State Extends Comment Period For Changes To Nearshore Fish Protection Rule

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reversed itself after last its August 8, 2014 public hearing and extended the comment period on major revisions to the primary state regulations specifically protecting critical nearshore habitats and at-risk fish species to September 15, 2014.

 

The decision followed public testimony before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission on the department’s proposed rulemaking for the state Hydraulic Code. The intent is to protect fish and fish habitat from in-water development impacts of bulkheads, groins, piers and marinas.

The Code was established to ensure no net-loss of the state’s critical nearshore habitats.

Prior to announcing the extension, WDFW stated that an extension would make little difference because of the complexity of the code revisions.

“[E]xtending the comment period an additional 30 days will not provide those who are relatively new to the hydraulic code an opportunity to gain a more clear understanding of the intricacies of this package,” WDFW wrote earlier and reiterated at the start of Friday’s public hearing.

Sound Action’s executive director Amy Carey thanked the department for extending the comment deadline and acknowledged the complexity of the approximately 400 pages of documents, including 150 pages of proposed rule language. “The point, however, is that the Hydraulic Code is the state’s primary tool for Puget Sound nearshore habitat protection and the public must always be given appropriate opportunity for involvement in the development of important environmental regulations,” said Carey.

“Although the documents may be somewhat technical in nature, we have a intelligent public throughout the region that cares about the health of Puget Sound and the proposed revisions to this code. Shutting them out by only offering a 30-day comment period was a poor decision and we comment the department for taking corrective action" said Carey.

Sound Action will be working with its membership and partners in the environmental community in the upcoming month to resolve areas of concern in the proposed rulemaking language. According to Sound Action (letter), some major issues include:

· Maintain the current definition of “protection of fish life” that clearly specifies prevention of loss or injury to fish or shellfish and protection of the habitat that supports fish and shellfish populations rather than changing to language defining “protection” as merely “avoiding or minimizing impacts through mitigation.”

· Strengthen a definition of “no net loss” by making clear that it means there shall not be a net loss of fish life or loss to the productive capacity of fish and shellfish habitat or functions.

· Maintain statutory requirements by eliminating use of “may,” “if possible,” and “when possible,” and make clear requirements for both department and applicant actions.

· Add protective provisions for macroalgae, which is used by herring for spawning and by juvenile lingcod, rockfish and salmonids for refuge and as supporting habitat for important prey species.

· Strengthen forage fish protections by including protections for potential spawning areas that have never been surveyed and by including provisions to protect adult fish from construction impacts during spawning and pre-spawning activity. Currently less than 30 percent of Puget Sound shorelines have even been inventoried by WDFW which results in a forage fish protection gap.

· Strengthen protections against all shoreline armoring impacts by requiring engineer’s report documenting need in all single family bulkhead proposals and by requiring that least impact techniques be used.

These and other recommendations are included in Sound Action’s comment letter to WDFW, [http://soundaction.org/hparule/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/SA-preliminary-comments-upload-use.pdf ]

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