Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is a shoreline master program?
  2. What do shoreline master programs do?
  3. Why is this shoreline master program update required?
  4. What is the role of local governments in shoreline management?
  5. Who approves local shoreline master programs?
  6. Who pays to have a local master program updated?
  7. Aren't requirements for shoreline vegetation buffers a "taking" of private property rights?
  8. Could updating the local shoreline master program require me to tear down my existing shoreline structure?
  9. Could there be limits on repairing houses, barns, fences, bulkheads, docks or other structures?
  10. What is "no net loss" of ecological or environmental functions?
  11. How do Shoreline Master Programs apply to farms / agriculture?
  12. What are differences between critical areas ordinances and shoreline master programs?

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1. What is a shoreline master program?

Shoreline master programs carry out the policies of the Shoreline Management Act at the local level, regulating use and development of shorelines. Local shoreline programs include policies and regulations based on state laws and rules but tailored to the unique geographic, economic, and environmental needs of each community.

Under the Act, each town, city and county with "shorelines of the state" must develop and adopt its own shoreline program. "Shorelines of the state" generally refers to rivers, larger lakes, and marine waterfronts along with their associated shorelands, wetlands, and floodplains.

Updating a shoreline program is a complex and time-consuming process. It is estimated that the Regional SMP will take three years to complete. Throughout this process, Kittitas County, Ellensburg, Cle Elum, and South Cle Elum are required by law to engage and seek input from the public, interested agencies, and affected tribes.

2. What do shoreline master programs do?

Development of a shoreline master program begins with an inventory and analysis of all shoreline areas in a given jurisdiction. Shoreline master programs help local governments avoid or lessen environmental damage as shoreline areas are developed. Based on current conditions and long-term needs, shoreline master programs reserve appropriate areas for water-oriented uses. They promote public access opportunities. Master programs include requirements for new development to stay well away from flood, landslide, erosion hazard and wetland areas. They are more than simply plans. A master program combines local plans for future shoreline development and identifies areas appropriate for restoration and preservation. They include statewide as well as local policies and related specific permitting requirements.

3. Why is this shoreline master program update required?

In 2003, the state Legislature set up a timetable for local governments to update local shoreline master programs. The County's SMP has not been comprehensively updated since 1975 . Since voters passed the Act in 1972, Washington's population nearly doubled from about 3.4 million to 6.7 million. The old shoreline master programs need to be reviewed and updated to address current conditions, consider new science, and become better aligned with other related laws. An effective shoreline master program update will reduce unsustainable development and provide shoreline land owners with a clearer set of standards.

4. What is the role of local governments in shoreline management?

Local governments are responsible for starting the shoreline master program planning, deciding which areas are in shoreline jurisdiction, analyzing the present uses and long-term needs for waterfront lands, and locally adopting a shoreline master program. Kittitas County, the Cities of Ellensburg and Cle Elum, and the Town of South Cle Elum will work together during the planning and analysis phases, but each jurisdiction will eventually adopt its own individual shoreline master program.

During the Regional SMP update, the county, cities, and town will consult with other agencies, tribal governments, interested individuals, and advisory committees. Once the individual shoreline master programs are adopted, the local government (i.e. the county, city, or town) will be the shoreline master program administrator. The local government will review new development proposals and use the permit system to decide what is consistent with state law and the local program.

5. Who approves local shoreline master programs?

Each local government adopts its own shoreline master program after a public review and comment period. Then local government sends the shoreline master program to Ecology, who reviews it for consistency with state guidelines. Ecology must approve the locally adopted and submitted master program, before it takes effect. To ensure respect for private property rights, local and state legal authorities are required to review a shoreline program before formal adoption.

6. Who pays to have a local master program updated?

The Shoreline Management Act requires the state to provide "reasonable and adequate" funding for shoreline master program updates. Ecology gives the money provided by the Legislature to local governments in the form of grants. Kittitas County, the Cities of Cle Elum and Ellensburg, and the Town of South Cle Elum were jointly awarded a grant of $690,000 to be used between 7/1/2011 and 6/30/2014 to fund the Regional Shoreline Master Program update.

7. Aren't requirements for shoreline vegetation buffers a "taking" of private property rights?

No. The U.S. Constitution allows state and local governments to limit private property activities provided it's for a legitimate public benefit and they do not deprive the landowner of all reasonable use of the property. For example, state and local governments can adopt regulations that prevent sediment from running off private property and entering a salmon-spawning stream. These regulations protect salmon, a public resource. In most cases, buffers do not deprive landowners of all reasonable use of their property and, in fact, all property tends to benefit from reasonable setbacks and buffers. In those limited instances where the buffer precludes or significantly interferes with a reasonable use, the property owner may obtain a variance.

8. Could updating the local shoreline master program require me to tear down my existing shoreline structure?

No. Updating a local shoreline program only applies to development occurring after adoption. There are no retroactive shoreline master program requirements.

9. Could there be limits on repairing houses, barns, fences, bulkheads, docks or other structures?

Provisions in state law allow the repair and maintenance of existing, lawful constructed structures.

10. What is "no net loss" of ecological or environmental functions?

The new environmental protection standard for updated shoreline master programs is "no-net-loss of shoreline ecological functions." While restoration of degraded areas is encouraged, this does not mean all shoreline areas are required to be made "pristine" or returned to pre-settlement conditions. Local governments are required to inventory current shoreline conditions - including identifying existing ecological processes and functions that influence physical and biological conditions. When a shoreline program is adopted, existing ecological conditions on the ground must be protected while development of shoreline areas is continued in accordance with adopted regulations. This is accomplished by avoiding or minimizing the introduction of impacts to ecological functions that result from new shoreline development.

11. How do Shoreline Master Programs apply to farms / agriculture?

A 2002 state law requires when local shoreline programs are updated, the new standards, setbacks and buffers do not apply retroactively to existing agricultural development. Updated shoreline program requirements will however apply to new agricultural activities located in designated shoreline areas and where agricultural activities are converted to other uses.

12. What are differences between critical areas ordinances and shoreline master programs?

Local governments and Ecology implement the Shoreline Management Act using locally-tailored Shoreline Master Programs. Local governments implement critical areas ordinances under the authority of the state Growth Management Act. The two laws have many similar requirements for environmental protection but they are administered with different kinds of regulatory procedures. The two laws also have many similar and some different objectives for dealing with future land use and development. Integrating Growth Management and Shoreline Management Act goals, policies, and regulations is required but often difficult to accomplish. Kittitas County is currently updating its Critical Areas Ordinance.

For more frequently asked questions, see the Department of Ecology's Frequently Asked Questions web page: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/shorelines/smp/faqs.html