Public input sought on revised version

By Marcy Stamper

The next phase of review is underway for Okanogan County’s plan that covers development and protections along lakes and rivers, now that the state Department of Ecology is soliciting public input.

The county commissioners approved a draft of the Shoreline Master Program (SMP) last June after 10 years of updates, rewrites and input from both the public and Ecology.

This update will completely replace the county’s current shoreline plan from 1987, which was last amended in 1996. It’s a major effort — the current version of the county’s SMP is 125 pages long, plus eight appendices, maps and tables.

Each local plan is designed to help minimize environmental damage to shorelines, reserve appropriate areas for water-oriented uses, and protect public access to water, according to Ecology.

Ecology signs off on all plans for counties and cities around the state. The agency will incorporate public feedback in its own review of the plan, which will be presented to county planners and commissioners later this year.

“This is another opportunity for reviews. It’s an obligation of Ecology, to be sure the plan lines up with the SMP for the entire state and for local protections,” said Joye Redfield-Wilder, public information manager for Ecology.

The shoreline area is defined as everything within 200 feet of the ordinary high-water mark. As a result, the plan has important implications for new development along shorelines, for protection of people and structures from landslides and floods, and for preservation of water quality and wetlands. Shorelines plans also protect critical habitat and promote recreational opportunities and public access.

The county is encouraged to create public access to waterways on existing public lands, said Lennard Jordan, a senior shoreline planner with the Department of Ecology, who has been advising Okanogan County on the update. Public access is not required at private single-family residences nor at smaller subdivisions.

‘No net loss’

Another key part of shoreline planning is to protect the ecology of lakes, rivers and wetlands — what is called “no net loss” of existing functionality.

The shoreline plan will be used in conjunction with other county plans, such as the comprehensive plan, zoning code and Critical Areas Ordinance. Critical areas are beyond the shoreline environment, such as where river channels spread out. An update of the comp plan was completed a year ago, but the other documents are still being revised.

Shorelines staff from Ecology have advised the county in the course of the update process over the past decade. In previous drafts, Ecology asked the county to require wider buffers along shorelines and to increase public access.

Ecology has a brief citizen guide to the state’s shoreline program that can help people understand terminology, as well as a detailed handbook with an overview of the program and specific sections, such as how water bodies are classified and how the state addresses public access.

The citizen guide is available on Ecology’s website under Shoreline Master Program. For the more detailed handbook, see the section for the “toolbox.”

The SMP is mandated by the state, and Okanogan County is one of 260 local jurisdictions required to bring plans up to date. Many jurisdictions are behind schedule — the plans were initially supposed to be completed in 2014 — and Ecology is short-staffed, which has delayed the review further, according to Redfield-Wilder.

When finalized, Okanogan County’s plan will become part of the overall state Shoreline Master Program.

Ecology’s comment period runs from Feb. 15 through March 18 at 5 p.m. To comment, contact Jordan at lennard.jordan@ecy.wa.gov.

The draft shoreline plan and appendices are available at okanogancounty.org/planning. For more information, call Jordan at Ecology at (509) 457-7125, or Okanogan County planning at (509) 422-7160.

MVCC sets information meeting on shorelines

Ecology is not holding any public meetings in conjunction with the shoreline-plan review, but the Methow Valley Citizens’ Council, a local environmental group, plans an informational meeting on March 3, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at the Twisp Valley Grange. The citizens’ council will provide information about the history and status of the plan, describe their concerns, and let people know how to comment.