Shoreline Management Plan Periodic Update 2020

Whatcom County is nearing the end of its periodic update of its Shoreline Management Plan (WCC Title 23, or SMP). It is anticipated that Council will adopt the proposed amendments by mid-December 2021. 

If you would like to be notified of changes or additions to this page, please sign up for the County's "Notify Me" service here and choose the "Planning & Development Services - SMP Update" category.

Contact Us

Interested parties can learn about the process, where to find information, and submit comments, by contacting the Project Manager for this project:

Cliff Strong, Senior Planner
5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, WA 98226

What is a periodic update?

Whatcom County (County) is undertaking a periodic review of its Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), as required by the Washington State Shoreline Management Act, RCW 90.58.080(4). The Shoreline Management Act requires each SMP be reviewed, and revised if needed, on an eight-year schedule established by the state Legislature. The review ensures the SMP stays current with changes in laws and rules, remains consistent with other County plans and regulations, and is responsive to changed circumstances, new information and improved data.

This periodic update will focus on reviewing relevant legislative updates since 2007 and incorporating any applicable amendments; ensuring consistency with regulations for critical areas and flood hazard areas; and improving the overall functionality of the SMP for use by applicants and staff. This periodic update is not required to re-evaluate the ecological baseline that was established as part of the 2007 comprehensive update; extensively assess no net loss criteria other than to ensure that proposed amendments do not result in degradation of the baseline condition; or change shoreline jurisdiction or environment designations, unless deemed appropriate and necessary by the County.

Amendments are being proposed to various parts of the Comprehensive Plan and Whatcom County Code, including Chapters 8, 10, and 11 of the CompPlan; the SMP regulations (WCC Title 23); the County’s land use permitting regulations (WCC Title 22); the County’s Critical Areas regulations (WCC Ch. 16.16), and the SMP Environment Designations map. These documents can be found on the SMP Update 2020 Documents page (link above on the left). We suggest that you start by reading the "Guide to Reviewing Draft SMP Update Amendments," as it contains a background to the update, a overview of the amendments being proposed, and a listing of where the Council’s scoped amendments can be found.

How to Use this Webpage

This webpage will be periodically updated to provide to the public the latest schedule, documents generated, notices of meetings, and other relevant information. We suggested that readers periodically visit it to keep abreast of progress and to obtain the latest information. If you would like to be notified of updates to this page via email or text, please subscribe to our list serve here. Follow the instructions to subscribe, then scroll down to the item called “Planning & Development Services – Shoreline Master Program Update 2020” in the section called News Flash and choose the way you would like to be notified (email or text).

Public Outreach and Participation

The County is committed to providing multiple opportunities for public participation throughout the process and will use a variety of communication tools to inform the public and encourage participation including this website, a list-serve, news releases, public notices, and open houses. The early stages of the process was used to gather input and outline the extent of the review. The County Council then adopted a scope of potential amendments based on input from staff, the public, local jurisdictions, tribes, and other stakeholders.

Based on the scope, County staff and consultants drafted amendments to the County’s SMP. These draft amendments were issued for a 30-day public review period (Aug 18 - Sep 18, 2020) prior to being forwarded to the Planning Commission for their review.

The Planning Commission has held 11 public workshops wherein they have made tentative decisions on key issues. A joint public hearing with the Planning Commission and the Department of Ecology has now been scheduled for April 22, 2021 (see below). After receiving public comment and evaluating the proposed amendments, the Planning Commission will provide their recommendations to the County Council. The Whatcom County Council also will hold at least one hearing to take public comments before final adoption.

Prior to the Joint Public Hearing, we are issuing the draft documents, as tentatively approved by the Planning Commission during their workshops, for one more 30-day public review period. Interested parties are encouraged to provide comments by letter or email (to the address provided in section 2.8). All comments will be compiled and provided to the Planning Commission and County Council. 

All documents are available for review at Due to Covid-19 restrictions and offices being closed, please contact Cliff Strong at the below email address if you need paper copies to review.

Comments may be submitted to: Cliff Strong at

Public notice of all hearings will state who is holding the comment period and/or hearing, the date and time, and the location of any public hearing. Notices will be published per official policy and comply with all other legal requirements, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. A notice will be sent to the County’s email distribution list and the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The Public Participation Plan can be found here.

Joint Planning Commission/Department of Ecology Public Hearing

The Planning Commission has completed its review of the periodic update, holding 11 public workshops beginning in October 2020. There review culminated in a joint public hearing with Dept. of Ecology staff on April 22, 2021. The Commission approved the draft documents (with some additional changes) and forwarded their recommendation to the County Council on May 13, 2020.

After the public hearing the P/C approved documents were forwarded to the Dept. of Ecology for its review and initial determination, which contained some required and some recommended changes. Staff has incorporated these changes into the documents prepared for the Council's public hearing.

Council Review, Approval, and Adoption

The Council, through their Committee of the Whole, began its review of the proposed Planning Commission recommended amendments on July 13, 2021. The Council has since held 6 public workshops. It is anticipated the Council will hold its own public hearing on November 23, 2021, and approve the amendments to be forwarded to the Dept. of Ecology on December 7th. Ecology will then perform its final review. Once Ecology is done (and they may or may not have additional required changes), the whole packet will be forwarded to Council for final adoption. Hopefully this will be by the end of January 2022.