Opinion

What’s the big deal about the Shoreline Master Program update? | Guest Column | June 17

It comes down to this: the waters of Puget Sound belong to all of us.

There is no rational argument to counter the fact that increased human population has adversely affected the healthy ecosystem of our Sound.

There is no arguing with studies done by generations of marine scientists that reveal how unarmored shorelines and native vegetation help support healthy marine populations.

There is no arguing with state law, which requires us to adopt a stronger management program to protect our public waters.

All Bainbridge Islanders, uplanders and waterfront property owners alike, have an interest in maintain the health of Puget Sound. For those of us on Bainbridge Island, the Sound is our front yard.

If we realized our pets and landscaping were slowly dying as a result of our own failure to provide conditions under which they could thrive, we’d take immediate action. In just such a way, Puget Sound is the responsibility of each and every one of us. And its shorelines need protection now more than ever.

We are living on an island and rely on each other. Whether an upland or shoreline resident, we depend on each other to act responsibly for the common good.

Waterfront property owners depend on those of us uphill not to remove vegetation that will endanger their downhill homes due to floods or slides; maintain our septic systems so as not to pollute their drinking water; and manage land disturbances along public shores to maintain the pollution-filtering and ecological benefits of natural shoreline processes.

Many of us live in communities with covenants. All of us live within the confines of zoning laws. Living on waterfront property is a great privilege, and with that privilege come unique responsibilities: to do your best to preserve the nearshore ecology – the forage, habitat, marine life and water quality that belong to all of us.

Why do we need the additional regulations of a Shoreline Management Program? Because each of us believes that we are managing our own little parcel of paradise just as we should, with only a vague idea of the cumulative impact of our actions. The statewide mandate of the Shoreline Management Act sought to make us aware of those impacts, and to act to improve the health of Puget Sound over time.

Consider the history of the creosote plant at the mouth of Eagle Harbor as an extreme example of our evolving sensibilities. If it were simply a question of property rights, the owners of that facility would still be operating it. That facility would still be “legal.”

To be effective, any regulations must strike a balance between unduly constraining people’s use of their property and acting responsibly on current knowledge of the repercussions of those uses. Striking that balance usually triggers heated debate. Such a debate has been going on for some years now.

The noise that most people hear may be from the extremes on one side or the other. But to the majority of us, the basic premise of environmental regulation makes sense. We want our planet, our environment, our Sound, to be preserved, not just used up.

The objective of the work going on in the SMP citizen advisory groups is to somehow strike that balance – to produce an SMP that will educate and encourage people to do the right thing, and to provide science-based guidelines on how to do it.

We are all responsible. A strong SMP will help protect the water quality of Puget Sound, keep our beaches healthy for swimming, keep our shellfish safe to eat, and assure healthy populations of fish and wildlife. The protection of our shorelines and, ultimately the health of Puget Sound, depend on the activities of all of us.

Please become knowledgeable and engage in the ongoing SMP update process because Puget Sound is home to us all. We share it with all kinds of wondrous, valued creatures. Its very survival depends on what we do (or don’t do). Whether an upland or shoreline property owner, we must each do our part to protect the Sound for our children and grandchildren.

Elise Wright is a current member of the SMP Citizen Advisory Committee on Vegetation.

 

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