Shoreline Code Update - FAQs
What does the term 'non-conforming' mean when applied to a structure?
It's a term used to decribe a use or structure that was in compliance with regulations at the time it was developed.
Why is the County updating its shoreline codes?
The state legislature changed its shoreline standards and is requiring an update.

The state legislature updated the Shoreline Management Act of 1971 in 2003. As part of the update, they are requiring Washington's Department of Ecology to work with jurisdictions like Thurston County to update shoreline building codes at local levels. 

They also provide grants to counties that update their SMP. Thurston County received a grant which funded much of the work. Read more in DOE’s Frequently Asked Questions about the Shoreline Master Programs (PDF). Or in DOE's Shoreline Permitting Manual: Guidance for Local Governments (PDF).

What is changing?
The DOE is requiring updates to focus on managing shorelines in the wake of the state’s explosive population growth (population has more than doubled since 1972),

​The code updates fall broadly into four main areas:

  1.  Avoiding loss of life/property through safe building practices (e.g. not too close to slide, quake or flood areas).
  2.  Community and economic development around waterfronts and shorelines; certainty for developers, including existing shoreline property owners.
  3.  Continuing the state’s tradition of maintaining public access to shorelines.
  4.  Avoiding loss of natural beauty and function from overuse (which is part of the economic benefit to the state). Read about ‘No Net Loss of Shoreline Ecological Function’ from the Department of Ecology (PDF).

Who is participating in the update? Who has authority to approve the County's final shoreline codes?
The code update is being directed by Thurston's Board of County Commissioners (BoCC), and includes active citizen participation.

In addition to the BoCC, citizens are encouraged to participate. Also participating, is the Thurston County Planning Commission (a citizen advisory group appointed by the BoCC), a Community Stakeholder Group, and a Regulatory Group.

Once the Board of County Commissioners is satisfied with the draft, they will adopt it and submit it to the state's Department of Ecology who is authorized by the state legislature to have the final review and approval authority. Read the law WAC 173-26 for details.

What is the update process?
It includes bringing regulations into compliance with the current laws, new DOE guidelines and court cases. Once County Commissioners adopt their locally-approved SMP, they will submit it to the Dept. of Ecology for review and approval.
The County has completed an initial draft of the updated shoreline code (also called the proposed update to the Shorline Master Program). The draft is being reviewed one chapter at a time by Planning Commission at their bimonthly meetings.  You can find draft shoreline documents on the County's website. You can send your comments about the proposed shoreline update to the County for review. Community comments and input are available for review on the County’s website, as well.

What is the timeline for finishing the Shoreline Master Program update?
Thurston's Board of County Commissioners set the timeline. They would like a program as soon as possible, but they also encouraged community participation, which takes time. The Planning Commission is currently reviewing the documents.

​A virtual open house is currently being prepared for launch when the Planning Commission completes their review. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing in summer or fall 2021.

The Washington state legislature referenced timing of code updates in the Revised Code of Washington RCW 90.58.070.

Where can I find the Washington state laws related to this shoreline code update?
Find details online. Links to the state legislature's website and the Department of Ecology website are provided.
Will property taxes be raised to implement this program?
No. Taxes won't be raised to implement the shoreline codes.
Are the buffers expected to change?
Many buffers are staying the same. Some may change. Buffer widths will be based on shoreline designations, and the presence of potential critical areas.