Shore Friendly FAQs
1. How can I protect my property from erosion?
Erosion can be caused by a number of different factors – geography, soil type, shoreline shape, drainage, etc. – which means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Historically, shoreline property owners have built hard armor - such as concrete bulkheads, wood pile bulkheads, rip rap, or shoreline retaining walls - in an attempt to slow erosion, but these hard armoring techniques are now known to be harmful to the marine environment and are not 100% effective.
So, it only makes sense that in the last few years there has been a movement towards more natural, and more naturally beautiful shorelines. For example, if your house is set back far enough, and/or you're at a site with low wave energy, your best option may be to leave the shore completely natural. However, if your property is in need of protection, your solution may very well be soft shore protection.
2. What does soft shore protection look like?
Soft shore protection is the process of designing natural materials such as gravel, sand, logs or roots in such a way to protect a shoreline from erosion. Accordingly, beaches with soft shore protection generally look more like natural beaches, as opposed to hard armoring which gives beaches more of a "blunt" look, while providing easier access to the beach for recreation and further protecting the Puget Sound ecosystem. So you're not losing property, you're gaining beach.
3. How much does soft shore protection cost?
Soft shore protection ranges in price, but in many cases it can be a more cost-effective solution than building a bulkhead. Since the approach to soft shore protection is to leave the beach as natural - and as beautiful - as possible, the desired result can often be achieved by just planting native vegetation or by the strategic placement of logs on the beach.
Permits: Soft shore protection, like most shorefront modifications, requires a permit in Island County. Contact Island County Planning & Community Development or take a look at this flowchart for more information on the process.
4. Does soft shore protection require a lot of maintenance?
All residential shorelines need some amount of maintenance, but as a natural solution, soft shore generally requires relatively little. Experts have reported that in the first 20 years, only about 4% of projects have needed any maintenance. When it gets to 30-35 years, that number increases to about 15-20%.
When the time does finally come for soft shore maintenance, experts say it's typically about 1/3 the cost of initial installation. Consequently, since soft shore is cheaper to install than bulkheads, that's another round of savings down the road.
5. Can I still have my view with soft shore protection or do I have to plant tall trees?
Many soft shore protection options allow you to keep your beautiful Northwest view. Of course, trees can provide stability to slopes and shoreline, so removal is not usually recommended. However, there are pruning options that may allow you to maintain that view while keeping your shoreline stable and natural.
6. How do I know which native plants are right to use?
The Washington Department of Ecology has a guide for vegetation management on bluffs. Your local Conservation District has expertise and resources for planting and natural resource management at your property. Whidbey and Snohomish Conservation Districts each hold an annual native plant sale, with pre-orders starting in November-December. For a more personalized approach, you can hire a professional to assess your property for soft shore protection options. They can make customized plant suggestions that work best with your unique geography.
7. What impact does a bulkhead have on the environment?
To put it simply, hard armoring is hard on the Pacific Northwest. Besides increasing erosion on neighboring shores and taking away valuable beachfront, hard armoring can have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem as well. Bulkheads can alter or eliminate upper beach areas that are used by small fish to lay their eggs. This can result in fewer small fish for the larger fish to eat. And that can translate into a reduction in the food supply for salmon and orcas.
Hard armoring can also restrict the amount of sediment making its way down to your beach from the "feeder bluffs" above. A reduction in the amount of sand and gravel that naturally makes its way down to the shoreline can result in the gradual lowering or even the disappearance of a beach. It can also go on to impact an entire shoreline, and in turn, an entire ecosystem.
8. My property seems fine now, but I'm worried about sea level rise. Will soft shore protection work for sea level rise and storm surges or do I need a bulkhead?
In the majority of cases, soft shore protection is the preferred type of protection against the effects of climate change and sea level rise. Hard armor, on the other hand locks up sands and sediment, and that's not good for the long term. By keeping the sand and sediment loose, natural cycles will actually help protect the shoreline as the sea level rises. Plus, natural shorelines that diffuse energy instead of deflecting it are more effective at dealing with storm surge waters.
9. If I have hard armor in place currently, is the damage already done?
Not by a longshot! The removal of bulkheads can be a great option in many places. Already, a number of successful bulkhead removal projects on public and private beaches have resulted in more attractive, accessible and Pacific Northwest-friendly shorelines.
10. How can I be sure soft shore protection will work for my property?
Soft shore protection works for a wide variety of properties all over the Pacific Northwest, so it's likely some component will be a good fit for you. While the strategies mentioned here may work on your property, you should seek professional advice and be sure to apply for the appropriate permits. Check with Island County Planning & Community Development to address questions specific to your property, and confirm policies, regulations, and required permits.