Shoreline Management Plan Periodic Update 2020

On December 12, 2021, the County Council approved by resolution the amendments to the County's Shoreline Management Program. Staff has forwarded Council's approved amendments to the WA State Dept. of Ecology for their final review and approval. Through their review they may require and/or recommend additional changes. Once we have the DOE's approval, Council will need to adopt an ordinance to incorporate the amendments into the Comprehensive Plan and the Whatcom County Code so as to effect the amendments. Ecology has not provided a time frame for their review so we do not know when this will happen, though it should be sometime in the first half of 2022.

Contact Us

Interested parties can learn about the process, where to find information, and submit comments, by contacting the Project Manager for this project:

Cliff Strong, Senior Planner
5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, WA 98226
[email protected]

What is a periodic update?

Whatcom County (County) has been undertaking a periodic review of its Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), as required by the Washington State Shoreline Management Act, RCW 90.58.080(4). The Shoreline Management Act requires each SMP be reviewed, and revised if needed, on an eight-year schedule established by the state Legislature. The review ensures the SMP stays current with changes in laws and rules, remains consistent with other County plans and regulations, and is responsive to changed circumstances, new information and improved data.

This periodic update focused on reviewing relevant legislative updates since 2007 and incorporating any applicable amendments; ensuring consistency with regulations for critical areas and flood hazard areas; and improving the overall functionality of the SMP for use by applicants and staff. This periodic update was not required to re-evaluate the ecological baseline that was established as part of the 2007 comprehensive update; extensively assess no net loss criteria other than to ensure that proposed amendments do not result in degradation of the baseline condition; or change shoreline jurisdiction or environment designations.

Amendments were proposed to various parts of the Comprehensive Plan and Whatcom County Code, including Chapters 8, 10, and 11 of the CompPlan; the SMP regulations (WCC Title 23); the County’s land use permitting regulations (WCC Title 22); the County’s Critical Areas regulations (WCC Ch. 16.16), and the SMP Environment Designations map. The Council approved documents can be found on the SMP Update 2020 Documents page (link above on the left). 

Public Outreach and Participation

The County is committed to providing multiple opportunities for public participation throughout the process and used a variety of communication tools to inform the public and encourage participation including this website, a list-serve, news releases, public notices, and open houses. The early stages of the process was used to gather input and outline the extent of the review. The County Council then adopted a scope of potential amendments based on input from staff, the public, local jurisdictions, tribes, and other stakeholders.

Based on the scope, County staff and consultants drafted amendments to the County’s SMP. These draft amendments were issued for a 30-day public review period (Aug 18 - Sep 18, 2020) prior to being forwarded to the Planning Commission for their review.

The Planning Commission held 11 public workshops wherein they have made tentative decisions on key issues. A joint public hearing with the Planning Commission and the Department of Ecology was held on April 22, 2021 (see below). After receiving public comment and evaluating the proposed amendments, the Planning Commission provided their recommendations to the County Council. The Whatcom County Council also held two hearings to take public comments before final approval.

All documents are available for review at Due to Covid-19 restrictions and offices being closed, please contact Cliff Strong at the below email address if you need paper copies to review.

The Public Participation Plan can be found here.

Joint Planning Commission/Department of Ecology Public Hearing

The Planning Commission has completed its review of the periodic update, holding 11 public workshops beginning in October 2020. There review culminated in a joint public hearing with Dept. of Ecology staff on April 22, 2021. The Commission approved the draft documents (with some additional changes) and forwarded their recommendation to the County Council on May 13, 2020.

After the public hearing the P/C approved documents were forwarded to the Dept. of Ecology for its review and initial determination, which contained some required and some recommended changes. Staff has incorporated these changes into the documents prepared for the Council's public hearing.

Council Review, Approval, and Adoption

The Council, through their Committee of the Whole, began its review of the proposed Planning Commission recommended amendments on July 13, 2021. The Council has since held 6 public workshops. It is anticipated the Council will hold its own public hearing on November 23, 2021, and approve the amendments to be forwarded to the Dept. of Ecology on December 7th. Ecology will then perform its final review. Once Ecology is done (and they may or may not have additional required changes), the whole packet will be forwarded to Council for final adoption. Hopefully this will be by the end of January 2022.