UPDATING THE SMP ~ Eric Davis ~ 10/15/2016
The County is still in the process of updating its Shoreline Master Program (SMP), as required by statute. The SMP is intended to guide "smart" development on the shorelines of the State. As such, it is important to Loon, which is already overdeveloped, especially compared to other shorelines in the County. The current draft of the revised SMP is available on www.stevenssmpupdate.com. You can also sign up on that website for email notices on the project and make comments.
The original public participation plan for the project, applicable to shorelines
under the County's jurisdiction like Loon (not in incorporated towns), was
to involve Planning Commission meetings each month where the public
could attend and provide in-person input into the drafting process. This
plan has mysteriously disappeared without explanation. The last such
meeting was in June. July's meeting was cancelled due to vacations
(a valid reason). But since then, the August, September, and October
meetings have also been cancelled. The next meeting is "scheduled"
for Thursday, November 10, at 9:00am at the Commissioners' office
building in Colville. If you are interested in the future of water quality at
Loon you should attend and get involved in the process.
The Shoreline Management Act (SMA), adopted in 1972, did a poor job of
managing shoreline development throughout the State at the expense of
water quality and property values on water bodies where water quality de-
teriorated. The legislature attempted to rectify this problem by integrat-
ing the Growth Management Act (GMA)--especially its provisions dealing
with "critical areas," like wetlands--with the SMA.
My initial review of the County's draft of its SMP (SMPs are authorized
under the SMA) indicates that the County did not get the message about
water quality protection. Two key devices for protecting water quality
are (1) buffers from the water line and (2) buffers from wetlands. In the
proposed revisions, the distances in both of these protective margins are
significantly reduced from their current levels. There is no apparent
scientific rationale in any of the materials on the website to justify the
the reductions (though such justification is required by statute). Nor are
there any meaningful, specific parameters in the County's subdivision
or building codes to mitigate the adverse impact of these buffer reductions.
Finally, the County has given itself almost unlimited authority to reduce
the buffers and ignore any other, so-called "protective" code regulations
that are on paper (weak as they are).
These issues are critical to Loon Lake where the County has long allowed
abusive development to occur by permitting development too close to the
water and destruction of the wetlands. Unaltered, the revised SMP will
just amplify the water quality problems the Lake already has. Numerous
economic analyses have well documented the adverse impact of water
quality deterioration (i.e. pollution, algae, excessive lake weeds, etc.)
on property values. Think about value reductions of 25-30%. You don't
need to be an "environmentalist" to want to protect your investment at
Editors Note ~ Please get involved with this issue, it is for the greater good of all who use Loon Lake and have for many years. We want to keep it for future generations to enjoy.
COUNTY UPDATING SHORELINE MASTER PROGRAM
(by Eric Davis)
As required by statute, Stevens County is in the process of updating its Shoreline Master Program
(SMP). In response to an Initiative in 1970, the Legislature passed the Shoreline Management
Act (SMA) in 1971, which was adopted as Initiative 43-B in the November general election in 1972.
The primary objective of the Act is "to prevent the inherent harm in an uncoordinated and piecemeal
development of the State's shorelines." The SMA is codified in RCW 90.58. The three major policy
areas covered by the Act are: shoreline use (with use preferences/priorities); environmental protect-
ion; and public access. The Act also implements the "Public Trust Doctrine" with respect to the waters
of the state which protects the right of the public to use the waters of the state regardless of the
ownership of the land underlying those waters. The shorelines of selected small waterbodies are
excluded from the Act. Wetlands and certain floodplains associated with shorelines subject to the
SMA are included in its provisions and shorelines extend 200 feet landward from the water's edge.
Among other waterbodies, shorelines of lakes with a surface area of 1000 acres or more are labeled
"shorelines of statewide significance." Under the Act, these shorelines are supposed to be subject to
greater environmental protections and public use preferences than other shorelines. Loon fits into
this category. As such, the Act should be very important to guiding intelligent development of the Lake's
shorelines. In practice, this has not been the case and Loon's water quality has suffered (and will continue to do so).
The SMA requires counties and municipalities to develop (and subsequently update) a "master program"
to regulate uses of shorelines within their boundaries in a manner consistent with the Act's provisions.
The Department of Ecology (DOE) is responsible for approving these Shoreline Master Programs and
for reviewing and approving certain development permits issued by the local permitting authority
that are required by the SMA. Our County adopted it's current SMP in 1999, a mere 27 years after the
adoption of Initiative 43-B. According to the DOE, "most" SMPs were written between 1974 and 1978.
During this lull, our County had few land use regulations and generally ignored the few that it did have.
The result was development that violated the intent of the SMA along with well-known practices needed
to protect reasonably acceptable water quality. The SMP that the County ultimately produced was of
little improvement. It has provisions that allow the County to approve large variances to the standards
in its SMP and/or to circumvent the variance requirements beyond those procedures specified in the
SMA. A number of the standards in the County's SMP are not unreasonable as written, they are just ignored. It is important to note that the DOE abetted the County's development abuses for a number
of years, initially by approving a deficient SMP. This passivity on the part of the DOE was probably
inadvertent--Stevens County being rural with a small population.
The DOE appears to be more actively involved in the current SMP update process. The County has hired
a consultant, known to the DOE and believed to be competent, to guide it in the update process. Never-
theless, the DOE is very busy. Ultimately, the burden of protecting Loon falls on the property owners
around the Lake. Those interested in protecting Lake water quality (and property values) should be
actively involved in the public hearings on this process. To their credit, the County and the consultant
have a website on the update process. The website has the process timeline, documentation of various
elements involved in the process, notices of public hearings, etc. That website is www.stevenssmpupdate.com. For those interested in state law on the subject, see RCW 90.58 and WAC
173-26 and 173-27.