San Juan Initiative working to protect shorelines
May 1, 2009 · Updated 5:34 PM
Over the last two years, the San Juan Initiative hosted 18 public workshops and worked with scientists and resource managers to develop new ideas for protecting our shorelines in a way that respects the concerns of property owners. In December, the County Council unanimously endorsed our approach to tailor environmental protection and property owner assistance to the sensitivity of the shoreline. This is a departure from past efforts where all shorelines were treated the same.
We are proposing better access to information and technical assistance for people who want to build or maintain views and access to the beach, and we’re working to increase certainty in the building and buying process. We are also recommending regulatory changes to be considered in this summer’s update of the Critical Areas Ordinance, which governs activities in wetlands and shorelines.
Recent surveys show that many shoreline property owners have done an outstanding job of stewarding their shoreline resources, from which we all benefit. However, our regulations are not well-defined when it comes to protecting trees and vegetation along the shore, which has led to significant and ecologically detrimental clearing on some properties. This inconsistency, both in regulation and in practice, demonstrates a need for a common-sense regulatory approach to protection, while also allowing property owners to thin for views and maintain access to the beach.
If we want to maintain a vibrant shoreline, we’ll need a new approach to the placement of concrete bulkheads, rock retaining walls and other shore stabilization structures, especially when they’re placed on sensitive beaches and bluffs. These structures can bury forage fish habitat, impound sediment needed to maintain beaches and eelgrass beds, and reduce shoreline vegetation, all of which are critical to a healthy marine system. When a home, septic system or road is threatened by erosion from tide or waves, a bulkhead may be necessary. But few of our current bulkheads meet this standard.
Because more than 2/3 of our shoreline is rocky, beaches are an uncommon and important resource. The San Juan Initiative recommends allowing bulkheads on beaches only where a main structure, septic, driveway or road is threatened. If an existing bulkhead needs replacement, we recommend the same standard -- unless it’s protecting a threatened structure, it will not be allowed. There are other options to consider, such as soft-shore armoring or requiring that new and replaced bulkheads be constructed above high tide, which reduces the disruption of shoreline processes.
The Initiative is wrestling with these tricky and sensitive questions, while also recognizing the rights of property owners. We want to hear your ideas before we finalize our recommendations to the County Council in June. Please join us at one of the following public workshops:
General public and shoreline property owners:
Orcas Island: Mon, May 4, 6-8 pm West Sound Community Club
Orcas Island: Tues, May 12, 6-8 pm Orcas Senior Center
San Juan Island: Wed, May 6, 6-8 pm Roche Harbor Pavilion
Lopez Island: May 7, 6-8 pm Lopez Islander
If you’re a realtor, architect, general contractor, excavator, or otherwise involved in the buying/selling or developing of property, please join us at one of the workshops below (RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org, 298-2278 for lunch):
Orcas: Mon, May 4, 11-1, Orcas Center
San Juan: Wed, May 6, 11-1, Key Bank
Lopez: Thurs., May 7, 11-1, Lopez Islander