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Bainbridge homeowners group wants citizen oversight on shoreline issues

While the city’s ongoing financial difficulties may seem distant to many islanders, a group of Bainbridge citizens are nervously eyeing their property.

The Bainbridge Shoreline Homeowners (BSH), an advocacy group for waterfront property owners, has raised concerns that cost cutting at the city will reduce their input on regulation updates that will eventually affect their land.

Included in the $2.3 million dollar budget reduction that the city council approved two weeks ago was a line item for reductions in community outreach related to the city’s upcoming Shoreline Master Plan update.

The update, mandated under Washington State’s Shoreline Management Act, is supposed to be completed by 2011. The regulations will affect developments and restoration efforts in city tidelands as well as shorelands extending landward for 200 feet.

Some shoreline homeowners worried that they will be kept in the dark about the city’s update, and its affect on their property.

“If anything, we think the outreach budget should be increased,” said Stacey Black, a representative for BSH. “We want to encourage more participation, better understanding and more dialogue.”

Bainbridge Shoreline Homeowners received its nonprofit status last month, and members claim to speak for over 1,600 homeowners and businesses that surround the island.

The group has sent a request to the city asking for the establishment of a citizens’ steering committee that will monitor the shoreline update process.

“Our mission is to make sure any shoreline updates reflect the needs of homeowners and businesses as well as environmental concerns,” Black said. “We have a feeling that the shoreline update process the city uses is flawed.”

A portion of the $101,152 cut to the Planning and Community Development’s budget called for a “reduction in public outreach for (the) shoreline update.”

However, according to Planning Director Kathy Cook, homeowners shouldn’t take that statement to mean there will be no outreach on the issue.

“The problem is the message that people are hearing is that outreach has been eliminated,” she said. “We plan on extensive outreach, using as many tools as we can.”

She said the city plans on using e-mail list serves, web pages, community meetings, flyers and public notices to get the word out about the update.

The stated reductions in outreach axed a series of educational classes and workshops that would have addressed different topics relating to shoreline management.

Although the city has decided to cut that arm of the outreach program, Cook said the department was looking for grants to fund the educational series.

According to Department of Ecology policy analyst, Peter Skowlund, acquiring grants for further outreach is almost a Catch-22 – many grantees want community input to already be in place.

“While there are no requirements for a citizen advisory committee, it is advised, especially if (a municipality) is going out for grants,” Skowlund said. “Many grants require a thorough public participation plan.”

Statewide, there are 263 shoreline master plans that are being updated to comply with state mandates.

Bainbridge will begin outreach on its update later this year, according to Cook.

“It’s to our benefit to get the word out as widely and broadly as possible,” she said. “We’ll never eliminate outreach, it’s in our interest.”

Black still hopes that outreach will include some sort of citizen’s advisory committee.

“When you think of it, the shoreline homeowner is the first line of defense for protecting the Puget Sound,” Black said. “People perceive we are only worried about our homes and not the water, and that’s just not the case at all.”

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