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Process of permit appeals run amok | Guest Column
By Stephen Belluomini
My primary purpose in writing this opinion is to highlight a significant flaw in the shoreline permit process in San Juan County.
I am a Washington state-licensed engineering geologist and an islander who loves living here. In recent years I have been hired by a number of shoreline property owners to provide expert testimony regarding their shoreline projects. Geological assessments for docks and bulkheads are among the most common requests for my professional services.
Unfortunately, too often it has been my experience that after a property owner has reached the point in the regulatory process where their permits have been fully approved by federal, tribal, state and county agencies, and after paying permit, legal, and technical expert fees, they are challenged with an 11th hour appeal of their project.
The appealing parties have never performed or acknowledged, as appropriate, the validity of detailed site-specific studies at the permit location that serve as the basis for the permit approvals. Nonetheless, they intervene in the permit process, submit reams of largely irrelevant information to the hearing examiners, boards and judges, and burden landowners with costly appeals of one county approval after another.
Regardless of the facts in the case, their endgame is to make the cost of defense so burdensome that the property owner abandons their proposed project.
I have observed an appealing party file an irrelevant scientific paper based on studies done at locations as far away as Brunswick, England all the while failing to mention to the hearing examiner or the shoreline commissioners that their pile of paper has nothing to do with the proposed shoreline project. The reams of random and irrelevant scientific papers only serve to bewilder the hearing officers or the Shoreline Hearing Board judges about the issues at hand--as they are apparently meant to.
Thank you for considering these points.
— Editor’s note: Stephen Belluomini is an engineering geologist with over 35 years of experience providing technical support to water resources and regulatory agencies from project planning, design, construction, and reclamation. He is a Common Sense Alliance board member and San Juan Islands Conservation District board member.