Shoreline task force will help revise regulations

All the pieces are nearly in place for Kitsap County residents and planners to begin examining the ecosystem at the edge of the waters encircling the Kitsap Peninsula.

Beyond beauty, shoreline environments contain vital ecosystems. (Click to enlarge)
Kitsap Sun photo

Oh, yes, lakes and a few streams are part of the picture.

Kitsap County commissioners last night appointed a 20-member citizen task force to take a central role in the planning effort. For the first time in county history, regulations will be based on ecosystem values. See the story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun listing the members.

Similar planning efforts are under way in Kitsap’s cities as well as various communities throughout the Puget Sound region. I wrote a story for the Kitsap Sun Feb. 27 regarding the effort for our cities.

In the past, shoreline regulations were based on existing land uses. Buffers — including the current 100-foot buffer for rural areas — were uniform throughout the entire county. Previous rules never took into consideration the particular types of shoreline or their ecological values. For example, an estuary with a highly productive marsh and a stream running through it was treated exactly the same as a rocky outcropping pounded by waves.

The task force will have the interesting task of figuring out ecosystem functions for various segments of Kitsap County’s shoreline. We know that sloping beaches can be important to migrating salmon, that certain kinds of sand and gravel support forage fish and that a multitude of creatures may reside in nearby upland areas.

But here’s the big question: Why does development need to stay back from the shoreline, and how far back is far enough. I think we’ll see during this planning process that it all depends on what one is trying to protect. That, in turn, depends on the flora and fauna supported by the specific shoreline type.

Kitsap County now has a basic “inventory” of man-made and natural features found along the shoreline. This inventory was created by a team of biologists who walked the entire waterfront — both on the east side of the county fronting onto Puget Sound, and on the west side fronting onto Hood Canal. Coupled with additional information being compiled, this inventory will form the basis of discussions in the coming months.

One of the new task force participants is Tom Nevins, a member of the Kitsap County Planning Commission who lived through battles over the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance. When done, the county was immediately sued by both property-rights advocates and by environmentalists. Under orders from the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board, the county commissioners established 100-foot buffers for rural shorelines.

But the battle was not over and eventually got tied up in the confusion over whether the Critical Areas Ordinance or the Shorelines Master Program should apply to shoreline properties. A bill passed by the Legislature this session attempts to resolve the problem for the second time. I wrote about the bill in Saturday’s Kitsap Sun.

Nevins told me that he hopes for a more orderly process this time around. I believe things will go more smoothly if those involved will look for common ground using common sense. Property rights are in play, but so are public interests in shoreline ecosystems.

The final piece of the puzzle is the appointment of a professional facilitator to lead the task force on its quest. That appointment is likely to come in two weeks, with the first meeting in early April.

Kitsap County Department of Community Development has now ramped up its new Web page for the Shoreline Master Program Update, which is designed as conduit for information.

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