Friday, February 11, 2011

An example of de-planning in Whatcom County

By the North Sound Baykeeper Team

This photo shows an exavator on the beach, and a partially completed new bulkhead on Lummi Island. Here's why:

In 2006, a Lummi Island homeowner applied for an emergency exemption to build a bulkhead. At that time, Planning and Development Services (PDS) correctly asserted that the home was in no danger and that there was no emergency. The home was located back from a marine feeder bluff, an important geologic feature. Feeder bluffs are vitally important to the health of Puget Sound as they “feed” sediment to beaches, which, in turn, provide the basis for forage fish spawning grounds, a key food item for salmon.

Instead of allowing the bulkhead, PDS instructed the homeowner to apply for a permit to construct a berm of naturally occurring beach materials to slow down the erosion. This action would be consistent with the Shoreline Master Program (SMP) and Best Available Science. But instead of applying for the permit, the homeowner took the County to court.

After losing in Superior Court, the homeowner appealed and the case was remanded for a determination as to whether the proposed bulkhead was the only means to protect property. The County and Ecology said no, there are other means available; consultants for the homeowner say only a bulkhead will do. Thus the issue needs clarification. Instead of clarifying the issue and relying on science, PDS settled the case in 2010, granting an emergency exemption and providing notification to no one--not even the neighbors who will be affected!

This is de-planning. The SMP has been circumvented and the action of one homeowner to build a hard armored bulkhead will affect the transport of sediment along the beach, the viability of forage fish in the area, and may start a cascade of other hard armored bulkheads along the shore. You see, once one of these hard structures is built, it causes the wave action at neighboring properties to be more forceful and to create even more erosion.

Last week PDS gave the Lummi Island homeowner a permit to build a 316-foot long rock bulkhead along the beach, using multiple rows of 7-ton boulders and an excavator delivered by a barge. During the night last weekend, bulldozers scraped boulders off the barges, and an excavator and bulldozer made countless trips across the beach to construct the new bulkhead. And while the new bulkhead will protect one property, it will increase erosion along the shoreline and cause even more erosion to neighboring properties. As the neighbors rested in bed and listened to the noise, I am sure they acknowledged silently that their property is now more at risk and they are considering their options.

Shoreline property owners and fish, plants, and wildlife would all benefit from softer alternatives to bulkheads. The SMP and Best Available Science provide for use of those alternatives. But the case-by-case exemptions have already led to 1/3 of the Sound’s shoreline being hard armored—when will it end?

1 comment:

  1. Kind of hard to encourage people to be good shore stewards when they see this happen.