Have a say on the Mercer Island Shoreline Plan

Islander youth take kayaking lessons along the shore of Lake Washington at Luther Burbank Park. - File photo
Islander youth take kayaking lessons along the shore of Lake Washington at Luther Burbank Park.
— image credit: File photo

Thursday, Nov. 8, in the evening, Islanders have another chance to weigh in on the City of Mercer Island’s  update to the Shoreline Master Program (SMP) — and tell state officials exactly what they think.

The SMP governs all development — from docks to beaches to lawns to structures — anything within 200 feet of the Lake Washington shoreline.

The review and changes in this update take into account new science and other findings that have taken place since the first laws requiring cities with shorelines to produce one, passed in the early 1970s.

According to City Planner Travis Saunders, the existing Shoreline Master Plan (SMP) is really a historical document.

“It documents how the environment and the rules governing development have changed over time — and how our response has changed, he explained.

The present SMP update began in 2009 and has entailed hundreds of hours of city staff work, special studies and 20-plus Planning Commission meetings.

Some of the work was paid for by a $150,000 grant from the state Department of Ecology.

Saunders said that the process is a balance between what is already in place, what comes next and making sure that the environment is protected at the same time.

There are three major areas that are up for review in the latest version.

First, docks. The width and decking allowed on new or extended city docks is at issue.

Next: Bulkheads. Any landowner who wishes to build a new bulkhead or expand an existing bulkhead must go through an expanded review process. The process must show that a structure is needed to protect a use or a structure.

Finally: The new plan includes changes and more options for the use of vegetation to mitigate changes to the shoreline.

Saunders emphasizes that existing docks and bulkheads are allowed to remain and to be repaired or maintained. Any extensions or major revisions, however, are subject to the SMP standards and requirements.

“The key to all of this is the ‘no net loss rule,’” said Saunders. “That means existing structures can stay in place and be repaired and maintained. The plan is to make sure that no new structures will take away from or degrade the shoreline.”

Saunders points out that 80 percent of the Mercer Island shoreline has already been “armored” with bulkheads.

Once finalized, the SMP becomes law governing any new structures and major changes to the shoreline.

Learn more

Islanders are invited to attend the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) open house and public hearing to learn more about Mercer Island’s shoreline program. The agency is seeking public comment on updates to Mercer Island’s Shoreline Master Program and is holding a public hearing on Nov. 8, at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. The DOE will take public comment at 7 p.m.

The shoreline program applies to the Island’s entire Lake Washington shoreline and associated wetlands, including approximately 15 miles of Lake Washington waterfront.

The Department of Ecology has reviewed the city’s first submittal of the update, and at the meeting, will compare Mercer Island’s proposed program to the requirements of the Shoreline Management Act and the Shoreline Master Program Guidelines.

Based on the comparison, DOE will decide whether to: approve the program as is or with recommended changes, or send the proposed program back to Mercer Island with required changes to meet statutory and rule requirements. Recommended changes may also be included with the required changes.

All interested parties are invited to provide comment during this public comment period. There are several ways to provide comments. You only need to submit your comments once.

Learn more: Citizen Guide to Shoreline Master Programs, go to Public comments will be taken until Nov. 26. Comments and questions may be sent to

Documents for public review and comment are available online at

A summary of comments and changes and a notice of Ecology’s decision will be posted when they become available.

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