Island County adopts Shoreline Management Act

After five years of work, Island County has a new plan governing development and permitted activities along its 207 linear miles of seashore and lakefront. The Island County commissioners this week unanimously approved a Shoreline Master Program, also unanimously approving adoption of countywide policies dealing with planning development, transportation and housing.

“We are incentivizing soft shore armoring that will enhance our near-shore habitats,” said Commissioner Helen Price Johnson after the program was approved. “We’re exempting agricultural activities in the shoreline zoning areas. We’re providing environmental protection for unstable slopes, feeder bluffs and geological hazardous areas.”

Shoreline master programs are required by state law and are long-range planning documents that guide growth and development along the waterfront.

The county’s adopted program also designated some beachfront communities as historic and created a new permitting process for canal communities, Price Johnson said. Perhaps most notably, it bans fin-fish farming, a provision the county won after years of wrangling with the state’s Department of Ecology.

The county’s planning department will shortly create a guide to implementing the master program and will conduct training for homeowners, contractors and staff, principal planner Brad Johnson said.

Work began on the new master program in 2010. The state Shoreline Management Act, adopted in 1971, requires cities and counties to create such plans. The county’s nine-member civilian Planning Commission in early October unanimously recommended that the commissioners accept the plan; they did so with only one minor change.

The newly approved countywide planning policies, required by the state’s Growth Management Act, are intended to guide the creation of county and municipal Comprehensive Plans, which that act also mandates. They were last revised 16 years ago. The current revision, a 34-page document, received input from several public meetings and from roughly 15 meetings among the planning departments of Coupeville, Langley, Oak Harbor and the county over a two-year period.