By Marcy Stamper
After 10 years of work, Okanogan County appears close to finalizing its plan for development and protections along the county’s lakes and rivers.
The county commissioners reviewed the latest draft of the Shoreline Master Program (SMP), which incorporates changes from the state Department of Ecology, the planning commissioners, and the commissioners themselves. They also took public testimony at their June 9 hearing.
Most changes in the SMP clarify terminology. The plan no longer distinguishes between setbacks and buffers, since both are intended to protect riparian vegetation, water quality and shoreline structures.
Taken together, setbacks and buffers maintain native trees and shrubs along the shore and protect buildings by keeping them far enough from the water’s edge. Both must contribute to the main goal of the SMP — to preserve the ecological function of rivers and lakes.
The new plan clarifies the description of areas where a river channel may naturally migrate over time. Any structures or development that could affect these zones will require a technical analysis and special permit.
Public access is one of three main components of shoreline plans, along with accommodating appropriate future development and protecting the environment, according to Ecology’s shorelines handbook. The state’s shoreline laws balance the public’s right to access lakes and rivers while protecting property rights and public safety.
Half a dozen people testified at the commissioners’ hearing and many others submitted written comments. Most of the speakers said the new SMP improves on previous drafts and is clearer. Several urged the commissioners to preserve the aesthetics of lakes and rivers and to ensure that private development does not cut off public access to water bodies.
One speaker urged the commissioners to update the scientific analysis used in the plan, since the most recent data is seven years old and does not incorporate the latest research nor the impacts of last year’s wildfires.
The plan eliminates references to a voluntary program to protect agricultural lands within wetlands and wildlife habitat, since it has yet to be funded by the state. The SMP allows existing farming to continue within the shoreline environment, but new agricultural activities would have to follow setbacks that preserve native shoreline vegetation.
Once adopted by the commissioners, the plan will be forwarded to Ecology for additional public review and final adoption as part of a program for all the state’s water bodies.
The county commissioners will continue their deliberations on the plan on Monday (June 22) at 9:30 a.m., but they have closed public testimony.