Shoreline program update is overdue | Editorial

Our shorelines are a big part of what define us.

We are a land and people surrounded by ocean on all sides. As island communities, preserving our 400 miles of coastline is critical for our way of life today, and more importantly, future generations.

It is long overdue, but San Juan County is finally updating its Shoreline Master Program, a state-required set of regulations that defines what coastal development is allowed, protects sensitive areas and promotes public access to the shore. It applies to land 200 feet inland from the ordinary high water mark and then seaward from the ordinary high water mark to the county line.

There are 260 Shoreline Master Programs in Washington state. They are created in partnership with the local community and the state department of ecology, and must comply with state guidelines.

An updated SMP is required every seven years, and it has been 17 since the last upgrade for San Juan County. The council has been discussing changes to the program since 2008. The current SMP draft is the result of four years of public hearings, meetings with stakeholders, feedback from a citizen planning commission and council workshops. The county has also received more than 100 pages of comments from the community. Last week, council members held special meetings on Lopez, San Juan and Orcas after a request for more public input.

We aren’t surprised that our current council, which has overseen the completion of several important pieces of regulation during its tenure, is finally making this happen. And it appears they have learned from the confusion of the Critical Areas Ordinance process, as the SMP draft has one primary goal: simplify the verbiage while still ensuring ecologically non-destructive shoreline regulations.

We thank the county for making the SMP easier to understand – and presumably therefore easier to administer – and we want to remind the community that these regulations must be approved by the state department of ecology. The county has a set of guidelines it must follow while still honoring the goals of the local community. We think the council has done its due diligence and we hope the updated SMP will be approved this year.




For more information on the county’s draft of the updated Shoreline Master Program, go to

To read about the state’s SMP requirements, go to