Don’t Water Down Shoreline Regulations, Strengthen Them

OLYMPIA (8/23/00)–Let’s face it. The state of Washington has failed to protect the environment of our region from development and natural resource habitat destruction.

Nowhere is this more evident than on our shorelines. Damage caused by everything from jetties and bulkheads to gravel mining and dredging have been permitted to run rampant for generations. Even with the existence of a Shoreline Management Act, the state has failed to prevent gross destruction of uplands, marine resources, vegetation, fish and wildlife.

One of the results of these failures, of course, is the listing of several species of salmon as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Washington State Department of Ecology, led by Director Tom Fitzsimmons, has offered two new options to address this regulatory failure, being referred to as �Path A� and �Path B.� Forget Path A. It fails to address the achievement of ESA-related objectives. �Path B,� on the other hand, states the achievement of ESA-related objectives as one of its purposes.

Listen up state. Follow Path B. With certain amendments, that is. This path leads to state and local adoption of shoreline master programs that actually mean something. This could, at long last, begin to curb the adverse impacts of development and other activities on habitat needed by threatened and endangered species.

As might be expected, those who do the damage are squawking about Path B. Public meetings on the issue have been a nightmare. I applaud Mr. Fitzsimmons for weathering the abuse of those who, after all these years, still fail to comprehend the long term economic and cultural importance of natural resources and a healthy environment.

It takes guts to do the right thing in the face of threats and extreme political pressure. Anyone who doubts such pressure exists don�t have to look any farther than the state�s legislature to find it. One state senator-a candidate for governor no less-strayed far enough off the path of responsibility to say Path B could soon lead to shooting. A group of eight legislators joined the fray recently when they publicly expressed opposition to the draft Shoreline Guideline rule. They claim such rule adoption is premature, and that such rules would have a tremendous impact on rural landowners and economies-impacts that have not been fully identified or discussed.

Let�s think about that for a moment. Careless violation of Nature by developers has gone on for generations. Yet the legislators say they need to have more time to review the situation. How much time? Another generation? Another century? The time for review is long past. It is time for action. Continued failure to act is not just a violation of treaty-protected rights. It is a violation of the rights of every citizen in this state with a stake in clean water and healthy natural resources.

Path B isn’t perfect. For one thing, it ignored meaningful consultation with the tribes. Tribes have the inherent and legal right to co-manage many of the species of fish and wildlife whose habitat is addressed by these rules. Disregarding tribal input is unacceptable. The new guidelines also fail dismally to address agricultural activities, and that is unacceptable. The simple fact is that if existing agricultural practices do not improve, habitat needed by fish and wildlife will continue to degrade. In addition, the new rules fail to provide an adequate adaptive management and monitoring framework for shoreline management programs.

With these very serious shortcomings, it is particularly bothersome that the Department of Ecology is facing such difficulty getting even these rules adopted. At this point in our history, it would be good to see stronger resolve in the effort to take care of the resources so desperately needed by our future generations.

Yes, I applaud the courage and foresight demonstrated so far by Director Fitzsimmons in this process. There appears to be a serious shortage of such qualities in Olympia. The legislators and the Governor should be concentrating on enabling agencies and local governments to implement, and enforce, meaningful shoreline regulations rather than watering down the effort to be responsible.

No, Plan B isn’t perfect. Not by a long shot. It needs to be strengthened, and it needs to be worked out with the tribal co-managers. But it is clearly the best option currently available to help turn the tide on environmental destruction in this state.

Maybe the day will come when politicians and administrators will choose the right path, toward environmental accountability. The example set by Tom Fitzsimmons with Path B is encouraging. But we�re not holding our breath with respect for developers, or even legislators who have been so eager to attack his integrity.