Three conservation groups on Wednesday petitioned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to change how it regulates seawalls, bulkheads or other barriers to increase habitat protections along Puget Sound shorelines.
SEATTLE — Three conservation groups on Wednesday petitioned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to change how it regulates seawalls, bulkheads or other barriers to increase habitat protections along Puget Sound shorelines.
Such concrete or rock structures prevent erosion and protect waterfront homes, but they also alter beaches and disrupt habitat for juvenile salmon, forage fish and other species.
So Friends of San Juans, the Washington Environmental Council and Sound Action are asking the Corps’ Seattle District to use its authority to regulate so-called “shoreline armoring” projects in tidal areas.
“We have good laws for federal oversight and they’re not being implemented,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the groups.
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Work in, over or under waters typically requires a Clean Water Act permit from the Corps. But most barriers are built along Puget Sound shorelines without an Army Corps review because of the way the federal agency sets its jurisdiction in tidal areas, the groups said. The Corps’ jurisdiction should be more expansive and extend to the true high tide line, they said.
Federal fisheries biologists agree.
The National Marine Fisheries Service also has asked the Corps to use a different approach. It said the result of the Corps using a lower boundary to establish its jurisdiction means that extensive habitat areas important to federally protected salmon and other marine life aren’t “adequately protected.”
“We support Corps review of shoreline projects because we are still losing important shoreline habitat,” Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the fisheries service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Wednesday.
More than 1 mile of Puget Sound shoreline is built up each year, most without Corps permits and thus without a review by federal fisheries biologists of whether such projects harm federally endangered species, NOAA has told the Corps.
Scott Lawrence, an Army Corps spokesman, said the agency received the petition Wednesday, and it was still reviewing it.
Rock or concrete walls have been erected along about one-quarter of Puget Sound’s 2,500 miles of shorelines, and over time, those barriers turn sandy beaches into rocky areas that aren’t welcoming to forage fish and other species, according to the Puget Sound Partnership. The state agency has set a 2020 goal to remove more barriers than what goes in.
The conservation groups say that the Corps’ failure to exercise jurisdiction to the true high tide line violates the Clean Water Act and reduces protections for natural resources.
They also ask the federal agency to make formal determinations on several shoreline projects, including public works projects in Mason, Kitsap and Skagit counties to repair rock wall bulkheads or seawalls.