The state Department of Ecology has told Pierce County that its draft of proposed changes to shoreline policies — the first such changes in nearly 40 years — is unacceptable and must be revised.
In a firmly worded letter, the department found the county’s plan deficient in several areas:
• The county proposed too many reductions for shoreline buffers for new housing construction and additions to existing homes.
• The county failed to require vegetation between the shoreline and houses to be constructed or expanded on Lake Tapps and Spanaway Lake.
• The county failed to analyze whether its changes will meet the state’s requirement of “no net loss of shoreline ecological function.”
Debby Hyde, who is leading the shoreline program update for the county, said she’s not surprised by most of Ecology’s criticisms.
She and other county officials plan to meet with department officials and explain the county’s proposals.
“I absolutely do think some of the things in the letter will go away,” said Hyde, special project coordinator for Planning and Land Services.
“There were some points we felt could be dealt with quite easily,” said County Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald, R-Puyallup. Others are “sticklers,” she said.
Hyde said the county attempted to protect shorelines while responding to the public’s desire to use waterfront properties.
“We will have to prove to Ecology that we’ve balanced the use of the land with ecological protection,” Hyde said.
The state-mandated Shoreline Master Program update is the first revision of policies to regulate and protect 1,300 miles of shoreline in Pierce County since they were adopted in 1974.
Neither the county nor the state is proposing changes that would affect current homeowners who don’t plan to build or expand.
“If you legally exist today, you can keep on doing what you’re doing,” Hyde said.
The county’s proposal adds 100-foot buffers for new construction in residential areas on saltwater shorelines, where for the most part they don’t now exist. But it gives people options who expand their houses toward the water to reduce the buffer by adding vegetation.
A buffer is an area starting from the shoreline edge (called “the ordinary high water mark”).
Because of the county’s buffer reductions, the state agency can’t determine “what the ‘bottom line’ is for how close a shoreline use or development can move waterward,” Ecology program manager Gordon White wrote.
He said the county’s draft “is not one that Ecology can approve without revisions that bring it into consistency” with state shoreline regulations.
Kim Van Zwalenburg, a regional shoreline planner for Ecology, said the state’s response is not unusual. Other jurisdictions also have been told to revise their proposals, she said.
“I don’t think any of these issues are unresolvable,” Van Zwalenburg said. “We have serious concerns, and we would like to address them in partnership with the county earlier rather than later.”
Another key conflict is over whether to require shoreline vegetation along Lake Tapps and Spanaway Lake for new construction and home expansion.
Ecology says provisions for vegetation must apply to all shorelines. Vegetation includes native trees, huckleberries, salal and brush. Their benefits include providing insects for birds and fish to feed on, absorbing rain water and controlling sediment.
Hyde said the county did not require adding vegetation for the two lakes because their shorelines already are heavily developed.
“We just thought it was better to give people the option to choose how they want to use their property,” she said.
Hyde said she was surprised by Ecology’s criticism that the county failed to calculate whether the overall changes will result in “no net loss” of shoreline function. White called that analysis “the largest missing piece” in the county’s draft.
Hyde said she was under the impression from Ecology that the county had more time to deal with it. The county started the analysis last month, she said.
Hyde said the county has been working closely with Ecology in developing the proposal and has held 29 public meetings. The plan must be adopted by the County Council and approved by Ecology.Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647