The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Commissioners start review of revised shoreline plan


Rick Nelson

Michelle McConnell, standing left, regional planner for the state Department of Ecology, on Tuesday discussed with county commissioners issues and concerns about a proposed update of the county's shoreline master plan.

Wahkiakum County's board of commissioners this week started their formal review of a proposed update of the county's shoreline management plan (SMP).

The board held a workshop with members of the county planning commission, their planning consultant, and a representative of the state Department of Ecology to hear a summary of the plan and ask questions about it.

Commissioners received the plan last Friday and studied it over the weekend to varying extents.

Their questions and comments showed much concern over the plan's potential impacts on property owners.

Hannah Dankbar, the county's consultant coastal planner from the Columbia Estuary Study Taskforce (CREST), and Michelle McConnell, Ecology's Regional Shoreline Planner, presented the plan to the commissioners.

The purpose of the plan, Dankbar said, is to keep shorelines safe and unpolluted, to make sure they are developed and managed fairly, and to provide access for the public.

In response to unregulated shoreline development, the state legislature passed the Shoreline Management Act in 1971. A year later, the public approved it in a referendum vote. The town and county adopted their plans then. The county updated its plan in 1992, but the town has never updated its plan.

The town, which is undertaking its own review process, and county received a $275,000 grant from Ecology to complete the review; the grant contract expires June 30.

In 2014, the county appointed a shoreline advisory committee to do the initial inventory and other work on the plan. The committee passed its recommendations on to the planning commission in 2015. The planners went over the document and voted April 27 to recommend that the board of county commissioners approve it.

"The planning commission started review of the SMP the fall of 2015," planning Chair Gene Healy wrote in a letter notifying the county commission of the recommendation, "and over the last year and half, the planning commission has put in a significant effort on behalf of the citizens to review and edit the SMP document that is being presented to you."

"We went through this several times word for word," Healy told county commissioners on Tuesday. "Any changes we made were intended to make this more local resident friendly."

Property rights advocates have lobbied county commissioners, saying the plan will adversely impact property owners rights. Dankbar went over some of those concerns:

--The plan addresses activities within 200 feet of the ordinary high water mark of a body of water.

--For agriculture, existing structures and activities are grandfathered in. New structures must be permitted, and changing the land use to another use, such as subdividing, would bring in regulations appropriate for that use.

--The county would create a new usage category, mixed waterfront, which would allow both residential and commercial use. New buildings would require a shoreline permit.

In 2003, state law required there be no net loss of shoreline environment, Dankbar said, so new uses must mitigate to balance their impacts.

Commissioners voiced many concerns over the proposed plan.

Commissioner Mike Backman suggested the inventory of existing uses be set in the past when there was more shoreline activity. Shorelines are now largely in a natural state, which would limit new development because of mitigation requirements.

"This isn't a comprehensive plan," Dankbar replied. "But this will help the county grow smarter. Looking down the road, this will help protect shorelines and help people access the shorelines."

Commissioner Dan Cothren commented that shoreline rules seem to be intended for urban areas and aren't needed in rural areas.

"I"m old school--I don't think we're at the ;point where we need more rules," he said. Ecology has final review of the program and use permits, he continued, "I see so many restrictions."

McConnell responded that the legislature designed the program so the lcoal governments and the agency would be partners. The agency reviews the local plans to see they meet state law, and they review permits based on the wording of the local programs.

Cothren also commented that the cost of meeting the requirements for development will be very high.

"We're going to get priced out of our environment," he said.

Commissioners expressed many other questions and concerns which McConnell, Dankbar and Healy tried to address in the two-hour meeting.

The next step for the county commission is to schedule a public hearing on the proposed plan. Then the board could make changes it wants and approve it when the plan is to the board's liking.

Commissioners talked about holding the hearing in June and acting on the plan in July or August.

That timing could cause a problem with the grant funding, county Public Works Director Chuck Beyer told Eagle Reporter Diana Zimmerman in an April interview.

"If the town and county don't produce, then potentially the state could say you owe us $275,000," Beyer said. "I believe that is in the agreement, potentially. You took our money, so if you are not going to do it in good faith as you signed the agreement for . . ."

The county and Town of Cathlamet are working together on the update. The update will be on the town council agenda for their monthly meeting next Monday.

The proposed updated plan may be found online at


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