Enjoying the recreation and serenity that comes from living and playing on the waters of Lake Stevens is one of the motivations residents have for making Lake Stevens home, but with that promise of enjoyment comes the responsibility of taking care of the fish and other living creatures that call the lake their home as well.
The concern of the State of Washington, through the Department of Ecology and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, is that larger more predatory fish can hide in the shadows of the docks. When small fish swim into those shadows they don’t have time to adjust their vision and therefore have little chance at survival against the larger fish.
The state is requiring that cities consider actions that would affect shoreline modifications, including docks and homes, and shoreline stabilization which includes actions that would address erosion impacts to properties through flooding, tides, winds and other natural processes.
“The waters belong to the state so they have a right to say what happens on the waters and also a regulations right to say what we do on the shoreline up to 200 feet,” Becky Ableman, Planning Director for the City of Lake Stevens said.
Because Lake Stevens is the largest lake in Snohomish County and also has Catherine Creek and Little Pilchuck Creek flowing from it, it is considered a Shoreline of Statewide Significance through the Shoreline Management Act of 1971. This definition, in simple terms, includes lakes whose area is greater than 20 acres.
“Lake Stevens is 1,014 acres, and is therefore included in a classification of unique shorelines known as Shorelines of Statewide Significance. The City’s shoreline planning area has grown extensively due to multiple annexations around Lake Stevens, and eastward to also encompass the shorelines of Catherine Creek and Little Pilchuck Creek,” a report by The Watershed Company states. This report was completed at the request of the City in order to update the city’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP), which is required by law.
The City began this process two years ago and after holding public meetings, implementing a Citizen Advisory Committee, and also listening to the concerns of the public through public hearings, the city staff and city council are now in the final stages of completing the program before submitting the program to the Washington State Department of Ecology for final review and adoption.
“The Federal Core of Engineers’ Regional permit spells out the standards for docks which is where the DOE gets its baseline for docks,” Ableman said. “They’ve been a little less stringent because we don’t have the endangered species that many other cities have.”
However, after public comments at last week’s city council meeting and other citizen concerns, the mayor, staff and council would like to take a little more time to ensure that the wants of the citizens and the requirements from the state, can meet a little closer to the middle.
“I think there are a number of areas in the current SMP draft that can be improved to give homeowners more certainty over protecting the value of their property. At the same time, I think there is misunderstanding of what is allowed and what is not allowed which leads to homeowners’ deep concern that they will not be able to use their property and/or lose value,” City Councilmember John Spencer said. “The community group, working with city leaders can work to improve the plan and clear up misunderstandings.”
Residents who live on the lake or who have docks are concerned that property values may go down if the DOE standards are wholly adopted by the city. The other large concern is the cost incurred and permitting needed if and when they decide to reconstruct, renovate or replace their docks.
“I would very much like to see the homeowners group and the city come together in agreement on a plan that will, without doubt, protect the quality and habitat of our lake, provide homeowners with certainty to protect their property values and city administrators flexibility to fit the rules to the conditions,” Spencer said. “I’ve nearly given up on the idea of creating incentives in the plan to encourage re-development, but will give it another try as we move forward.”
Homeowners do have options when and if they decide to remove or reconstruct their docks including using a 60 percent ambient light transmission grading material or by simply spreading the dock slates further apart creating at least 60 percent more light going through to the water.
In the current draft plan, Councilmember Spencer feels that it may be too harsh for our lake.
“The plan goes a long way toward protecting fish. However, I think the rigidity over the width of docks, even with day-lighting, has not been justified. While the need to provide day-lighting along the inter-shore areas is well documented in fishery studies, the application of that standard to our lake is far too rigid,” he said. “It is being imposed on the basis of being easy to regulate. I don’t think our situation is suitable for a one size fits all situation. Our lakeshore is more than 90 percent developed. We cannot “unwind” that overnight or even over many years.”
The council has agreed to meet with homeowners groups and then hopefully, come up with a plan that will please both the state and homeowners.
“Lake Stevens is the centralizing asset of our community. We have a great deal at stake to do this plan right and there is no reason why the homeowners and citizens can’t do it best,” Spencer said.
“Whatever the city does they have to prove that they’re meeting state regulations,” Ableman said. “We don’t have as much flexibility as we do in other planning situations.”
For more information on the city’s Shoreline Master Program visit ci.lake-stevens.wa.us/ShoreLineMasterProgram.htm on the City of Lake Stevens website.