Tag Archives: Shorelines

Puget Sound restoration depends on shorelines

The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound has published the final two parts of a seven-part series on shorelines, bulkheads and nearshore ecosystems.

As we researched the series, I was able to interact with a lot of interesting people — from coastal geologists to property owners. Today’s experts in shoreline ecology credit the late Wolf Bauer with many of the ideas that have become commonplace in shoreline restoration. I was pleased when Washington Sea Grant produced a video tribute to Wolf, who died in January at 103 years old.

One story I wrote, which was published today, involved a boat ride along the eastern shoreline of North Kitsap, which was the perfect setting for describing the geology and natural forces that shape the shoreline. I must thank Hugh Shipman of the Washington Department of Ecology and Paul Dorn of the Suquamish Tribe for their expertise. Check out “Sources of Sand.”

On an earlier boat ride, I joined up with a group of shoreline property owners who were learning about nearshore ecology and the benefits of bulkhead removal. The boat trip, sponsored by the Shore Friendly Kitsap program, is part of a pilot project to introduce the idea of removing bulkheads.

The tour departed from Brownsville and went up through Liberty Bay near Poulsbo, where we observed a mixed assortment of houses and associated shoreline structures. Some of these waterfront homes were protected with massive rock bulkheads; some featured stubby wooden walls; and some were surrounded by vegetation with no bulkhead at all.

“Taking this boat ride lets you see what the natural shoreline should look like,” said Lee Derror, a Tracyton resident who has been contemplating whether to remove her bulkhead, built of creosote timbers.

Cost of removal is a major obstacle for many property owners — unless their bulkhead is already failing. The other major concern is whether alternative “soft shore” protection will be enough to protect their shoreline from excessive erosion.

Leaving Liberty Bay, the boat headed to Port Madison on Bainbridge Island to examine the Powel family property, where a bulkhead was removed in 2013. The 1,500-foot bulkhead removal is believed to be the largest private removal so far in Puget Sound. (See Kitsap Sun, Aug. 29, 2013, or the Shore Friendly webpage.)

Jim Brennan, a consulting marine biologist, told the passengers that accommodations were made to protect a historic boathouse on the Powel property by placing large rocks around the foundation. Also, the beach was sloped back to absorb incoming waves. Other than that, the shoreline is expected to eventually look much the way it did in the 1800s, with a reconnected salt marsh providing food and protection for migrating salmon.

Lee Derror told me that property owners should take a look at their shoreline from the water side, especially if they plan to remove their bulkhead. The Kitsap tour was especially helpful, she said, “because you get to rub elbows with the experts.”

Kitsap’s Shore Friendly pilot project — one of five projects in the Puget Sound region — will help property owners determine if bulkhead removal is right for them. It includes with a visit from a volunteer, followed up by an assessment from an independent geotechnical engineer. The last time I checked, county officials were hoping to offer additional boat rides in the future.

Pilot projects operating in other counties have taken somewhat different approaches, as I described last week in the story “Shoreline Restoration Turns to Private Property Owners.” The second video is from efforts on San Juan Island.

The state’s Shore Friendly website includes web links for people to connect with outreach efforts in their own counties. Go to “Resources in Your Area.”

Below are the seven shoreline stories written by science writer Eric Scigliano and myself for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and the online magazine “Salish Sea Currents.” These are published by the Puget Sound Institute, which is associated with the University of Washington. Funding came from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Researchers focus on forage fish and shorelines

UPDATE: June 26

The Pacific Fishery Management Council has taken a major step in the protection of unregulated forage fish with a resolution calling for increased studies and possible fishing restrictions. The resolution begins:

“It is the Council’s intent to recognize the importance of forage fish to the marine ecosystem off our coast, and to provide adequate protection for forage fish. We declare that our objective is to prohibit the development of new directed fisheries on forage species that are not currently managed by our Council, or the States, until we have an adequate opportunity to assess the science relating to the fishery and any potential impacts to our existing fisheries and communities.”

Read the entire resolution on the PFMC’s website.

In the end, the plankton and the tiny fish that eat them may reveal the real story about Puget Sound.

