State approves Bellingham's shoreline protection update

The Washington Department of Ecology has approved Bellingham’s updated shoreline master program, which is designed to help protect 38 miles of shorelines along rivers, lakes and streams in the city.

Bellingham recently completed its updates, as required by the state’s 1972 voter-approved Shoreline Management Act. The law requires cities and counties to regularly update their programs. The update combines local development and preservation plans with new ordinances and permit requirements. This helps minimize environmental damage, reserves areas, and protects the public’s right to public lands and waters, according to ecology officials.

As part of the update, Bellingham took an inventory of existing land-use patterns and environmental conditions. The city also included in its process waterfront property owners, scientists, nonprofit organizations, tribal government representatives, agricultural interests, and state and local resource agency staff.

All of Washington’s cities and counties with regulated shorelines must update their programs by December 2014, following regulations adopted by ecology department in 2003.  The regulations resulted from a negotiated settlement among 58 different parties including business interests, ports, environmental groups, shoreline user groups, cities and counties, the ecology department and the courts.

According to the ecology department, Bellingham’s shoreline master program:

– Provides shoreline regulations that are integrated with the city’s growth management planning and zoning, floodplain management and critical areas ordinances as part of a unified development code.

– Establishes protective buffers (areas to be protected from development) of 0 to 250 feet with flexibility based on individual property circumstances.

– Limits the length of new residential docks and piers to the minimum necessary, and not to exceed the average length of neighboring docks and piers.

– Encourages soft-bank erosion control methods and limits construction of new shoreline armoring.

– Includes a restoration plan showing where and how voluntary improvements in water and upland areas can enhance the local shoreline environment.

– Helps support the broader initiative to protect and restore Puget Sound.

Under state law, the ecology department must approve the local shoreline plan before it takes effect. Once approved, it becomes part of the state shoreline master program, and the ecology department will help defend the city’s program against legal challenges.

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