Army Corps of Engineers loses another court case. This time affecting bulkheads and more.

Another major but little noticed lawsuit has been concluded with the Army Corps of Engineers. This time, a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental groups, including Sound Action, Friends of the San Juans, Washington Environmental Council (WEC) and Earthjustice argued that because the corps arbitrarily decided to determine that the high water mark was closer to the water than in other jurisdictions over which it has authority, that this was a capricious rule. The judge agreed.

This will mean that the Army will have to spend more time determining environmental issues before issuing a bulkhead permit. It will also likely mean a lot less bulkheads being permitted.

According to an article by the Spokane News Review, “Rock or concrete walls have been erected along about one-quarter of Puget Sound’s 2,500 miles of shorelines. Nearly a mile of Puget Sound shoreline is built up each year. ”

“The Corps has known for years that its high tide line marker in Puget Sound is unlawfully low,” Anna Sewell, Earthjustice attorney for the groups, said in a statement.

The groups say that if the Corps, which regulates structures or work in U.S. navigable waters, used the true high tide line, more shoreline armoring projects would come under its review.

The lawsuit notes that an interagency workgroup that included the Army Corp’s Seattle District and two other federal agencies recommended changing the Corps’ tidal jurisdiction. That change would have brought about 8,600 acres of shoreline habitat under the Corps jurisdiction.”

The Earthjustice overview of this case stated:

The Corps is required by law to review proposed armoring projects up to the “high tide line,” which is generally the line at which land meets the water. But the Corps’ Seattle District uses a much lower tidal marker (known as the “mean higher high water” mark). As a result, the Seattle District does not review the majority of armoring projects in Puget Sound.

Since the 1970s, the Seattle District of the Corps (“Seattle District”) has defined its Clean Water Act (“CWA”)  jurisdiction in the Puget Sound region to extend only up to the“mean higher high water” mark, which is an average of the higher of the two high water marks each tidal day observed over a nineteen-year period.Under the CWA’s implementing regulations, however, the Corps’ jurisdiction extends to the “high tide line.” Approximately one quarter of high tides in the Seattle District exceed the mean higher high water mark, meaning the Seattle District’s CWA jurisdictional marker is significantly below the high tide line.

The Corps’ failure to assert jurisdiction means there has been no federal oversight of whether most armoring projects in the Sound meet the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act or any other federal requirement.

The original lawsuit can be found here.

01 Enviro Complaint 05 21 2018


We will continue to cover this story as it evolves with the Corps implementation of this ruling.



Lawsuit seeks more review of projects that ‘armor’ Puget Sound shoreline – Seattle Times

Good independent overview of the lawsuit filed yesterday  by Sound Action, Friends of the San Juans and Washington Environmental Council (WEC).

Restoring the natural shoreline at the Elwha River where it meets the sea is part of an ongoing battle to heal Puget Sound — along with a lawsuit to achieve better environmental review of new shoreline projects.

New killer video for Sound Action

Eric Becker is a great video producer from Seattle. Here’s his latest efforts for Sound Action. Don’t know who they are? A new group actually getting stuff done! Watch this film! It’s only one minute long.

SOUND ACTION! from Sound Action on Vimeo.

Sound Action expands staff and drives agenda in Olympia

Sound Action, the relative newcomer to the Salish Sea environmental action scene, continues to expand. Diane Tilstra  joined the team to help  expand fundraising and capacity. Diane is passionate about Puget Sound and has a long history of helping organizations thrive. She spent many years as the development director at People for Puget Sound and was a liaison to the Alliance for Puget Sound Shorelines, which worked to find establish and private funding for common environmental projects around Puget Sound shorelines. Diane also serves as a board member for the Seabury School in Tacoma and volunteers with the National Alliance to End Veteran Suicide. I worked with Diane at People For Puget Sound and can attest that she is a great asset to have brought on to S.A. They are rapidly becoming the new organization that is actually challenging the status quo around the Salish Sea. Lord knows it needs it. Far too many endless meetings and far too little action.

Here’s a wrap up from Sound Action on their Olympia efforts. Given the general ‘do nothing’ nature of this last session, this is good work for such a small organization like theirs.

  • We are happy to say that the derelict vessel removal bill we supported, which created new tools for the derelict vessel program an DNR, passed with flying colors. This program helps to ensure habitat protection by allowing DNR to remove derelict and abandoned vessels from Puget Sound, which can pollute nearshore and marine waters with fuel and oil spills.
  • We also worked to defend Puget Sound from the impacts that would arise as a result of a bill related to floating homes. This bill initially proposed to amend the Shorelines Management Act in ways that expanded the definition of water-dependent, setting a dangerous precedent and opening the door to many more over-water structures in the nearshore. While the bill itself pass, the final legislation did not include this damaging language we opposed and the general integrity of the Shoreline Management Act was supported.
  • The forage fish bill we told you about last month unfortunately died before getting a floor vote. But, there was good progress in helping to spotlight forage fish issues in the legislature and laying  groundwork for next year.