USGS researchers Dave Ayers, Ryan Tomka and Collin Smith haul in their net at Fay Bainbridge Park last week.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid

As I wrote in a story for Monday’s Kitsap Sun:

“While killer whales and salmon dominate the public spotlight, researchers are focusing increasing attention near the bottom of the food web and on the physical processes that support all life in Puget Sound.”

The story focuses on studies related to forage fish and hydrogeological processes along the shorelines of the Kitsap Peninsula, but it ties into everything we know about Puget Sound.

One project, led by U.S. Geological Survey researcher Theresa “Marty” Liedtke, is studying the extent to which sand lance and surf smelt depend on eelgrass beds. The project is part of the agency’s investigation called “Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound (CHIPS). Check out the CHIPS website for further information.

The other study, by geologist Wendy Gerstel of Qwg Applied Geology, is part of a larger grant project dealing with shoreline processes funded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Wendy has been studying sources of sediment that feed the beaches in Kitsap County. She is preparing to use what she has found to make recommendations about potential shoreline-restoration projects.

Her project and related issues will be discussed tomorrow at a workshop called “Kitsap’s Shorelines and Restoration Opportunities: A Landowner Workshop.”

Participants will learn about beach processes and shoreline ecology and hear from researchers studying shoreline erosion and sediment sources along Kitsap County shorelines. The workshop is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at President’s Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds, and everyone is invited.

Another development involving sand lance, surf smelt and other “unmanaged” forage fish is a proposal for the Pacific Fishery Management Council to initiate a process that could eventually lead to fisheries regulations.

Protecting all forage fish seems to be a goal of many environmental organizations, as one can see in the public comments section of PFMC’s agenda (Item G.1) for Saturday’s meeting in San Mateo, Calif.

Steve Marx of the Pew Environment Group wrote a 12-page letter in support of managing for protection:

“To date the Council has received over 19,000 individual pieces of correspondence from engaged members of the public, urging it to take action to protect forage species for the sake of a healthy ecosystem, sustainable fisheries and vibrant coastal communities.

“Over 110 licensed commercial fishermen and women on the West Coast have written to the Council, urging it to prevent new fisheries from developing on forage species until adequate science is available. Additionally, a diverse list of both commercial and recreational fishing organizations have advocated for the
Council to implement needed forage protections, including a reversal on the burden of proof for new forage fisheries.

“The regional fishery management council process encourages public participation, and we hope that this strong show of public support for protecting unmanaged
forage species is helpful as the Council continues its deliberation on how best to proceed.”

Court finds resolution for conflicting shoreline regs

The conflict between the Growth Management Act and the Shoreline Management Act may be over, as a result of a Washington State Court of Appeals case handed down this week for Kitsap County. (See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.)

The confusion has affected many cities and counties that believed they were better protecting their shorelines from degradation when they updated their critical areas ordinances, as required by the Growth Management Act. It turns out that the GMA may have improperly stepped into the 200-foot shoreline zone where the Shoreline Management Act presides.

The conflict grew out of a divided Washington State Supreme Court decision for the city of Anacortes, which concluded that only the Shorelines Management Act could govern shorelines. By the time the case was resolved in 2009, many cities and counties had already updated their local critical areas ordinances with stricter shoreline regulations.

Washington Department of Ecology advised local governments to continue using their CAO rules for shorelines, because the divided decision was not binding on other jurisdictions. That advice caused a stir of its own. (See Water Ways, Nov. 3, 2009.) Kitsap County got caught in the crossfire in a lawsuit with the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners, as the Court of Appeals used the same reasoning in saying that Kitsap’s CAO should not apply to shorelines.

Last year, the Legislature moved to clarify the matter by saying cities and counties may use their CAOs until they complete updates to their Shoreline Master Programs, an effort in which many are engaged now. The law was made retroactive to validate numerous CAOs that were in limbo.

Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners argued that it was unconstitutional for the Legislature to pass a law retroactively to get around a court ruling. However, in the latest case, the Court of Appeals sided with the county, saying the Supreme Court had never ruled authoritatively on the matter because of the split nature of the original decision. That made it legal for the Legislature to clarify the intent of the law.

With the appeals court upholding the Critical Areas Ordinance, the appeals court judges then moved into the meat of the Kitsap County case, which involved the use of “best available science” and several constitutional claims. The court found in favor of the county on all major arguments. One can find the discussion in the second part of the Court of Appeals ruling (PDF 148 kb).

KAPO officials are reviewing the case with lawyers for the Pacific Legal Foundation before deciding whether to appeal the matter to the State Supreme Court.

Task force embraces shoreline planning

It looks like Kitsap County’s shorelines task force is off to a good start. All but a couple of the 20 members attended the first official meeting of the group last Thursday. Everyone seemed happy to be there.

Several members made a point of thanking the county for bringing the task force together at the start of the process of updating the Kitsap County Shorelines Master Program. Kitsap County’s planning director, Larry Keeton, said he is not aware of another county relying on a citizen task force to the extent that Kitsap is. Check out the story I wrote for Saturday’s Kitsap Sun.

One member said he was glad to be part of the process, even though he realizes that the plan finally adopted by the county commissioners may be different.

As a “get-to-know-you” exercise, the meeting’s facilitator, Margaret Norton-Arnold, asked members to talk about themselves. And, to get a snapshot of their views, she asked them to place their names, a picture or some kind of symbol in an appropriate spot on a long poster. On the poster, a picture of industrial development had been drawn on the left side, with a forest scene on the right. People who believed that development had already left its mark were asked to place their symbol on the left, while those who favored restoring things to a pristine condition were asked to place their symbol on the right.

Most people placed their names/pictures close to the center. Two or three tried to suggest ways of bringing the opposite sides together.

Only Bob Benze of the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners chose not to place himself on that spectrum. He said his emphasis during the planning process would be to make sure individual property rights are respected and that the laws be followed.

Benze’s statement prompted Tom Nevins, a member of the Kitsap County Planning Commission and a longtime conservation supporter, to get up and say his focus would be on community values while respecting people’s rights and the underlying laws. His mark went somewhere in the middle.

Frankly, that’s exactly what I expected from those two, which is one reason I predicted a lively debate in my April 18 Water Ways entry.

As Norton-Arnold described it, the process of consensus-building will allow room for all viewpoints. Where compromise cannot be reached, she will prepare “majority” and “minority” reports to reflect the full range of opinion.

While introducing herself, Norton-Arnold revealed her longtime relationship to Kitsap County, and I discovered a distant and roundabout connection between her and myself.
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Shoreline task force talks should be lively

As a reporter, I’m looking forward to meetings of a task force that will assist with updating the Kitsap County Shorelines Management Program. The 20-member task force is a diverse group, and I expect some lively discussions about how our local shorelines should be managed.

I understand that the first meeting of the task force coming up on Thursday (and possibly others) will include discussions about how the meetings will be conducted. I think the early meetings are designed to get people up to speed on the ecology of shorelines and their importance to various species. The meetings are scheduled twice a month through June of next year.

In a meeting I covered Thursday, Washington Department of Ecology officials stressed the state’s mandate of “no net loss of ecological function” going into the future. This whole notion raises a lot of questions, given that development will continue along the shorelines. See the story I wrote for Friday’s Kitsap Sun.

By the way, Kitsap County residents are encouraged to complete an online survey about how people use the shorelines and how they would like these areas to be managed in the future. The survey is linked from the county’s shorelines page.

Also of interest at the bottom of that page are shoreline photos submitted by area residents. People are encouraged to add their own favorite photos to the site.

A few observations about science and shorelines

I’d like to talk a little about the ongoing rough-and-tumble debate over shoreline management — including a letter from a group of scientists — but first let me make a few observations about science in general.

Scientists are the first to acknowledge that science is a messy pursuit. Working hypotheses don’t always work out. And even when findings do reveal some new clarity about nature, there can be multiple ways to interpret those findings as well as new questions to be answered. Understanding takes time and effort.

But if science is messy, the application of science to public policy is downright dirty.

That’s what we see in climate change, where the big challenge for scientists is to make predictions about how climate will behave in the future by considering past changes along with the physical forces that are taking place.

The challenge for policy-makers involved in the climate debate is to understand the risks and uncertainties and then to act appropriately, given political forces working in various other directions.

Trying to protect the natural function of shorelines is a similar challenge, but it ought to be much simpler. We have a history of land use along the shorelines and a fairly good understanding of the physical processes involved.

