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The Pierce County Council finalized the Shoreline Master Program (SMP) Oct. 2, a decade after the planning process began. With over 100 pages of text and nearly 60 pages of maps, this was the first update since its original adoption in 1975, and incorporated input from meetings with hundreds of citizens, organizations and businesses. 

The council approved several amendments required by the Washington State Department of Ecology they did not agree with because they did not want to delay implementing the new regulations.

Mike Kruger, Pierce County Council senior legislative analyst, said the new SMP incorporates knowledge about shoreline processes that were not understood four decades ago when the first plan was written. The council felt that the benefit of finalizing the plan outweighed the detriment of further delay and plans to seek legislative solutions to some issues.

Following initial council approval in March 2015, Ecology stepped in to complete the process. It provided an additional public comment period and reviewed the plan to assure it complied with state statutes. Ecology and the council then negotiated to resolve differences. That process took three years. 

Kruger said that Ecology identified hundreds of issues and that the majority of them were resolved. In a final letter to the council, Ecology identified several required changes and a number of recommended changes. The council addressed those changes at its Oct. 2 meeting.

There were two main areas of contention regarding the required changes: prohibition of dumping dredged material in the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve near Anderson Island and prohibitions on aquaculture. 

The initial county plan prohibited dumping of dredged material at a site near Anderson Island. Ecology stated that maintaining the site was of statewide interest because of its location and prior work that had been done to make it a safe site for dumping. The Department of Natural Resources had identified eight locations allowing open water dredge recycling, and this was one of them. 

When the Nisqually Reach permit expired, the county adopted a moratorium to prevent the state from reapplying for the permit. The county agreed to lift the moratorium and allow DNR to reapply for a license to use the site. But the council plans to go to the Legislature to amend state law, either allowing local government to regulate or to clearly putting that power in the hands of the state. “The county doesn’t want to be in the position of rubber stamping a policy its citizens don’t like,” Kruger said. 

The original county plan also prohibited all aquaculture in certain areas, such as estuaries within 300 feet of the mouth of freshwater streams, adjacent to residential neighborhoods in Horsehead Bay, Wollochet Bay and Lay Inlet and adjacent to Raft Island.

Ecology required elimination of most of those prohibitions, although they did allow prohibition of salmon net pens as recommended by the council. The council agreed to eliminate the shellfish prohibitions required as by Ecology, but, as with dredging, they plan to pursue state legislation that will allow the county to have more discretion—to prohibit aquaculture if, for example, it impacts shoreline use, introduces nonnative species, does damage to the shoreline or is proposed in areas of concentrated population. 

Kruger said there are many prohibitions on shoreline landowners regarding such things as maintaining a buffer or what they can plant, but that they may then be required to allow industrial shellfish farming on the beach. “It is inconsistent,” he said. 

The council approved all of the required changes and most of the recommended ones at its meeting Oct. 2. After final review, Ecology issued an approval letter, with the SMP going into effect two weeks later.

The SMP will undergo periodic review but will not need another full update until 2027. 

To view the SMP, go to https://www.piercecountywa.gov/956/Shoreline-Plan.

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