Shoreline Management Act
The Washington State Shoreline Management Act (SMA) was overwhelmingly passed by citizen initiative in 1972 in recognition that the state’s shorelines are some of the most valuable of our natural resources. The purpose of the SMA is to “prevent the inherent harm in an uncoordinated and piecemeal development of the state’s shorelines” (Chapter 90.58 Revised Code of Washington (RCW)). The state’s shorelines need to be protected not only for the fish, wildlife, and aesthetic benefits they provide but for the benefits to the economy, public health, safety, and welfare of our communities.
The SMA establishes a state-local partnership for managing, accessing, and protecting Washington’s shorelines. Counties and cities are the primary regulators of shorelines within their boundaries, but the Washington State Department of Ecology has the authority and responsibility to review and approve local programs and certain types of shoreline permits to ensure consistent management in meeting the three major policy objectives of the Act (RCW 90.58.020):
Protect shoreline resources and the natural environment. The SMA is intended to protect shoreline natural resources including the land, vegetation, wildlife, and aquatic habitats against adverse environmental effects. All allowed uses are required to offset adverse environmental impacts as much as possible and preserve the natural character and aesthetics of the shoreline.
Increase public access to publicly-owned shoreline areas. “The public’s opportunity to enjoy the physical and aesthetic qualities of the natural shorelines of the state shall be preserved to the greatest extent feasible. . .” Shoreline programs are to include an element for preserving and enlarging recreational opportunities.
Encourage water-dependent uses. The SMA states that “uses shall be preferred which are consistent with control of pollution and prevention of damage to the natural environment, or are unique to or dependent upon use of the state’s shorelines . . .”. Local shoreline programs need to ensure their regulations facilitate uses that require a water location.