South Sound Activist Sue Patnude Joins Sound Action Board of Directors

Sound Action is shaping up to becoming a force to be reckoned with in protecting the Sound. The problem this is trying to solve is that while many people may feel that shoreline protection is overly regulated, the reality is that there is no enforcement of the regulations in many jurisdictions, and the people who should be enforcing laws are being paid by the people wanting the approvals. This not only leads to lax or no enforcement of laws and rubber stamping of anything that is put in front of them, but frustration from citizens that are made to jump through regulatory hoops to find out that the laws have no teeth. I heard, not very long ago,  one county planner say to a public gathering that, “well there’s no real money to do enforcement so I wouldn’t worry about it.”  Do you want real protection of the Sound? Then you are going to have to rely on organizations like Sound Action to demand it. 


2/17/14 NEWS RELEASE: 

Sue Patnude of Olympia and Elma, Washington, has joined the board of directors of Sound Action, an environmental watchdog group dedicated to protecting the health of Puget Sound’s nearshore habitats and species.

Patnude is principal consultant in environmental policy management at Patnude and Associates and has extensive experience working for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Washington Department of Ecology, and for the City of Ocean Shores and Grays Harbor Regional Planning.

Patnude currently serves as executive director of the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team (DERT), which seeks to restore the Deschutes River to a healthy estuary.

“Puget Sound needs accountability and regulation enforcement,” said Patnude, “and I look forward to working with people supporting Sound Action and who are unafraid to speak out. We need to openly discuss and find solutions on the hard stuff if we are going to be successful in cleaning up our waters and having healthy habitat.”

Sound Action was launched in 2013 to watchdog government application of nearshore regulations protecting habitat and species. It has reviewed state hydraulic permits for Puget Sound marine in-water construction and appealed those permits failing to meet protection standards. 

In 2014, Sound Action focuses on state legislation affecting Puget Sound, watchdogs the state revision of the hydraulics code, and continues to insist that every hydraulic project approval incorporates environmental protections required by law.

Veteran Puget Sound Activist Joins Sound Action



I’ve worked with Naki Stevens in the past, and can attest that she is a great asset to add to any team. This shows that Sound Action is really serious about becoming a major player in doing the hard work to advocate for the Sound. Hard changes have never been accomplished without someone at the table that is not beholden to one or the other political parties. This adds a lobbyist for the Salish Sea, close to the action in the Capital, where it’s needed. 


Veteran Puget Sound activist Naki Stevens will join the environmental watchdog group Sound Action as a lobbyist this upcoming Washington state legislative session.

Stevens, former policy director of the original People For Puget Sound organization, will begin her legislative work on January 17 after leaving her position as Executive Policy Advisor on Puget Sound at the Washington Department of Natural Resources Office of the Commissioner of Public Lands.

“After four years of helping Peter Goldmark make good progress on Puget Sound recovery at DNR, I am very excited to get back to the grassroots level and work with Sound Action to push even harder to protect and restore the Sound,” said Stevens. “People in Washington want a clean and healthy Puget Sound, and I am grateful to Sound Action for giving me the chance to work closely once again with people fighting hard every day to save the Sound.”

Sound Action, formerly Preserve Our Islands, is an environmental advocacy watchdog group launched in 2013 dedicated to protecting the health of Puget Sound’s nearshore habitats and species by using sound science, ensuring fair and wise application of the law, and by engaging people in nearshore protection and advocacy.

The organization is currently focused on making sure the state hydraulic code provides appropriate protection for nearshore habitats and that important environmental regulations are applied by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife during the permitting process.

Naki Stevens has also served as Executive Director of Restore America’s Estuaries and as Director of the National Wetlands Campaign for the National Audubon Society. She also worked for the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority in developing the first Puget Sound Water Quality Management Plan.


The Puget Sound watchdog group Sound Action and 10 state environmental groups* last week addressed the importance of strengthening nearshore habitat protections in a joint letter commenting on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s proposed revisions to the state’s hydraulic code. 

The code is the state’s principal regulatory tool to ensure the protection of nearshore and stream habitats and fish life from the harmful impacts of in-water development and construction work.

“Our review found that much of the proposed language creates exemptions and regulatory loopholes and utilizes language that appears to diminish both department responsibility and the ability to ensure the mandated protection of vital habitats,” said Sound Action executive director Amy Carey.

According to the environmental group’s comments:

·      The proposed new rules don’t require project applicants to conduct forage fish spawning surveys prior to work, nor do they require vegetation surveys at project sites.

·      The new rules introduce a simplified permit that allows project approval with no impact review or site visit; they also allow permit applicants unnecessary latitude to negotiate timing restrictions for work.

·      Most significant, the new rules make no provision to protect spawning areas that have not been identified as spawning areas. The groups advocate that the precautionary principle should be applied and protective provisions to a project used when certain habitat features are present even if the site is not currently listed as containing a “documented” habitat.

The rule revision process continues into 2014 with additional public hearing and comment periods, with adoption scheduled for mid-2014.

The rule revisions also drew comments from the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission [ ] and the Skagit River System Cooperative [].

For a more detailed account of the environmental group’s comments on the revised rule, click here []

*Environmental groups signing: League of Women Voters of Washington, Sound Action, Coastal Watershed Institute, Spokane Riverkeeper, Wild Fish Conservancy, Friends of the San Juans, Citizens for a Healthy Bay, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club Cascade Chapter, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities

%d bloggers like this: