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State Supreme Court clarifies DOE's authority re SMP

PDF of decision

In a unanimous decision, Washington State Supreme Court made clear the role the state Department of Ecology plays in the Shoreline Management Act. Local governments update their own Shoreline Management Plans (SMP) subject to Ecology's final approval. The court said, "Notably, Ecology is not required to give any deference to a local jurisdiction’s SMP during review or acceptance if the proposed SMP does not conform to Ecology’s established guidelines. RCW 90.58.090(7).7."

The plantiffs, Citizens for Rational Shoreline Planning argued that SMPs were local regulations subject to RCW 82.02.020. The RCW applies to land use regulations and conditions imposed by local jurisdictions. The Supreme Court ruled the RCW did not apply, since the SMP is a state regulation protecting the shorelines of the state.

In fact, Ecology is mandated to create SMPs for noncomplying jurisdictions through an administrative process under RCW 90.58.070. If San Juan County failed to meet the deadlines outlined in the county's plan or didn't create a plan, Ecology would create one for the county.

The Supreme Court said:

The SMA also details specific guidelines with which an SMP must conform. See RCW 90.58.060.

...The SMA encourages local jurisdictions, such as Whatcom County, to formulate SMPs to meet particular local conditions. But this process is done in the shadow of Ecology's control

...SMA provides Ecology with stringent oversight authority and command over the final contents of any jurisdiction's SMP. But this process is done in the shadow of Ecology's control. The SMP process is a benevolent gesture by the state.

By its terms, RCW 82.02.020 applies to land use regulations and conditions imposed by local jurisdictions. While local jurisdictions play a role in tailoring SMPs to local conditions, the Shoreline Management Act dictates that the Department of Ecology retains control over the final contents and approval of SMPs. Therefore, SMP regulations are the product of state action and are not subject to RCW 82.02.020


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