Policy set for dock standards

This view of a Mercer Island waterfront home, taken a year ago, shows the type of native vegetation encouraged along the shore and in the lake, which can help young salmon avoid predators.  - City of Mercer Island/Contributed Photo
This view of a Mercer Island waterfront home, taken a year ago, shows the type of native vegetation encouraged along the shore and in the lake, which can help young salmon avoid predators.
— image credit: City of Mercer Island/Contributed Photo

As the City Council prepares to vote on whether or not to approve the draft Shoreline Master Plan for submittal to the state Department of Ecology in August, Council members had their say about what they think should be the standards applied for docks and covered moorage at their June 20 meeting.

The task for the City Council is to put forward standards that they say make sense for Islanders and that will meet the spirit of the laws regarding environmental protection. If the draft plan is approved, city planners and government representatives will negotiate the final set of rules about development on the shoreline.

New SMP standards will apply primarily to new docks or structures, not to existing shoreline alterations that are to be repaired or replaced. Docks that are to be replaced, however, are required to be built with newer materials that will meet the intent of the new standards such as transparent or grated dock surfaces.

The State Department of Ecology standard for new docks in Lake Washington are that they be no wider than four feet for at least the first 30 feet. Council members sought ways to offer flexible dock sizing options to set up a way to negotiate with DOE. But four feet simply seems to narrow.

Councilmember Meyer Brahm stated that the four-foot-wide standard was too narrow and potentially unsafe, especially on busy summer days with children playing on docks. Cero agreed, comparing the four-foot width to a balance beam. Councilmember Dan Grausz countered that it would be more workable to present the DOE with a proposal that would agree to the four-foot-wide level for the first 30 feet, then go to a larger eight-foot width further out from the shore, as most of the concern is about structures along the immediate shoreline.

After the first 30 feet, the standard could move to eight feet wide at the larger portion of the dock at the end. The Council passed this alternative, 5 to 1.

The new SMP will include ways to offset adverse impacts of non-standard structures by allowing measures to be taken, to mitigate their effects such as increasing plantings of native vegetation.

Taking into account that each new structure or action taken is different, each permit issued is as unique as each development, City Development Director Tim Stewart explained.

The standards being debated are to ensure that no new structures would cause any more loss or damage to the lake and the habitat it provides than what already exists. In DOE terms, the plan measures are to ensure that there is “no net loss to the ecological function of the environment.” In other words, a homeowner replacing an existing dock is allowed to do so without extensive changes. A dock that is now eight feet wide can be replaced with a similar-sized structure.

Young migrating fish, such as the Puget Sound salmon — a species of salmon that is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act — needs light to see predators. The survival of the Puget Sound salmon is linked to the survival of Puget Sound’s killer whales, also listed as threatened, as the whale feed on the salmon.

Under city laws, dredging of any type along the shore is not allowed. Certain dredging may be allowed by the state, if it improves fish habitat. Dredging requires a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

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