Comprehensive plan confronts climate change

The San Juan County Comprehensive Plan is slated to be updated by next summer. Islanders are already combing through its over 1,000 pages to give county officials recommendations on sections, from housing to land use. This is the first of an ongoing series, looking at the comprehensive plan through a particular lens. The first issue — the environment.


Local environmental grassroots organizations like Friends of the San Juans and Islands Climate Resilience are gearing up to review the plan.

“We’re working with citizen groups on different islands who are interested in the comprehensive plan to make sure it reflects the vision and values they think are important here on the islands,” said Friends of the San Juans Staff Attorney Kyle Loring. Friends of the San Juans advocates clean water, forests and food through science and education.

Loring said he plans to give the following recommendations:

• The Parks, Trails and Natural Areas Plan and Nonmotorized Plan 2017-22 lists several ways to increase non-motorized travel, like walking trails and bike paths, but Loring would like to include funding mechanisms for them in the section’s 222 pages. The more incentives for non-motorized vehicles, the less carbon output, he said.

• The transportation section states to “consider the risk of sea level rise in expenditures of public funds for transportation infrastructure.” Loring wants to not just think about the risks, but ensure new transportation infrastructure isn’t in danger of being destroyed by sea level rises over a certain time period or the life of the structure.

Island Climate Resilience member Katie Flemming, who also works for the Friends of the San Juans, said the group will use resources from the Bainbridge Island climate change organization EcoAdapt to make recommendations.

EcoAdapt employees created a guide to help Puget Sound municipalities review climate change in comprehensive plans. They even presented it to state officials to possibly update Growth Management Act requirements.

The guide lists questions on the effects of climate change, such as how shifts in precipitation, sea level and average seasonal temperature would affect sections of the plan like transportation, housing and capital facilities. Capital facilities are government-run buildings and services like roads, schools, parks, and sewer systems.

According to EcoAdapt Executive Director Lara Hansen, climate change will differ in the 20-year-outlook comprehensive plans are required to consider, so planning for it is necessary.

“If you aren’t incorporating climate change in that framework you’re creating, you’re limiting the ability to deliver successful outcomes for your community going forward,” said Hansen.

Islands Climate Resilience is comprised of seven islanders, who have educated the community about climate change since 2014 through lectures, forums, a documentary series, and book club. Each member is assigned a section of the comprehensive plan to review issues, starting May 18.

Islanders can join the groups’ efforts by contacting Flemming at the Friends of the San Juans at 378-2319. According to a January council briefing on the comprehensive plan, open houses and surveys will be held from July through September with a county council hearing slated for February 2018.

Shoreline Master Program

Only a section of the San Juan County’s Shoreline Master Program is incorporated in the comprehensive plan. The program was adopted by county council last year but is being amended to receive approval by Washington’s Department of Ecology.

The SMP protects natural resources. These include preventing soil erosion, said Loring, and protecting insects, which feed young Chinook salmon. This feeds the dwindling population of Southern resident killer whales.

The 58 recommended minor changes from the Department of Ecology and the county include omitting redundant text, renumbering changed sections and creating consistency with the state’s Shoreline Master Act. According to the Department of Ecology, the act has “prevent[ed] the inherent harm in an uncoordinated and piecemeal development of the state’s shorelines” since its 1972 adoption.

Once approved, the SMP part of the comprehensive plan will be complete. Amendments were sent to the Department of Ecology by the deadline of May 10. County officials will create an ordinance to amend the SMP update, which is expected to take six to eight weeks and when approved by Ecology officials, will go into effect 14 days later.

Over 260 Washington towns, cities and counties are required to update SMPs by the state. Specific issues involving the environment, and listed under the comprehensive plan’s land-use section, were amended in 2012 and will not be updated. The state calls these “critical areas” and defines them as wetlands, regions that feed aquifers for potable water, fish and wildlife habitat conservation sections, floodplains and geologically hazardous areas.

For a brief overview of the comprehensive plan, read this article.