Protects most lakes, rivers, streams
Okanogan County is working on a required update to its regulations for its lakes, rivers and streams.
The Shoreline Management Program (SMP) protects natural resources, provides for public access to lakes, rivers and shores; and plans for water-dependent uses.
The SMP applies to lakes at least 20 acres in size, rivers and larger streams, shoreline areas adjacent to rivers and lakes, and wetlands.
Planner Kurt Danison of Highlands Associates is handling the updates for the county and for most towns in the county, including Twisp and Winthrop.
Lakes and rivers deemed to be of statewide significance have additional protections. These include the Methow, Chewuch and Twisp rivers and Lake Pateros, according to a presentation Danison made to the Okanogan County planning commission last week. Those guidelines include protecting shoreline ecology and increasing public access and recreational opportunities.
State law sets out a hierarchy of preferred shoreline uses. The highest priority is to protect and restore the shoreline. Water-dependent uses are next; single-family residential use is last on the list.
The county did a major update of its SMP in 2018 after a decade-long review, but minor updates are required every eight years to bring local codes in line with changes in state law, Danison said.
A central goal of the SMP is to prevent harm to water bodies from uncoordinated and piecemeal development. SMPs also reflect community interests and preferences for recreation, protection of natural areas, aesthetics and commerce, according to Danison’s presentation.
Most of the changes to state law are relatively minor, but local jurisdictions can make more substantive changes if desired, Danison said. For example, state law now prohibits floating homes (these were already prohibited in Okanogan County). The state also raised the financial threshold for developments that require a more in-depth review and permitting process.
People can suggest areas needing restoration or at risk of flooding or habitat loss.
How to provide inputOkanogan County has created a survey to understand people’s preferences for shoreline use and regulation. The survey asks for input about the uses and types of development people want to see on shorelines and what people’s experience with permits for shoreline work has been.
People can watch a video of the March 27 planning commission meeting and the SMP presentation through the county commissioners’ website at www.okanogancounty.org/government/commissioners/index under “Livestream Meetings.”
More information and a link to the survey are on the Planning Department website at www.okanogancounty.org/government/planning under “Shoreline Information” in the list in the blue bar at the left.
The county’s current SMP is Chapter 14.15 of the county code. For more information, contact planner Rocky Robbins at (509) 422-7117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Towns also updating
The update requirement applies to all municipalities, so towns and cities in the county have also been working on SMP updates. Years ago, Winthrop opted to create its own SMP with the goal of making it more user-friendly, but didn’t complete that process, so the town is still operating under its decades-old plan and will be updating that version, which will require a longer process, Danison said. Twisp is working on a draft plan, which will be circulated for public comment, he said.
Ecology provides funding for the updates. Because the current update is relatively minor, some jurisdictions haven’t spent all their grant money, so the funding may become available to municipalities like Winthrop that have more work to do, Danison said.
Once they create a draft of the revised plan, the county’s planning commission will accept public comment and hold a public hearing. The draft could be approved at the commission’s April 24 meeting, Danison said.
After the planning commission signs off on the draft SMP, it goes to the county commissioners for their review and adoption.
The updates, which must be approved by the state Department of Ecology, are supposed to be completed by the end of June. Although Okanogan County has been working on the update, it is behind schedule, Ecology will most likely allow extra time since the work is underway, Danison said.