County joins appeal of new shoreline laws

"This week Island County joined a lawsuit attempting to delay implementation of new shoreline development regulations by the state Department of Ecology.The suit was initiated and is being paid for by the Association of Washington Business. It appeals the Shoreline Master Program Guidelines adopted by Ecology this fall. The new guidelines, which have been five years in the making, cover things such as shoreline setbacks, bulkheads, piers, buffers and new agricultural activities on or near the water. They are more restrictive than the original laws written back in the early 1970s and reflect greater efforts to protect endangered salmon and salmon habitat.Commissioner Bill Thorn said the new rules call for counties and some cities to write new Shoreline Master Programs, which will be a long and expensive job. The problem, he said, is that the state is not providing any money to help pay for the process.I am dedicated to opposing unfunded mandates no matter how good the cause, said Thorn. We're not taking substantive objection to it.Shoreline Master Programs outline regulations for protecting the waterfront environment, reducing erosion and preserving public health. Thorn said rewriting the programs will involve the formation of committees, numerous Planning Commission meetings and public hearings, countless staff hours and legal expenses. The new guidelines have already drawn considerable protest from real estate, business, construction and development groups. Thorn said he expects any new county regulations to be legally contested. He said Island County is just about to get out from under many years and more than a couple of million dollars worth of outside legal and consulting fees it has incurred writing a Comprehensive Plan.I'm not willing to enter into a new program that is equally costly unless we have no legal alternatives, he said.Department of Ecology officials have held fast to the stricter guidelines, saying they are necessary to save not only salmon but numerous other species of plants and animals in danger of being lost to development. In addition, they say, shorelines themselves are at risk of landslides and increased erosion as the state's growing population eats up more and more property and creates more and more runoff along rivers, lakes, Puget Sound and the coast.Thorn said joining the lawsuit will not cost county taxpayers any money and the commissioners have been assured that they can drop out at any time. By participating, however, Thorn said the county has taken a stand against unfunded mandates and obtains a seat on a new shoreline advisory committee.Other parties involved in the appeal include Grays Harbor County, Pacific County, the cities of Hoquiam, Ocean Shores and Westport, the Washington Association of Realtors, Washington State Grange, Washington Cattlemen's Association, Associated General Contractors, National Association of Office and Industrial Properties, the Washington State Farm Bureau and the Building Industry Association of Washington. "

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