Category Archives: Waterfront residents

Will fake killer whale fool sea lions in Astoria — and what if it does?

I was eager to find out if a 32-foot fiberglass replica of a killer whale could scare off a huge number of sea lions crowded together on the docks in Astoria, Ore.

I kept telling my wife Sue, “It’s not going to work” — and I had not the slightest idea that the motorized orca might capsize during its attempt to frighten the persistent sea lions.

About 1,000 people were on hand last night when a human operator drove the orca toward the sea lions, according to Associated Press reporter Terrence Petty. A passing cargo ship created a wake that rushed toward the shore and capsized the fake killer whale. And that was that for now. You can read the story in the Kitsap Sun.

I understand that the fake killer whale might be deployed again against the sea lions in August, when their numbers are expected to be high again. I still doubt that it will work — unless the operators can find a way to aggressively approach the sea lions and stay with the effort for an extended time. It might help to play recordings of transient killer whales — the kind that eat marine mammals. But my understanding is that transients don’t make many sounds when they are in their hunting mode.

I readily admit that I’m not a killer whale expert, but let me tell you why I believe that any sort of limited effort with fake orcas will fail. It’s not that sea lions don’t fear transients. In fact, if sea lions can be convinced that they are being approached by a real killer whale, their fear level could be quite high.

I’ve heard from homeowners who live on Hood Canal, Dyes Inlet and other shorelines that when transient killer whales are around, seals and sea lions head for shore, climb up on docks and even attempt to board boats to get away from them.

So I don’t know if the fiberglass orca will fool the sea lions in Astoria, but does anyone think that these marine mammals are crazy enough to jump into the water if they believe a killer is there waiting for them?

County officials identify 18 problem boats; three considered ‘derelict’

A two-day survey of Kitsap County’s shoreline identified 90 boats moored on buoys, at anchor or aground — and 18 of them were found to have some kind of problem, according to Richard Bazzell of the Kitsap Public Health District.

Contractors demolish an old boat turned in as part of a new state program. Photo: Department of Natural Resources
Contractors demolish an old boat turned in as part of a new state program.
Photo: Department of Natural Resources

The survey, conducted Monday and Tuesday, is considered a key step in Kitsap County’s new Derelict Vessel Prevention Program, which I described in a Kitsap Sun story (subscription) last May. The idea is to identify neglected vessels that could pose a risk of sinking if not given some attention.

Of the 18 vessels with problems, three were declared “derelict” boats with a high risk of sinking or polluting the water, based on criteria developed by the state’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program. Owners of those boats will get an official warning, and the state could take control of the boats if the owners fail to make them seaworthy.

Richard told me that he has the greatest concern for a 30-foot power boat moored in Port Gamble Bay. The other two boats are sailboats. Because of their condition, they could be considered illegal dumping and managed under the county’s solid-waste regulations, as well as under the state’s derelict vessels laws, he said.

For the other boats needing attention, the approach will be a friendly reminder, Richard told me. Ten of the 18 boats were unregistered, which is an early sign of neglect for boats in the water. Other problems range from deteriorating hulls to weak lines to excessive algae growth. The greatest concerns are that the boats will spill toxic chemicals, such as fuel, or create a navigational hazard for other boats.

It was encouraging to find a relatively small number of boats with problems, Richard said.

“We were expecting to run into a lot more problems,” he noted. “Surprisingly, we didn’t, and that is a good thing.”

The county will offer technical assistance to help boat owners figure out what to do, and educational workshops could provide general maintenance information.

Boats with the most significant problems were found in these Kitsap County embayments: Yukon Harbor in South Kitsap; Dyes and Sinclair inlets in Central Kitsap; and Liberty Bay, Appletree Cove and Port Gamble Bay in North Kitsap.

This week’s survey covered about 250 miles of county shoreline, where the health district’s efforts are funded with a state grant. Excluded are military bases, where private mooring is not allowed, and Bainbridge Island, where the city’s harbormaster is conducting similar work under the state grant.

