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County requests public review of shoreline report

County planning staff are soliciting public input on a Shoreline Inventory and Characterization Report released July 12.

The report is an assessment of the attributes of the 800 miles of county shoreline, divided into 18 reaches, such as cliffs, eagle habitats, etc. It will be used to identify shoreline resources of value to residents and other stakeholders and establish a baseline against which future conditions can be compared.

Consultants with ESA, a firm hired by Clallam County to help in the program update, said the challenge to planners working on the update is how to allow use of private property while protecting existing ecological functions and preventing additional hazards.

The consultants and Planning Director Steve Gray presented the plan to about 40 people at a public hearing July 14.

Report precludes designations

Jim Kramer, of ESA, said the shoreline program, created by state law in the 1970s, serves the purpose of encouraging water-dependent and priority uses, protecting natural resources and promoting public access.

The county's program is 35 years old and needs to be updated not only to comply with state law, but also to address the challenges of balancing environmental protections with a growing population and largely undeveloped shorelines, Kramer said.

The report's assessment of the shoreline will serve as the basis for any restoration plans, policies and regulations that will be proposed, he said.

Those steps come after environmental designations are assigned, he said. To reach that end, the report's authors need to know if they made any mistakes.

"One of the reasons we're asking people to look at their reach maps is to let us know if something seems off," he said.

Since the attributes were compiled from different sources, there is some concern about the accuracy, he conceded.

Questioning the bases

Though Gray started the meeting by stating the public hearing was to receive comments on the report and not to talk about potential regulations, noting there are no new regulations yet proposed, some audience members questioned the basis of the update itself.

"Why do we have to update it? Why now?" audience members asked, before the presenters reiterated the state law passed by voters in 1972 and the Legislature's update amendment.

A couple of people questioned the 200-foot setbacks established by the program and what those setbacks mean. The 200-foot setbacks, Gray said, are set by state law and designate the area the program must address. They do not expressly prohibit development, he said.

"It is the planning envelope, not the prohibition envelope," he said.

Copies of the report are available at the county's public libraries, by CD, or online at www.clallam.net/RealEstate/html/shoreline_management.htm. Public comment will be accepted through Aug. 31.

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