The Shoreline Master Program requires monitoring of the shoreline to ensure “no net loss” of shoreline ecological functions. No one has yet been able to define what that term from the Department of Ecology means in any measurable way, but the City has to try to figure out what it means and how to monitor it. At the February 24 City Council meeting, the Council selected one of three options presented for carrying out that monitoring.
The option they settled on in a 6-1 vote was the medium-level one, requiring no additional funding and generating limited data.
City of Bainbridge Island staffer Christy Carr presented the three options identified by staff. She explained that the Council directed staff at the January 6 Council meeting to develop a range of options based on the requirements of Ecology and the community’s preference for a “more robust program than is required.”
Carr said that, in addition to demonstrating no net loss of ecological functions, they must implement the SMP, provide permit reviews for new construction along the shoreline, take restoration actions, and track all permits and restoration progress. With any of the options, a new land use/land cover map would be completed with LIDAR and high resolution imagery by the end of 2015.
Option 1 would consist solely of “demonstrating we are thoroughly and carefully implementing the SMP.” It would involve no new data collection, no new funding, no community participation, and no coordination with other programs. It would involve tracking the type, number, and location of shoreline permits and then updating the background documents completed for the 2014 update.
Option 2 would offer “more robust” tracking and limited data collection. It would require the development of a shoreline-specific tracking system of permits. And it would involve the community in monitoring efforts.
Option 3 would implement the recommendations of ETAC, the Environmental Technical Advisory Committee (ETAC), which “strives to bring new data and scientific rigor to the table.” This option would look at select ecological parameters over time for changes that would indicate whether there is net loss or gain of ecological functions. At the onset, it would involve an inventory and gap analysis of existing data and projects. It would also require ongoing updating of the background documents completed for the 2014 SMP update.
Carr said the City Staff recommendation would be to choose Option 2.
During public comment, Maradel Gale, a member of the Planning Commission who worked on the SMP update, expressed how surprised she had been to learn that Ecoloogy had no plan for monitoring the SMP. As she put it, “They didn’t give a rip” about monitoring.
But Gale argued that “no net loss requires us to do whatever monitoring is required to make sure it’s working.” She added that she doesn’t want to “go through the SMP update that we did before.” She urged the council to choose Option 3. She said that the members of ETAC are appointed by the Council and “have been working on this for a number of years.” She wondered why the Council would just “brush aside” such expertise and said it would be “a fool’s way out to try to get by with less.” She said, “We need to be proactive in this and do more than the minimal requirement . . . which is basically nothing.”
Lisa Macchio who works for the EPA as a water quality specialist opened her comments by saying, “We’re living with a lot of uncertainty.” She stressed that the “no net ecological loss concept is something nobody knows how to deal with.” She pleaded with the Council to “think very, very carefully about what you want for the city.”
Macchio cautioned the Council against collecting only limited data as, she said, the EPA and other agencies like Ecology frequently have to toss aside suggestions and concerns because of their reliance on “some crappy data.” She cautioned that “If you’re thinking about seven years from now and you want to have some data to drive decisions,” you need to collect it.
She said there are “great people on ETAC” who are “thinking carefully about what you might need.” She said, “Nobody knows the answer, but if you spend a little bit of money you’ll be in a better position.”
David Sale, the former chair of ETAC, said he likes the approach of starting with Option 2 but that a hybrid of 2 and 3 might be best down the road. He proposed an annual review to keep tabs on how well the chosen option is going.
Wayne Daley who said he was involved early on in the SMP update praised the work of Carr and her colleagues and ETAC. But he cautioned that Puget Sound is in dire condition. He said, We have destroyed the shoreline habitat,” but that’s where forage fish start and salmon need forage fish, and orcas need salmon. He said the “monitoring aspect of what we’re doing is a key element.”
Daley concluded by wondering, “How do you define no net loss when you don’t know what you’ve started from?” He said that ETAC has provided the baseline. “We have to have a viable monitoring plan if we really want to save and protect what we have in Puget Sound.”
Elise Wright, representing Bainbridge Alliance, argued that “The reason for the SMP is not to monitor what we’re doing on shore but what’s happening in the water.” She feels that Option 3 is the only one that actually measures ecological function. But she though the Council might choose to begin with Option 2 and then move on to 3. She acknowledged Councilmember Sarah Blossom’s frequently expressed concern about budget and defining priorities.
Robert Dashiell wrapped up the public comment period by arguing for a “fiscally conservative approach.” He said that it’s not about whether Puget Sound is dying. It’s about what we’re contributing to that. And, he concluded, no net loss is not measurable.
He argued that it would not be possible for ETAC to understand the complexities of the Sound in a short time period. He mentioned variables such as viruses, ocean acidification, temperature changes, storms, and low snow pack. He wondered, if you see a change, how can you relate it to the SMP?
Still, Dashiell thought pursuing grant funding to go after additional data wouldn’t be a problem. But he cautioned against using general fund money for this purpose.
During the ensuing Council discussion, Councilmember Val Tollefson thanked Gale for calling them fools. But, he said, it would be foolish if they didn’t recognize the quality of the work already done by the staff and take their recommendations seriously. He made a motion that the Council approve Option 2.
Councilmember Steve Bonkowski said that, in the development of the existing SMP, no hard data was available for Bainbridge, which was a problemHe said that alternative 3 is “where we need to go.”
The Council voted in favor of Tollefson’s motion, 6-1, with Bonkowski the lone standout.
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Photo by Joe Mabel.