PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners were flooded with public testimony on net pens, climate change and other parts of the draft shoreline plan Tuesday.
Seventeen of 28 speakers objected to in-water net pen aquaculture, which would be allowed as a conditional use under the proposed update to the 1976 county Shoreline Master Program.
Others who testified in a three-hour hearing said the 258-page draft falls short in addressing climate change.
Commissioners took no action on the proposal Tuesday, opting to review the testimony and to seek further information from staff.
“For the public’s benefit, you can expect that in probably mid-January we will notch up a work session discussion, which will be the next stage of the process,” Chairman Mark Ozias said.
“In the meantime, all three commissioners will be absorbing all of the public comment and continuing to seek clarification on some of these discrete issues.”
Local jurisdictions are required to update their Shoreline Master Programs, or SMPs, under the 1972 state Shoreline Management Act.
Shoreline plans guide future development along marine shores and inland lakes, rivers and large streams under the concept of “no net loss ” of ecological functions.
The state Department of Ecology has final approval of local shoreline plans.
“We started this in earnest in 2011,” Clallam County Planning Manager Steve Gray said Tuesday.
The Clallam County Planning Commission approved the current draft Oct. 2.
The county received more than 700 public comments on the proposed SMP, which is available at www.clallam.net.
Many who commented called for a prohibition on net pen aquaculture in open waters, citing environmental concerns and impacts to native species.
“We as a group are adamantly opposed to fish pens,” said Darryl Wood of the Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
Jamie Michel, biologist and project manager with the Port Angeles-based Coastal Watershed Institute, said the negative effects of net pen aquaculture are “widely known and understood.”
“These are all avoidable through upland contained systems,” Michel said. “The language within the SMP should be modified to read that net pens are prohibited in water and should be converted to upland contained facilities.”
Anti-net pen sentiment ratcheted up Aug. 19 when a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm collapsed on Cypress Island in Skagit County. Tens of thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon were released into Puget Sound.
Prior to the collapse, Cooke proposed to move its Port Angeles operation from Ediz Hook to a new site in Clallam County waters about two miles north of the mouth of Morse Creek. SMPs have jurisdiction up to three nautical miles offshore.
“There are large waves — not two foot — but large waves that are going to hit this fish pen,” Wood said of the proposed location.
The $9 million Cooke project was put on hold after the Cypress Island net pen collapse.
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on new net-pen operations after the incident. The Department of Natural Resources is leading a state investigation that is expected to be completed in January.
Cooke’s project would be subject to the county’s existing shoreline plan, which requires a substantial development permit for off-shore aquaculture.
The current draft would require a more stringent conditional use permit.
“And the policies, regulations and application requirements for aquaculture, particularly net pens, are substantially upgraded,” Gray said in a 40-minute staff report.
Last week, Ecology Regional Shoreline Planner Michelle McConnell told commissioners that Clallam County’s draft shoreline plan would likely be rejected by Ecology if it banned in-water net pen aquaculture.
“You need to send a message to the state,” Ron Richards told commissioners Tuesday. “Let them tell you you’re wrong, but send a message to the state that the people in this county don’t want fish farms.”
Gray said he had received new information from Ecology in light of King County’s proposed moratorium on fish farms.
“Now they’re suggesting that a limited or interim ban based on solid rationale, justification and/or specific timeline may be considered by a local jurisdiction,” Gray said.
During board deliberations, Commissioner Randy Johnson said he would seek clarification on the state’s position.
“I’m a little confused, because Steve brought forward the fact that now Ecology is saying maybe we can do this, maybe we can’t,” Johnson said.
“I don’t know, honestly, where we are right now in that regard, and I would like to at least have some better inkling about what stand we can take.”
Johnson and others noted the state Legislature may consider banning fish pens for non-native species in the upcoming session.
Commissioners Bill Peach and Johnson raised other concerns about a lack of data in the SMP for West End channel migration zones.
“I don’t support the notion that it’s the private land owner that needs to pay for that data,” Peach said.
Ed Chadd of Olympic Climate Action was one of several speakers who suggested that the shoreline plan fails to adequately address climate change.
Sea level is expected to rise by six inches in 30 years and up to four feet by 2100, depending on geographic location and human response, resulting in significant impacts to Clallam County shores, Chadd said.
“Given the existence of good studies focused on local shoreline sensitivities and impacts from global warming, the county’s SMP could be considered negligent if current projections aren’t integrated, or at the very least, acknowledged as a concern,” Chadd said.
Former Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty agreed that sea level rise is a “big issue.”
Connie Beauvais, a Port of Port Angeles commissioner speaking as vice chair of the Planning Commission, said the commission addressed sea level rise by basing setbacks and buffers on the ordinary high water mark.
“As climate changes and the sea level rises, that ordinary high water mark is going to move,” Beauvais said.
Speaking for Port Angeles Business Association, former Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire said the term “no net loss” has not been defined by the Legislature or adjudicated by a court.
He and others noted that buffers that restrict new development in the draft SMP are larger than the buffers in the existing plan.
“What’s broken about the old buffers that the new buffers will fix?” McEntire asked.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at email@example.com.