State signs off on Jefferson County’s shoreline master program after three years of work

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — After more than three years of debate, the state has approved Jefferson County’s shoreline master program, which sets rules for the development of land adjacent to the county’s shoreline areas.

“This is exciting news at the end of this l-o-n-g journey,” Associate Planner Michelle McConnell wrote in an email that was sent to a distribution list of interested parties Wednesday.

“Thanks to everyone for your interest, input and patience along the way.”

The state Department of Ecology approval, announced Tuesday, will go into effect Feb. 21.

“This plan that is designed to protect our shoreline and our water has taken us a good many years to accomplish,” said County Commissioner John Austin.

“It has taken a lot of patience and perseverance, especially by Michelle McConnell, as she dealt with numerous changes throughout the process.”

The plan oversees development on about 250 miles of marine shorelines including Hood Canal and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as well as about 600 miles of river shorelines, including portions of the Quinault, Hoh, Elwha and Dungeness rivers and the shores of several lakes and streams.

The sticking point for the update to the shoreline master program, which began in 2010, was fin-fish aquaculture.

The version of the plan sent to Ecology in February 2011 contained a ban on fin-fish aquaculture, or net-pens, which raises non-native species such as Atlantic salmon in pens.

The county commissioners felt the process was hazardous to local marine life.

Ecology officials said the county had no right to ban the practice.

Ecology approved the rest of the plan, but it could not go into effect until the net-pen aspect was resolved.

No businesses have requested placing fin-fish aquaculture in Jefferson County.

Instead of a ban, commissioners proposed a rigorous permitting process, establishing stringent conditional-use guidelines.

The conditional-use permit process allows the county to evaluate proposals based on site-specific concerns and to require mitigation or use other measures to offset impacts.

Any permit application also would trigger an environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act, according to Ecology.

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 Tala Point to Foulweather Bluff, due to water quality concerns, the plan states.

Possible siting locations are in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Glen Cove, Mats Mats and Port Ludlow.

“Fin-fish aquaculture that uses or releases herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, nonindigenous species, parasites, genetically modified organisms or feed into surrounding waters must demonstrate all significant impacts have been mitigated,” according to the plan.

“All this does is kick it down to the permit level and deal with net pens on a case-by-case basis instead of having it be on the program level, but anyone who wants to put in a net pen will have to meet all of the conditions,” Commissioner David Sullivan said in October.

While all three county commissioners supported the ban, Commissioner Phil Johnson was the most vocal opponent and has said he is still uncomfortable with the process.

In December, he said he remained convinced that net pens are a bad idea and have a significant adverse ecological impact.

Austin said the program could be challenged and those actions would be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

“A lot of times, people say they intend to challenge a plan during its development but change their minds after it is approved,” he said.

To view the complete county shoreline master program, visit


Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Last modified: February 12. 2014 7:32PM
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