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Shoreline Master Program 2020 Update: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Shoreline Management Act?
The state's Shoreline Management Act ("the Act" or "the SMA") is the law that requires cities and counties to establish Shoreline Master Programs. The SMA was approved by the Legislature in 1971 and overwhelmingly approved by public initiative in 1972. Under the SMA, each county and city that plans under the Growth Management Act is required to prepare a shoreline master program in accordance with shoreline guidelines issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology. The Shoreline Management Act has an overarching goal to "prevent the inherent harm in an uncoordinated and piecemeal development of the state's shorelines."

What is a Shoreline Master Program?
Skagit County's Shoreline Master Program ("the SMP") is a combined planning and regulatory document that contains policies, goals, and specific land-use regulations for shorelines. The program balances development, public access, and shoreline protection.

What are "shorelines"?
Shorelines are special water bodies that meet certain flow criteria, and their adjacent uplands. The Shoreline Master Program update includes marine shorelines, rivers with a flow greater than 20 cubic feet per second, lakes larger than 20 acres, upland areas within 200 feet of these water bodies and the floodplains and wetlands associated with these shorelines. It only applies to unincorporated areas of the county-lands outside cities and towns.

Why are we updating the Skagit County SMP?
In 2003, the state Legislature established funding, timelines, and guidelines requiring all cities and counties to update their local Shoreline Master Programs prepared under the Washington State Shoreline Management Act. The new shoreline guidelines passed in 2003 set a higher level of environmental protection for shorelines in the state and a goal of "no net loss" of shoreline function.

Is Skagit County required to update its SMP?
Yes. RCW 90.58.080 requires every city and county in the state to update their Shoreline Master Programs on a set schedule. Many jurisdictions (including Skagit County) are late in adopting their SMPs, but so long as they are making forward progress are not expected to be subject to penalty.

What happens if we don't update our SMP?
The Department of Ecology is authorized by RCW 90.58.070 and .090 and WAC 173-26-070 to itself adopt a SMP for the shorelines of the state within our county. Much of the opportunity for our own determination of how to regulate shoreline areas would be reduced.

Why do we want to update the SMP?
For a variety of reasons, it's in the County's interest to update our Shoreline Master Program:

  1. Our current plan was adopted in 1976 and hasn't substantially changed; it is no longer based on current science, current law, or current conditions.
  2. Our current plan results in duplicate permit processes that are an unnecessary burden on property owners. The proposed revision would streamline permitting and provide clearer guidance to applicants.
  3. Updating our plan is required by state law. Skagit County may be subject to penalty or pre-emption by Ecology, or both, if we fail to update our plan as required.

Will the SMP affect me?
SMP regulations may affect you if you live or own property near one of the shorelines in Skagit County, if you boat or fish there, or if you use trails or parks nearby. Those interested in environmental issues such as wildlife habitat, water quality or vegetation management may also be interested in the SMP update. The Legislature has amended the Shoreline Management Act specifically to provide regulatory protection for residences within SMP jurisdiction.
More questions?

Please see:
Washington Department of Ecology's Shoreline Management
Ecology’s Shoreline Management website

Contact Us
Betsy Stevenson, AICP, Project Manager
Skagit County Planning & Development Services
(360) 416-1323