People For Puget Sound and Citizens for a Healthy Bay, represented by Earthjustice, filed an appeal with the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board seeking to reinstate protections for Pierce County’s marine shorelines in the county’s critical areas ordinance. The Pierce County Council removed the protections from the ordinance just before final passage last November.
The biggest impact of the council’s decision is that there will be no buffers on marine shorelines for at least four years. While kelp beds and bluffs that erode and supply fresh sand for beaches will receive some limited protection, it is not as protective as a buffer requirement.
“Allowing these areas to be developed will harm salmon habitat in central Puget Sound,” said Stan Cummings, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Bay in Tacoma. “These local ordinances are a vital part of the strategy to protect salmon. Buffering shorelines with natural vegetation that protects feeder bluffs, cleanses water, adds detritus, and maintains sediment regimes is absolutely critical to protecting the ecological function of the shorelines.”
“Puget Sound’s shorelines are the key ecosystems that anchor the entire marine food web,” said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound. “Pierce County is home to some of the last remaining undisturbed shoreline habitat in central Puget Sound. Maintaining shoreline health through protective buffering is a key strategy to protecting these important beach areas for both wildlife and future generations of Pierce County residents.”
The state’s growth management act requires all local governments to adopt critical areas ordinances to protect sensitive habitats like marine shorelines, upon which the survival of forage fish, salmon, and killer whales depend.
“The Council removed protections for marine shorelines after the public hearings and behind closed doors. This action violates the Act’s ‘best science’ requirements and sidesteps the thoughtful, methodical protections for shorelines that emerged in the two-year public process,” said Amy Williams-Derry, attorney with Seattle-based Earthjustice who represents the citizens’ groups. “This last-minute change to the law leaves a gaping hole in protections for bluffs, beaches, healthy water, and a healthy environment in Puget Sound.”