PORT TOWNSEND — The state Department of Ecology has announced its final action approving the City of Port Townsend’s Shoreline Master Program amendment, effectively creating two sets of rules for critical areas.
The city sought to bring the city’s Shoreline Management Program in line with its Critical Areas Ordinance, which the city adopted May 21, but because of Ecology’s revisions late in the process there are now two different sets of rules.
The Critical Areas Ordinance became effective June 4 for areas outside the SMP’s jurisdiction.
Officials said that had Ecology not missed the deadline for commenting on the Critical Areas Ordinance, the city could have included the state’s recommendations before adopting the rules.
“It’s a bit of a complication,” said Mayor Deborah Stinson. “Right now we have these two sets of regulations we’ll have to follow.”
Stinson said the city will work through the issue and that “it’s not that big of a deal.”
Judy Surber, city planning manager, said that the most significant of Ecology’s revisions have to do with wetlands, but added that there are few situations in which the regulations are applicable within shoreline jurisdiction.
Ecology provided notice to the city Dec. 13 that it had accepted the amendment to the SMP and that Wednesday will mark the beginning of a 60-day period in which the amendment can be appealed.
“It is obvious that a significant effort was invested by your staff and engaged community,” Ecology wrote in a letter to the city.
Shoreline Master Programs are local land-use policies that guide use of the state’s shoreline and apply public and private users of the state’s more than 28,000 miles of lake, stream, wetland and marine shorelines.
“City staff contacted Ecology requesting that the changes be made within the [Critical Areas Ordinance] rather than the [Shoreline Master Program] thereby avoiding ‘two sets’ of critical areas regulations,” Surber wrote in a memo to the City Council last month.
“Ecology explained that, at this juncture, their authority is limited to the SMP.”
She wrote that the result is there will be two sets of critical areas regulations; one that applies outside shorelines jurisdiction and another that applies within shorelines jurisdiction.
The set that applies within shorelines jurisdiction includes Ecology’s revisions.
She recommends that city staff again go through the process required for updating the critical areas ordinance, but this time including Ecology’s recommendations so that they apply outside shoreline jurisdiction as well.
That will require going through the State Environmental Policy Act again and public hearings at the planning commission and city council. She estimated once the process gets going it will take about 90 days.
“For implementation it’s easier if we have one set of regulations,” Surber said. The City Council “agreed it would make sense to adopt the SMP revisions then as soon as we can fit it into our work plan we can go back to the critical areas ordinance to make revisions.
“We would have much appreciated it if [Ecology] gave their suggested revisions when we were working on the critical areas ordinance.”
She said Ecology’s recommendations are consistent with the department’s guidelines.
The update to the critical areas ordinance was the result of a two-year public process that included planning commission workshops, public comment, the State Environmental Policy Act and public hearings at both the planning commission and Port Townsend City Council.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].