Shoreline Plan Update: Can Skagit County get it done this time?

Great Blue Heron

By Christie Stewart Stein

In January 2020, Skagit Scoop published the article Skagit County Shoreline Areas at Risk with Grossly Outdated Management Plan? Since adopting Skagit’s original Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), required by the Washington Shoreline Management Act (SMA), the County failed to meet every single state-mandated deadline for updating the plan over 44 years. Another deadline came around in June 2020. Once again, no SMP update materialized.

According to the County’s own website, “Our current plan was adopted in 1976 and hasn’t substantially changed; it is no longer based on current science, current law, or current conditions.” (emphasis added) The site also acknowledges thatUpdating our plan is required by state law. Skagit County may be subject to penalty or pre-emption by Ecology, or both, if we fail to update our plan as required.”

Failed attempts

The January 2020 Scoop article documents County records that show County Commissioners Ken Dahlstedt and Ron Wesen signed a grant agreement in December 2010, and accepted $740,000 of taxpayers’ money from Department of Ecology to enable Skagit County to complete an SMP update by July 20, 2013.

Not until 2016 was an SMP update drafted. That draft was never presented to Commissioners for adoption. You can find the DRAFT SMP documents here.

DOE tries again

Now, once again, in August 2020, the Washington Department of Ecology has made a grant to Skagit County. This time the grant is for $100,800 to complete an SMP update by June 2021. The DOE Grant Agreement No. SEASMP-1921 SKCoPD-00109 is referenced  in the Commissioners’ Consent Agenda for October 12, 2020.

The County contracted with The Watershed Company apparently to coordinate the effort to update the SMP as well as unrelated projects in Lyman and Hamilton.

Speeding up the timeline

On January 5, 2021, Skagit Planning Department Director Hal Hart, and Project Manager Betsy Stevenson made a presentation to County Commissioners about the accelerated process for completing the SMP update by June 2021.

Nine years have passed since the required public process was conducted to update the SMP. Four years have past since an update was drafted. County Planning Department staff now propose to complete the update on an accelerated six-month schedule.

Commissioner Lisa Janicki expressed concern that, “All of a sudden 10 years have gone by and we’re trying to get it done in six months.” To her credit, Janicki requested that Commissioners receive updates from the Planning Department every two weeks citing the concern that the process be “visible and transparent”.

Planning Commission wild card

According to Stevenson, the Skagit County Planning Commission will also have a significant role in completing the SMP update. This introduces yet another wild card in the process. The appointed Planning Commission, especially its entrenched leadership, has proven hostile to any regulation which infringes on private property rights. In its decisions over recent years, the Planning Commission has shown no inclination to compromise on that ideology.

Will Skagit County succeed in accomplishing its first ever Shoreline Management Plan update? Will Washington taxpayers finally get their money’s worth from Dept of Ecology grants to Skagit? Will our fragile shoreline habitats and natural beauty be protected based on current science, current law, and current conditions? That still remains to be seen.

Christie Stewart Stein has farmed just west of Mount Vernon for 25 years. Her volunteer engagement in the community has included working with homeless women, farmworkers and Spanish-speaking immigrants, and aspiring young farmers.

Photo by Eric Hall

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