Washington Law Review


Wake wash from high-speed vessels such as the Chinook passenger ferry accelerates erosion, destroys kelp and shellfish beds, and endangers recreational boaters in Puget Sound. The Washington Shoreline Management Act (SMA) grants the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) and local governments authority to regulate water uses in order to protect the shoreline environment. The federal Coastal Zone Management Act echoes this policy and mandates federal-state cooperation in the development and protection of the coastal zone. Although the U.S. Coast Guard traditionally regulates vessel traffic in Puget Sound pursuant to Title I of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act, the Coast Guard has failed to protect shorelines from the adverse environmental impacts of vessel wake wash. This Comment argues that the DOE and local governments should construe the SMA to authorize the regulation of vessel speed in Puget Sound to protect ecologically sensitive shorelines from destructive wake wash. This argument finds support in the text of the SMA, interpretations of its scope, the language and legislative history of the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, and the coastal zone management programs of other states. This Comment concludes that federal preemption rules protecting states' interests in fulfilling peculiar environmental needs suggest that Coast Guard speed regulations should not preempt vessel-speed regulations promulgated by the DOE and local governments pursuant to the SMA.

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