Bill would exempt Seattle houseboats from environmental regs

February 2011 News Vanessa Ho -

A bill pending in the Legislature would exempt Seattle houseboats from state shoreline regulations and give houseboaters more rights when leasing state-owned land.

The bill is the latest salvo in a fight in how to regulate Seattle's roughly 500 houseboats. For months, the city has been updating its shoreline rules through a long process directed by the state, which takes a dim ecological view of the iconic floating homes. The state says houseboats are bad for salmon.

That position has led Seattle to propose a ban on all new houseboats. The city also wants to ban the building of houseboat basements. As the city pondered other limits, houseboaters on Lake Union and Portage Bay grew increasingly nervous that they would be "regulated off the lake."

That's where Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, and other Seattle lawmakers stepped in with some legislation (HB 1783, SB 5623). The bills would exempt Seattle houseboats from the Shoreline Management Act - which regulates environmental protection and public access of waterfronts - and change how houseboats are defined.

Instead of calling floating homes a "water-oriented" use under the current law, the bill would make Seattle houseboats a "water-dependent" use.

That slight change in words would have no immediate visible effect on houseboats, but would guide future regulation, and the stakes are big. The bill is opposed by environmentalists, the city of Seattle, and the state departments of Ecology and Natural Resources.

When leasing land, the state gives preference to water-dependent uses, which need water to exist, over water-oriented uses, which could technically exist on land. Examples of "dependent" things include a marina or shellfish harvesting plant.

"Water-oriented" activities include a boat store, waterfront restaurant, fish-processing plant, and houseboat.


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