Proposals to streamline permitting for development in and around state waters have some environmental groups worried. The groups are concerned the changes could weaken crucial protections for fish and their habitat.
The law in question is the state’s Hydraulic Code, which dictates how permits are issued for any project that touches a waterway—things like docks, culverts, and bulkheads. The law’s main aim is to protect fish and their habitat.
“It is what sets the standards, and it’s really the gatekeeper for environmental protection in the face of development and construction projects," said Amy Carey, executive director of Sound Action, an environmental watchdog group which aims to enforce the law.
Carey is concerned it will be watered down with updated rules that are meant to streamline the permitting process, and that that could create new loopholes.
“One example is they propose a simplified permit, which they’ve not yet willingly defined," she said. "What project would that be?”
But Pat Chapman with the Department of Fish and Wildlife says the changes are meant only to make it easier to apply for and review the permits. He says whether it's a streamlined permit for simple projects or a full-blown process for a more complicated project, the protections in the law will remain as strict as ever.
“The end result is going to be that we’re going to meet our statutory requirement to protect fish life,” Chapman said.
The public can learn more at a statewide series of six public meetings that begin this week. The first one will be held Thursday in Mill Creek.