Again, the challenge for policy-makers is to understand the risks and uncertainties about shoreline alterations and to act appropriately. In this case, political forces include people who have no apparent understanding of property rights, people who believe government has no right to regulate land use, and a large number of people trying to seek a reasonable balance that protects ecosystem functions as well as land-use opportunities.

That brings me to a letter I received this week. Written by 14 scientists, the letter is critical of an analysis by Don Flora, a retired forest researcher who has taken a keen interest in shoreline science.

In his analysis, Flora could find no statistical relationship between “stressors” caused by human construction and “ecological function,” measured by natural factors. Flora admits that his focus was narrow. He also admits that his findings do not mean that man-made alterations to the shoreline cause no harm to the ecosystem — but he seems to say that it’s a short leap to that conclusion. See my story from Oct. 26 and my Water Ways entry from Oct. 27.

Many scientists and others familiar with Puget Sound shorelines were greatly disturbed by the suggestion that bulkheads and other structures cause no harm, which is where some property-rights advocates have taken Flora’s findings. Fourteen scientists responded with a letter explaining why Flora’s analysis and conclusions were all wrong. See my story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

In forwarding the letter to the Puget Sound Partnership, one of the signers, Megan Dethier of Friday Harbor Laboratories, offered this comment about Flora’s report:

“Many regional scientists immediately took issue with this misrepresentation of science, and felt that a response was warranted to help ensure that decision makers, planners, managers, and the public realize that this report was highly misleading, and that it is important to distinguish real science from pseudoscience. After much discussion about the best tone, length, and approach for this response, we have produced the attached brief document (I also attach the original Flora report).

“We (the signers, plus the MANY agency scientists who helped with it and agreed with it but were politically constrained from signing it) are unsure of the best method to get this document “out”, but most agreed that PSP is good at that kind of thing, hence this email to you. Our hope is that this might be a little piece of “ammunition” for municipalities, counties, etc. fighting off the sort of pseudoscience barrages characterized by Dr. Flora’s paper.”

Kitsap County is forming a task force to make recommendations to update the county’s shoreline regulations. Several other counties and many cities are going through this process, as required by state law. I believe smart people assigned to the Kitsap panel and others will be able to review the science and make reasonable recommendations.

A couple of things come to mind. First, not all shorelines are the same. That may be obvious, but we have rocky shores where large waves crash, as well as backwater estuaries where plants and animals are barely affected by currents. The need for buffers, as well as buffer widths, probably varies under these conditions.

Second, it is only common sense that bulkheads and docks have an effect on ecosystems. We should try to understand the effects of not only a single structure in an otherwise natural area but the effect of an entire shoreline dominated by structures. That’s the cumulative effect.

For your consideration, here are Don Flora’s original report, the letter from the 14 scientists and another interesting analysis I received from Richard Nerf, who has experience with statistics.

Don Flora report PDF 185 kb)

Letter from 14 scientists (PDF 46 kb)

Richard Nerf critique of Flora report (PDF 435 kb)

Don Flora’s response to Richard Nerf

Let’s talk shoreline planning and property rights

Kitsap County’s shoreline planners have completed a Draft Shoreline Jurisdiction Map (PDF 1.5 mb) and a Preliminary Draft Public Participation Plan (PDF 68 kb) and are now focused on setting up a new committee, called the Shoreline Management Program Update Task Force.

More than 100 people with interest in shorelines have expressed a willingness to serve on the task force. From that number plus others not yet identified, shoreline planners hope to create a group of about 25 people to represent various interests and expertise.

As part of the selection process, those interested will be asked to fill out an application form. It is the county’s standard volunteer form enhanced with a focus on shoreline issues. Patty Charnas, the county’s natural resources manager, had hoped to post a notice on the county’s Web site today and get the applications out to those who signed up with their e-mail.

Meetings are being planned every two weeks, with the first meeting tentatively scheduled for Feb. 25 at Island Lake County Park. Work is scheduled to continue through June of 2011. The evening meetings are expected to last about three hours, and anyone may observe.

Meanwhile, on a related issue, Washington Department of Ecology is trying to quell an attack by property-rights advocates who say the agency is out to eliminate non-conforming structures along the shoreline.
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Letters spell out state’s position on shoreline rules

It’s a pretty good bet that the Washington State Supreme Court will take another shot at deciding when a city or county Critical Areas Ordinance applies to shorelines.

