials gave the city notice earlier this week that the state has no problems with most of the changes that have been suggested to the city’s Shoreline Master Program.

Work on the update started in 2008 and came to a tumultuous end in May, when the city council approved the updated plan on a 4-3 vote.

The Shoreline Master Program, or SMP, is a state-mandated set of policies and rules that regulate development along the coast while protecting natural resources and providing for public access to the water.

But the update to the SMP was bitterly opposed by some on Bainbridge Island, including many shoreline property owners who said the new plan was too complex and too restrictive and trampled on their property rights.

Some also claimed the new program was unconstitutional, and they complained that the public did not have enough chances to offer input on the plan.

Earlier this week, however, Ecology officials offered their draft comments on the plan that was approved by the council.

Barbara Nightingale, a regional shoreline planner with Ecology, said most of the required, and recommended, changes center on regulations that restrict aquaculture.

Aquaculture changes

Ecology officials pointed out two dozen “required” changes that would clarify policies and rules such as aquaculture design standards, commercial geoduck policies and regulations, and other changes, such as refined definitions for shellfish gardens.

Another 23 “recommended” changes also involve aquaculture polices and regulations.

Nightingale noted the suggestions offered to the city from Ecology this week are draft suggestions.

The city can accept the changes as written by Ecology, or offer suggestions that would clarify the policies and regulations set out in the city’s new SMP.

“This is a time for them to provide alternative language,” Nightingale said.

After an agreement is reached, the draft will then go to the director of Ecology.

“This is a way to avoid any kind of late surprises,” she said.

If the city accepts the changes, it will submit a letter to Ecology and the director of the agency will approve the draft program, which will become effective 14 days later.

City cites partnership

Bainbridge Planning Director Kathy Cook said the draft response shows the city has largely been on the same page as the state when it comes to changes to the SMP.

“I think it reflects the fact that we coordinated closely with Ecology throughout the process,” Cook said.

“We just consulted with them on a regular basis. They have been a partner in all this,” she said.

Stark views on SMP

Ecology has spent the last two months reviewing the updated plan, and the state agency was hit with two starkly different views from Bainbridge residents on the SMP.

Some said it was much too restrictive, others said it was not nearly enough.

Others claimed that citizens had been left out of the discussion as the city’s review of the updated SMP came to a close, while still others said the process was a model for public participation.

Bainbridge residents submitted more than 100 written comments to Ecology on the updated plan. A review of the summaries of those comments, prepared by Ecology staff, showed a community clearly at odds over what the updated program will or won’t do.

Most of the comments bear a familiar ring to public criticisms made of the new plan when it was before the city council.

Many claimed the updated plan will violate property rights, was too long and too complex, and would hurt property values.

About a dozen commenters asked Ecology to send the plan back to the city council for more work. Others called for it to be rejected outright.

Some say plan is too weak

On the other side, many islanders told Ecology they wanted strong environmental safeguards.

Some said the buffers in the plan — areas near the shoreline where development is more strictly curtailed — were not wide enough and would not meet the new environmental protection standard of “no-net-loss of shoreline ecological functions” for updated SMPs.

Stormwater not an issue

Many of the most common complaints about the new SMP, such as it being unconstitutional or the fact that it did not address stormwater runoff as a source of pollution, were not highlighted as problems by Ecology after the agency reviewed the plan.

Nightingale told the Review earlier that SMPs don’t typically cover stormwater concerns.

Instead, the management of stormwater is regulated under the Clean Water Act, she said.

“You don’t satisfy the stormwater management program with the SMP,” she said.

“You don’t see any stormwater code in any SMP,” Nightingale said.

“It’s a different animal.”

Nightingale also noted that some commenters tried to draw a connection between the SMP and pollution caused by stormwater.

“A lot of those comments are saying, why do we have to do this if the city isn’t managing their stormwater?”

“Those are two separate things; you have to do the SMP and the city has to do its stormwater management,” Nightingale said. “You don’t get to not have buffers because you don’t agree with their stormwater management program.”

Plan’s length not a problem

Some residents also criticized the size of the SMP and said it was just too complex.

Nightingale noted that SMPs often vary in size, depending on the jurisdiction that is adopting the update.

“There are many things that have to be addressed in an SMP,” she said.

Seattle has a highly urbanized shoreline. Bainbridge, by contrast, has a rural and forested shoreline.

“Bainbridge still has intact shorelines,” she said.

Seattle’s plan runs about 200 pages.

Some have claimed Bainbridge’s SMP is twice that size, but Nightingale noted that estimate incorporates inventories and other studies that are referenced in the plan.

“They have tried to build a lot of flexibility in there and now they are getting criticized for that,” she said.

“If you want to count the residential mitigation plan, that adds pages. But it’s also an opportunity to clarify what you can do for mitigation if you are doing single family [home construction] mitigation,”  Nightingale said.

Ecology has found there is no standard, best size for SMPs.

In Skykomish, for example, the city has a mile of shoreline and a creek that’s classified as a shoreline of the state.

“We’re looking at a document that is 150 pages, and then it has another 20 maps, which makes it a very large document,” she said.

Seattle’s plan is on the shorter side, Nightingale said.

“They have one very large issue there, floating homes,” she said.

Nightingale also noted that Ecology had received many comments that the Bainbridge SMP was unconstitutional, “and that the city is trying to eliminate residential use.”

“That’s totally not the case,” she said.

“We’ve heard that many times but we haven’t seen any proof of that,” Nightingale said.

All SMPs are required to address and respect property rights, Nightingale said, and it’s actually something that’s on the submittal checklist that Ecology uses in evaluating SMPs.

“Property rights are an important thing that needs to be respected in the shoreline code,” Nightingale said.

Final hearing planned

The Bainbridge city council will hold a public hearing on the updated SMP during a special city council meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30.

The hearing will be focused on the recommended and required changes suggested by Ecology, and will not cover other issues involving the updated plan.

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