Net pen issue blocks Jefferson County’s shoreline plan no more; commissioners give OK after 3 years of debate

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners approved a new Shoreline Master Plan on Monday, finishing a process that began nearly three years ago.

The approval, though unanimous, came with some qualifications.

Commissioner Phil Johnson said he still disagrees with one aspect of the plan requiring the allowance of net pens for the farming of fish just offshore.

“It’s good to see that the state is paying a little more attention to this issue,” Johnson said. “I am still concerned with net pens, but we can amend this any time we want.”

The net-pen policy has held up approval of the plan, which regulates development on the shoreline, since February 2011.

That’s when the state Department of Ecology approved most of a proposed update of the county’s shoreline management program, except for a proposed county ban on fin-fish aquaculture, which raises non-native species such as Atlantic salmon in pens.

A ban on net pens has been the single point of contention between county and state officials since then.

The update had been sent to the state in November 2010. Before that, the last revision of the program had been in 1998.

No applications for net pens have been received for several years and none are pending, but the new shoreline plan will ensure their correct operation, supporters have said.

“What this does is push all issues to the permit level instead of the program level,” Commissioner David Sullivan said.

“It addresses all of the valid issues and we are as protected as state law allows.”

During Monday’s meeting, the commissioners discussed and approved 13 minor changes to the shoreline plan.

Johnson said he still was convinced that net pens are a bad idea and have a significant adverse ecological impact, and said he disagreed with Ecology’s designation of the process as an acceptable use of the shoreline.

Net pens will not be allowed within 1,500 feet of the boundaries of the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve in Discovery Bay, within the South Port Townsend Bay Mooring Buoy Management Plan area or in Hood Canal, south of the line from Kala Point to Foulweather Bluff due to water quality concerns, the latest update of the program says.

Possible locations are in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Glen Cove, Mats Mats and Port Ludlow bays, according to the plan.

The meeting was attended by Jeffree Stewart, who represented the Department of Ecology and said the plan would be approved by his agency.

“We’ve done all of the up-front work; what’s left is all procedural,” he said.

“This was a big project and it was one that mattered.”

During the meeting, Commissioner John Austin singled out county planner Michelle McConnell’s efforts on the plan, saying “she has been working on this since she was in high school.”

While the development of the shoreline plan has taken a considerable percentage of McConnell’s time over the last three years, she said an accurate tally of staff time spent on the project was not available.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 16. 2013 6:37PM
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