When the Skagit County draft update of the Shoreline Master Plan (SMP) came out of the County Planning Commission last fall, many local groups, including Skagit Audubon, were disappointed that their input regarding sea level rise was not addressed. As the plan advanced to the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC), this disappointment led to the formation of a loose coalition of local and state environmental groups, including Skagit Audubon and Audubon Washington.
Sea level rise is particularly a critical issue in Skagit County. The low-lying land of the Skagit Delta is the largest area in Puget Sound at risk for inundation under sea level rise projections. It is also designated as an Important Bird Area, and is the only river in Washington with all five species of salmonids. Without forward thinking and planning, sea level rise could have profound effects on both human infrastructure and shoreline ecosystem values and functions. Audubon and our coalition partners provided comments in the hearing process before the BoCC, written testimony, and letters-to-the-editor of the local paper. We are pleased to see that the BoCC is approving changes to the draft that allow for some consideration of sea level rise in siting future development and land use decisions. They have also signaled an openness to pursuing funding for a more comprehensive sea level rise amendment.
Our next steps include working with the Department of Ecology on their review of the Skagit SMP update. In addition to our comments on sea level rise, there are a few other specific provisions in the SMP that could provide stronger shoreline protections or which may not meet State Shoreline Management Act requirements.
Building on Audubon efforts in Skagit County, we are also seeking funding to help us expand these efforts to several other counties in the north sound that have not yet addressed sea level rise, or which could strengthen their plans through amended county policies and shoreline regulations.