Olympia’s Shoreline Master Program Needs A Metamorphosis

Regarding the Shoreline Master Program (SMP)

City of Olympia:

The public has become keenly aware of the plight of the Souther Resident Killer Whale and their principal prey Chinook salmon. We’re slowly learning about the plight of Walleye Pollock, Pacific Herring, Pacific Cod, 15 species of rockfish, chum and sockeye salmon, steelhead, various mollusks and birds, insects and invertebrates. As of December 1, 2015, there were 125 species at risk in the Salish Sea and the number continues to grow. Much of the loss has occurred over the past two decades, under current rules, the status quo, the cauldron of ‘mitigation banking’ ‘no net loss,’ and the rest of the regulatory stew.

Allowing a water body to remain physically damaged results in degraded water quality which impacts species composition which degrades water quality which impacts species composition and so on spiraling downward. There is an ongoing net loss caused by existing modifications. A stream in a pipe has no phytoplankton. This is why nitrates travel 18 times farther in a buried pipe than one that sees daylight. And why buried streams are low in dissolved oxygen.

The most critical part of any local watershed is its estuary. Estuaries are those places where fresh water coming from land meets the marine environment. Fresh water being lighter flows out on top of salt water creating persistent circulation patterns. In a pipe circulation is restricted. If we have sunlight we have a mix of phytoplankton and zooplankton and the birth of the food web. Without sunlight we have a septic tank. In the SMP, potential is never a consideration. Restoration potential should be part of every equation. The baseline should be that which existed historically.

The high water mark is the point from which setbacks are measured. The high water mark for the two major streams draining into Budd Inlet lies inside long culverts. The tide flows up a long pipe in both Moxlie and Schneider Creeks. In fact, there are 160 miles of stream-in-a-pipe in Olympia. In regulatory terms they don’t even exist. To contradict this edict represents a “collateral attack” on City Codes. If you appeal before the Hearing Examiner, you’ll also be informed that you lack standing, unless you or your property will be damaged. Birds, fish and marine mammals have no standing.

The most substantive issue brought up by the State in the Shoreline Master Program Periodic Review is the statement “The City’s wetland buffers are not current with the State’s most recent guidance.” The City’s response is that recommendations would result in “little change in the City’s current buffer widths” and amendments would be made to chapter 18:32 of the Olympia Municipal Code (Critical Areas) rather than the SMP itself. But revisions to Olympia code 18:32 make no substantive changes to setbacks. It continues to recommend protecting critical areas, aiming at no net loss and providing mitigation for unavoidable impacts through minimizing, rectifying, reducing and compensating for loss.

Priority Riparian Areas are listed as the eastern shore of Budd Inlet, including and north from Priest Point Park, long stretches of western shore of Budd Inlet including West Bay Waterfront Park and the Port Lagoon and much of the shore of Capitol Lake. The priority areas are essentially parks. The prevailing assumption seems to be that humans must destroy any place we reside.

The most glaring unspoken conclusion is that we should simply give up on East Bay, the half-mile long embayment south of Priest Point Park. It’s been severely modified and has the worst benthic dioxin contamination and the poorest water quality in Budd Inlet. Although this way of thinking is in some cases justified, in this instance it represents a clear violation of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and numerous other State and Federal laws and regulations.

How about some real changes:

(1) Restoration potential should be part of every equation. The potential inherent in a location should never be ignored.

(2) Under City Code once a stream goes into a pipe in Olympia it no longer exists. Likewise if it’s ever day-lighted rules don’t apply. This makes sense where there’s currently a structure but not as justification for new construction. We should change the rule to in such instances recognize the existence of streams.

(4) The best available science should be employed in every study including a clearly stated observation, hypothesis, test and conclusion otherwise the effort can be incomplete, misdirected and conclusions can be buried in data. Sites should be sampled for any contaminants suspected of possibly being at the site, according to established protocols.

(5) We need to take a holistic, ecosystem based approach to our critical areas. The baseline should be that which existed historically. Every effort should be made fo determine how physical parameters like structure impact chemical parameters such as dissolved oxygen and biological parameters such as phytoplankton.

(6) We should provide SRKW orcas with legal standing, consistent with the global Rights of Nature movement.

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