Tougher regs for bulkheads, docks

The island may soon have stricter rules for the construction of new bulkheads and docks. Read the story below.

The city is moving toward tougher restrictions for new bulkheads and docks along the island’s shores.

Following the lead of nearby counties, Bainbridge is in the process of updating its shoreline regulations with new guidelines based on recent marine habitat and water quality research. The city hosted a meeting Thursday to gather public input as it crafts a series of proposed revisions by late May. City staff hosted a similar meeting in February to discuss increasing protective buffers along beaches.

“Obviously, we haven’t been doing everything right over the last 150 years,” said city planner Steve Morse, referring to widespread use of bulkheads and overwater structures now blamed for fish habitat loss and other adverse impacts on marine wildlife.

The proposed revisions didn’t sit well with much of the audience — many of whom are waterfront landowners opposed to what they say is a widening slate of regulations. They expressed a range of concerns about the scientific and legal basis for the developing proposals.

“This is strictly a scientific point of view,” said one man. “I’ve seen no input from a geotechnical engineer and the health department. This appears very selective.”

Morse said that the regulations under review are aimed at protecting environmentally sensitive areas and that the city is using scientific standards common to most jurisdictions with updated regulations.

The city’s current rules for bulkheads require landowners to demonstrate that shore armoring is a necessary protection and that other nonstructural measures would be ineffective.

Under King County’s recently strengthened rules, landowners must mitigate a bulkhead’s environmental impacts. Snohomish County’s new rules specify that bulkheads cannot interfere with beach sediment.

According to shorelines planner Peter Namtvedt Best, bulkheads cut beaches off from naturally eroding sediments that create a mix of sand and gravel favored by fish. Hemming about half of the island’s shores, bulkheads tend to develop hard cobble beaches that are inhospitable to many species, he said.

One attendee disagreed, arguing that eroding bluffs make beaches muddy and can harm wildlife.

“It turns into muck,” he said. “You can’t even walk down there. You’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth.”

Best said he’s walked most of the island’s beaches and that only a few estuarine areas erode the type of claylike material the man objected to. This type of erosion is healthy for estuary banks, he added.

Discussion of possible changes to the city’s dock and other overwater structure regulations drew less ire from the crowd.

The city’s current rules require property owners to site and design structures to minimize environmental impacts.

While some jurisdictions, like King County, require similar measures, others ban docks in areas favored by salmon and other imperiled wildlife. Whatcom County has some of the strongest rules, requiring landowners to demonstrate that docks will not adversely impact critical fish habitat.

The city is also considering doubling required buffers along most shorelines to pull human development farther away from tidelands. Current buffer requirements range from 25 feet in urban areas, 50 feet in rural areas and 100 feet in designated conservancy zones. The city is now considering rules recently adopted in Kitsap, King and other counties that mandate buffers of 100 to 165 feet in most areas.

City staff plan to present a draft of updated shoreline regulations on May 22, with possible adoption sometime in June.