Two conflicting state Court of Appeals decisions have each talked about the uncertainty brought about by the high court’s failure to muster a majority to spell out what happens when a county has updated its shoreline buffers and other regulations through a Critical Areas Ordinance.

The court seems to have determined that local shoreline regulations should be approved through the Shorelines Management Act, not the Growth Management Act. The real question now is whether approved Critical Areas Ordinances can be used until the shoreline updates are complete.

A letter from the Washington State Attorney General’s Office lends support to the idea that some counties may keep using their Critical Areas Ordinance for shorelines, at least temporarily. See my story in Saturday’s Kitsap Sun.

I wrote about this issue when state Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard and Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, wrote letters questioning the “guidance” given to counties by the Washington state departments of Ecology and Commerce. See Kitsap Sun story from Nov. 2.

So far, the Supreme Court has not announced whether it will accept an appeal of the Kitsap County case for review. But it’s hard to imagine, given all the different opinions flying around, that the court wouldn’t want to direct the traffic.

You may wish to read the letters:

Letter from Attorney General Rob McKenna (PDF 3.1 mb)

Joint Letter from Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant and Commerce Director Rogers Weed (PDF 118 kb)

Original letter from Angel and Kretz (PDF 172 mb)

Shoreline issue stirs emotions from opposite sides

Few issues separate people into two groups as much as shoreline management regulations.

We are guaranteed to have a lively debate in Kitsap County and in jurisdictions throughout the Puget Sound region beginning later this year and possibly continuing for the next three years. See my story on this issue in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

A preview of this debate was provided in the comments attached to that story. Here’s a condensed version:

None of this will matter when a KC employee can give a variance from the 100′ buffer down to 10’… and change the 20′ road rule down to 6′ from the road…both variances done for the same property.


If the county or state wants to tell us what we can and can’t do with our waterfront property, then why don’t they pay part of our property taxes which are already inflated.

yep…Government intrusion into our lives and property has already become suffocating. the next 4 years will be epidemic. it is so sad that the democrats have a stranglehold on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Too bad the shorelines here are largely private, rather than public, as in Oregon. Puget Sound could be lovely — instead it is a disappointing cesspool. In many places you can’t even see it for the homes and fences that block views, including the views of those who formerly could see it from their homes.

Let’s not kid ourselves. There is no such thing as private property and hasn’t been since at least 1971. The government, and especially the ‘Garridoites’ and their ilk that think it all belongs to them and their band of land grabbers.

Regulating shoreline uses is a hot topic because the property is at the pinnacle of value, both in terms of land costs and in terms of ecosystem processes. Many land owners think they can protect the environmental values of their property without governmental interference, and they get tired of the regulations getting more and more restrictive over time. On the other hand, the decline of the Puget Sound ecosystem has created an urgency to protect intact or even damaged shoreline ecosystems.

As David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, said today on KUOW’s Weekday, the solution to cleaning up Puget Sound relies on some combination of regulations (cheaper for the government) and purchase/restoration (which costs the government more but can be more acceptable in some ways).

In that same broadcast, Bill Ruckelshaus, chairman of the Partnership’s Leadership Council, talked about how it can be easier during an economic downtown to purchase lands important to the ecosystem. But it’s also a time when government budgets for such thing are the tightest.

Ruckelshaus also spelled out his philosophy in a straightforward way:

“Ecosystems are not indivisible from human habitation and there are a lot of humans that live in Puget Sound, and there’s going to be a million and a half more by approximately 2020… We can’t treat the other living things as though they are separate from us humans.

“If we don’t act wisely and intelligently in the way we develop and the way we live, then these … other species we share this ecosystem with can’t survive. What we need to do is put into place systems and processes that allow us humans to prosper — that’s our charge under the statute — and at the same time allow the ecosystem itself to be healthy.”

The KUOW broadcast, by the way, includes some new information about using the federal economic stimulus money for environmental restoration — such as moving up removal of the Elwha dams to 2010. Under the current schedule, the federal money won’t be available until 2012. I’ll be covering this issue in more detail later.