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A Once In a Lifetime Moment -- Futurewise is working on your SMP

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Many communities across the state and in the Puget Sound region in particular are updating their shoreline management policies for the first time in over 30 years. It is a once in a lifetime moment for getting it right on our shorelines after decades of failed policies. Our active participation has “changed the conversation,” so that jurisdictions are beginning to grasp what is required and the best ways to address different issues.

by Tim Trohimovich and Dean Patterson

Many communities across the state and in the Puget Sound region in particular are updating their shoreline management policies and regulations for the first time in over 30 years.  It is a once in a lifetime moment for getting it right on our shorelines after decades of failed policies.  Under the Shoreline Management Act, every city or county has to update their Shoreline Master Program (SMP) on a timeline set by the Washington State Legislature.  These Shoreline Master Program Updates are critically important for our ability to protect and manage our shorelines including streams, rivers, lakes, Puget Sound, and the Pacific Ocean.  Over the last two years, Futurewise has provided education, technical analysis and policy recommendations to 25 local governments, working with staff, local decision makers, and citizens to ensure fish habitat and water quality protections as well as public access. Over the next two years, we will be working with more communities from Spokane County to Pacific County.  King, Snohomish, and Jefferson Counties are nearing the end of their SMP approval process.  Kitsap, Clallam, Skagit, and Island Counties are in the process of reviewing their draft plans.  Other counties, like Grays Harbor and Pacific, will be getting started soon.  Cities within these counties are also updating their SMPs, including Tacoma, Bainbridge Island, Mukilteo and many other cities are similarly busy. 

Our Clean Healthy Waterways program has been providing education and outreach, technical assistance, policy recommendations, and guidance documents to assist communities in these updates.  We have observed a marked improvement in the protectiveness of more recent SMPs compared to those adopted just 4 years ago.     Many of the important issues we have continually brought up are being addressed, including:

(1) Adding specifics for how to mitigate impacts of new development, such as enhancing degraded conditions, especially near the water.
(2) Requiring new docks to minimize their size and length, and to avoid duplicate facilities
(3) Encouraging shared docks, beach access, and similar structures
(3) Using science-based buffers where there is intact vegetation
(4) Using tables to describe how uses are allowed or not allowed in different shoreline locations
(5) Addressing the protection of highly functioning aquatic areas

One of the primary tools we use is a group of guidance documents addressing important issues, describing their legal basis, identifying common pitfalls, and recommending best practices and approaches that meet the requirements. 
Our active participation has “changed the conversation,” so that jurisdictions are beginning to grasp what is required and the best ways to address different issues.  If you are interested in participating in your local SMP or you would like to know more about our guidance documents, contact Futurwise Shoreline Planner, Dean Patterson (dean@futurewise.org).  

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