Shoreline Management Plan Periodic Update 2020

Whatcom County began its periodic update of our Shoreline Management Plan (WCC Title 23, or SMP) in early 2019. It is anticipated that Council will adopt any proposed amendments by June 2021. 

If you would like to be notified of changes or additions to this page, please sign up for the County's "Notify Me" service here and choose the "Planning & Development Services - SMP Update" category.

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

What is a periodic update?

Whatcom County (County) is 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 will focus 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 is 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, unless deemed appropriate and necessary by the County.

Amendments are being 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. These documents can be found on the SMP Update 2020 Documents page (link above on the left). We suggest that you start by reading the "Guide to Reviewing Draft SMP Update Amendments," as it contains a background to the update, a overview of the amendments being proposed, and a listing of where the Council’s scoped amendments can be found.

How to Use this Webpage

This webpage will be periodically updated to provide to the public the latest schedule, documents generated, notices of meetings, and other relevant information. We suggested that readers periodically visit it to keep abreast of progress and to obtain the latest information. If you would like to be notified of updates to this page via email or text, please subscribe to our list serve here. Follow the instructions to subscribe, then scroll down to the item called “Planning & Development Services – Shoreline Master Program Update 2020” in the section called News Flash and choose the way you would like to be notified (email or text).

Public Outreach and Participation

The County is committed to providing multiple opportunities for public participation throughout the process and will use 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 will hold at least one meeting (though probably multiple) to discuss the draft amendments. As part of their review, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to solicit input on the update. Planning Commission meetings are open to the public.

After receiving public comment and evaluating the proposed amendments, the Planning Commission will provide their recommendations to the County Council. The Whatcom County Council also will hold at least one hearing to take public comments before final adoption.

The County plans to take advantage of the optional joint-review process for SMP amendments, which allows for a joint state-local comment period and public hearing (WAC 173-26-104). County staff will coordinate with the Washington State Department of Ecology on public notification of the comment period and hearing(s).

Public notice of all hearings will state who is holding the comment period and/or hearing, the date and time, and the location of any public hearing. Notices will be published per official policy and comply with all other legal requirements, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. A notice will be sent to the County’s email distribution list and the Washington State Department of Ecology.

All documents under consideration will be available on this webpage and at the County’s Planning and Development Services office, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham, WA 98226. Interested parties are encouraged to provide comments by letter or email (to the address provided in section 2.8). All comments will be compiled and provided to the Planning Commission and County Council.

The Public Participation Plan can be found here.

Planning Commission Review

The Planning Commission's review will begin with a workshop on October 22, 2020, wherein staff will present an overview of the documents and process. No policy discussion will be held; staff will only orient the Commission to the documents. Until further notice, all Commission meetings will be on-line (virtual) due to the pandemic. Interested parties can find the materials and sign up to participate in any of the Commission's meetings at (Note: While one can watch/listen to workshops, it is up to the Commission to invite members of the public to speak; workshops are not public hearings.) 

We anticipate the Commission will continue its review on November 12, December 10, and probably their two meetings in January (1/14 & 1/28). A date for the Commission's public hearing has not yet been set. 

General Schedule

As you can imagine, our original schedule has been thrown out of kilter with the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the impact on the County’s budget in addressing the pandemic, our project budget has been scaled back, which has caused us to curtail the use of our consultant and rely on staff to do much of the work. Staff assignments and schedules were also jostled to deal with the pandemic. And for quite a few months the Planning Commission was unable to meet. The bottom line is we are now anticipating Planning Commission review in the Fall/Winter of 2020, with the Council review in the Winter/Spring of 2021. Our goal (and actual deadline) is to have the SMP update completed by June of 2021.