Burien City Council Adopts Updated Shoreline Plan, Ending 2-Year Process

Print This Post  Email This Post

by Ralph Nichols

Burien City Council members approved a revised Shoreline Master Program (SMP – link here) on a 6-1 vote at their Sept. 27 meeting.

Councilman Gordon Shaw, who said “what we’ve set out to do here is without merit,” cast the lone dissenting vote.

Throughout the council’s review of the document – a process that began in April – “I have been told to be patient … and the science would prove this whole effort worthwhile,” Shaw noted.

But “I never saw a cause-and-effect relationship between the science and what our plan is set up to do … this is just very bad government.”

Mayor Joan McGilton observed, however, that “as a scientist and an engineer … I say there’s no science that can verify the impact on five miles of shoreline. There’s no science that good.

“We now will pass this plan on to the Department of Ecology. The state will look at Burien’s plan” and decide how it fits with other city and county plans around Puget Sound.

Ecology, which will hold a public hearing during its review of the Burien SMP, will evaluate the document and then give it final approval or return it to the city with recommendations for specific revisions.

Burien’s lengthy process to revise its SMP originated with the Washington Shoreline Management Act, which voters statewide approved in 1972. The act required local governments to write comprehensive plans that regulate development and other activities along both marine and freshwater shorelines.

In 2003, the Legislature mandated that all local SMPs be updated by 2014 – a process involving more than 260 cities, counties and other jurisdictions. To date, only about 30 updated plans have been completed, and reviewed and approved by Ecology.

The Burien Shoreline Advisory Committee spent about a year drafting proposed changes to the city’s SMP, and then sent it to the planning commission in January. After three months of review, including public comment, the commission submitted its version to the city council.

Following a final review of the document on Sept. 13, council members agreed to place the SMP on the Sept. 27 consent calendar for final adoption.

Before Monday’s final vote, McGilton said to citizens who became involved in the SMP process,” thank you all for your time and input to make the community a better place to live.”

But the discussion wasn’t quite over. Shaw, who expressed disappointment over council approval of the buffer and setback around Lake Burien on Sept. 13, said that action “was made on the basis of erroneous information.”

At the same time, he argued, the SMP “ignores problems far worse” for the health of Puget Sound – storm water runoff and sanitary sewer discharge.

Deputy Mayor Rose Clark agreed with Shaw that “we are left with a dirty Sound,” but said the Legislature has not provided cities “all the parts to clean up the Sound.”

“The oil industry and toxics folks are trying to put the budget [for Puget Sound cleanup] back on individual taxpayers,” McGilton suggested.

Shaw added, “You can blame it on the big bad oil companies if you want, but the enemy is us.”

Councilwoman Kathy Keene reminded the council that the Southwest Suburban Sewer District “does secondary treatment so no raw sewage goes into Puget Sound” from the Burien area.

Any decision on whether to increase the level of treatment to remove metals from sewage water would be up to the sewer district, which is a separate governmental entity, Keene said.

Councilman Jack Block Jr. said he hopes “the passion we’ve seen here” will now translate into a shoreline stewardship program organized by the Burien Marine Homeowners Association (BMHA).

The BMHA, established to represent private property rights during the SMP review, and the Lake Burien Shore Club have been involved with the city throughout this process.

A major point of controversy, included in the original SMP update sent to the council, was a proposal to expand the existing 20-foot setback from the ordinary Puget Sound high-water mark to a 50-foot buffer plus an additional 15-foot buffer for any new development.

Council members voted to retain the 20-foot setback and rejected the expanded buffer by a 4-3 vote on Aug. 16. However, the expanded buffer does apply to non-residential areas along the marine shoreline – primarily Seahurst Park.

Shaw objected to the council’s decision to impose a 20-foot buffer plus an additional 15-foot setback around Lake Burien, which is part of the new SMP.

Repair and replacement of bulkheads and shoreline vegetation were also points of controversy during the final weeks of council review, but citizens, city staff and council members found an uneasy balance on these issues.

Plaguing the process until earlier this year was a requirement that shoreline management be based on the “best available science.”

Responding to difficulty in applying this nebulous standard – the criteria required by the state’s Growth Management Act for regulating critical areas – the 2010 Legislature changed the criteria for shorelines to “no net loss of ecological function.”

The determination of when “net loss” is calculated – at the time a new SMP is adopted or retroactively to when development first altered a shoreline – was a question council members wrestled with.

In the end, they accepted with some dissent the principle that any net loss of shoreline ecological function will be based on future impacts of waterfront development.

Michael Noakes, president of the BMHA, earlier told the B-Town Blog, “At the end of the day, we are pleased with the progress that’s been made. We stand ready to help the council support this document with the [state Department of Ecology].”

Print This Post  Email This Post

Comments are closed.