State Supreme Court affirms Ecology approval authority for shoreline master programs


As assumed, the SMP process is legal. The lawyer that convinced these guys to do take this case forward must have been laughing to the bank. A cursory read of the laws that the SMP is based on clearly shows what the court *unanimously* affirmed. Their argument about tax law shows how little they understood of the process or perhaps that they were willing to pay a lawyer to grasp at straws.
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State Supreme Court affirms Ecology approval authority for shoreline master programs

OLYMPIA – The Washington Supreme Court has unanimously affirmed that the state, not local governments, has final approval authority for shoreline management plans and regulations.

The case was brought before the high court by Citizens for Rational Shoreline Planning, Ronald Jepson and the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County against the Department of Ecology (Ecology) and Whatcom County.

The lawsuit was an attempt to broadly invalidate key protections in Whatcom County’s state-approved shoreline planning and development regulations, also called a shoreline master program. Ecology approved the county’s shoreline program in 2008.

The plaintiffs asserted that because Whatcom County had developed its proposed shoreline master program at the local level, final approval of the county’s updated shoreline program was a local decision.

They claimed some of the requirements in Whatcom County’s shoreline program would violate state tax law generally prohibiting local governments from imposing certain taxes or fees in exchange for development rights.

The 1972 voter-approved Shoreline Management Act was passed to help minimize environmental damage to shoreline areas, reserve appropriate areas for water-oriented uses, and protect the public’s right to public lands and waters.

“The court’s decision clarifies that the collaborative process Ecology and local governments use to manage our shoreline areas is fair, transparent and flexible,” said Ecology Deputy Director Polly Zehm. “We all have a stake in protecting our treasured shoreline resources for ourselves as well as our children and future generations. Our shorelines make Washington a great place to live.”

Under the law, local governments and Ecology work cooperatively on shoreline master programs.

The Shoreline Management Act gives local governments flexibility to tailor their shoreline programs to help respond to local conditions and needs – while fulfilling the statewide vision for shoreline development, protection and uses.

However, the court’s decision recognizes that under state law Ecology is charged with final review and approval authority to ensure each shoreline master program meets state law.

Ecology must also ensure that state requirements negotiated in 2003 among 58 different parties including business interests, ports, environmental groups, shoreline user groups and local governments are being met.

Once Ecology approves a local shoreline master program, the department will help defend the decision against legal challenges.

The plaintiffs’ case had previously been dismissed by the Skagit County Superior Court which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court decision affirmed the appellate court.

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