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Shoreline Master Program rules make public debut

Rick Jones, a former president of the Skagit/Island Counties Builders Association’s South Whidbey chapter, voices concerns last week at a Freeland workshop on the county’s proposed update to the Shoreline Master Program. - Justin Burnett / The Record
Rick Jones, a former president of the Skagit/Island Counties Builders Association’s South Whidbey chapter, voices concerns last week at a Freeland workshop on the county’s proposed update to the Shoreline Master Program.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

Property rights advocates and public beach access supporters sparred at a meeting in Freeland last week.

The hot-button topic of how access to the shoreline will be handled in the future was one of several issues discussed at a workshop Tuesday concerning proposed changes to Island County’s Shoreline Management Program.

The planning document dictates how new and existing development will be managed over the next 20 years. County officials have been working for more than two years to update the program as is required by state law.

Packed with the latest advancements in science and best management practices, the update’s primary authors say the document’s policy goals are to foster reasonable and appropriate uses on the shoreline, protect natural resources and promote public beach access.

The meeting, which was the first of three scheduled workshops on the plan, saw healthy attendance and discussion, particularly concerning the topic of public beach access.

Diehard supporters of improved access to the shoreline argued that county officials aren’t doing enough to reclaim accesses that have been lost to encroachment by private landowners.

“They are critically important,” said Mike McVay, founder of Island Citizens For Public Beach Access.

Similarly, Steve Erickson, litigation coordinator for Whidbey Environmental Action Network, lobbied that this is the county’s chance to adopt clear policies to recover those lost accesses.

McVay also advocated for new and clear signage to existing known sites, such as Marissa Lane in Sandy Point.

On the other side of the argument, several property owners and representatives of the development industry worried that the proposed rules go too far. Some of the objections were based on misunderstandings of just what’s being proposed.

For example, a Sandy Hook man said he thought the county had generally done a good job with the new program, but said it would be a “cold day in hell” before he was required to make his private dock open to the public.

The amended rules do not require existing private property to be made available to the public, expect perhaps in rare cases where the land is found to actually belong to the public.

The amended program does address new development, however, requiring all new subdivisions on the shoreline of five homes or more to consider including a public beach access.

Several people addressed the issue. Some questioned whether government might be overstepping its bounds while others suggested such a mandate would hamper development.

Others at the meeting worried the update will add to regulations that are already too onerous. Tim Black said he’s been navigating the county’s permit process to rebuild an old family home for the past six months but he is still no closer to getting the green light from planners.

“What do I do, get on the my knees and beg?” Black said. “I’m willing to do that, by the way.”

The two-hour meeting also saw discussion on a range of other issues, from rising sea levels and tax exemptions to how the new rules might impact local farms.

The second meeting in the series, which took place Monday in Coupeville, saw discussion of many of the same topics. The last meeting was scheduled to take place Tuesday on Camano Island.

The Island County Commissioners are expected to talk about the update and any possible revisions during Wednesday’s work session in Coupeville. A public hearing on the new rules has been tentatively schedule for Nov. 5.

 

 

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