The overall $250,000 grant for the prevention program is being coordinated by Marc Forlenza, who developed a procedure proven to be successful in San Juan County. Marc credits Joanruth Bauman, who operated the derelict vessel program in San Juan County, as being the brainchild of the prevention program.

Money for the prevention program came from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Puget Sound Restoration Fund. The grant is managed by the Puget Sound Partnership.

Seven counties, including San Juan and Kitsap, are involved in the regional effort. The other counties are King, Pierce, Snohomish, Mason and Jefferson. Thurston County is covered by the Pierce County grant.

Some counties have been up and running for months. Others, including Kitsap, are a little slow because of contract complications. San Juan County contracted with Kitsap County, which then contracted with the health district and Bainbridge Island. Those last contracts were approved earlier this month.

The whole idea, Marc said, is to work with boat owners to keep the vessels from becoming derelict in the first place. If boat owners can take care of the problems, it costs the county and state almost nothing. Once declared derelict, government officials are forced to spend money in an effort to keep boats from sinking.

When a boat sinks, Marc said, the cost of dealing with the problem rises 10-fold, and the resulting pollution can destroy marine life.

In San Juan County, early action on problem boats has reduced the cost of dealing with derelict vessels from $76,000 in 2012 to $23,000 in 2013 to zero in 2014, he said. That doesn’t include vessels taken by the Washington Department of Natural Resources under the new Voluntary Turn-In Program, which I’ll discuss in a moment.

Marc has a good way of dealing with people. He seems to understand the needs and challenges of boat ownership, and he tries to nudge people in the right direction.

“You have to take time to talk to boat owners,” he explained. “I call it ‘boat psychology.’ Some of these people have held onto their boats for 20, 30 or 40 years. They have loved their boat. When I talk to them, some will say, ‘I guess it’s time to let ol’ Betsy go,’ while others will say, ‘Over my dead body.’”

For the latter group, Marc drives home the fact that a boat owner may be held criminally liable for maintaining a derelict boat — and the Attorney General’s Office is now prosecuting such cases. Beyond that, an owner may be held financially responsible if a boat sinks — including the cost of raising the boat along with any natural resource damages caused by pollution.

“That can cost tens of thousands of dollars, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases,” he said. “You try to appeal to people’s better sense.”

In Kitsap County, people who see a boat listing or potentially sinking should call 911. For nonemergency conditions, one can call Kitsap One, 360-337-5777, except for Bainbridge Island where people should call Harbormaster Tami Allen at 206-786-7627. Additional information and phone numbers for other counties can be found on a Puget Sound Partnership webpage.

The DNR’s Vessel Turn-In Program gives some people a way to take action with little cost. To qualify, boats must be less than 45 feet long and have practically no value. The owner must lack the means to repair or dispose of the boat. If approved by DNR, the owner must drive or tow the vessel to a disposal location and turn over ownership to the state. For details, check out the DNR’s website on the Vessel Turn-In Program.

Since the turn-in program started last May, DNR has disposed 19 boats, with another five lined up for disposal, according to Joe Smillie of the agency. The Legislature provided $400,000 for the new turn-in program, which is separate from the larger Derelict Vessel Removal Program.

The removal program targets vessels at risk of sinking. In emergencies, DNR or local agencies can take immediate action, but normally the owner is given at least 30 days to move or repair the vessel.

Since 2002, DNR has removed about 550 abandoned vessels throughout the state. About 150 others have been tagged as “vessels of concern.”

In 2014 alone, 40 vessels were removed, including the sunken Helena Star. The Helena Star was raised from Tacoma’s Hylebos Waterway and salvaged at a cost of $1.16 million, requiring special funding from the Legislature. The owner of the vessel was later charged with a crime.

See the Washington Department of Ecology’s Helena Star website and other information from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.

Bulkhead removal called ‘a story of bravery’

“I think it’s a story of bravery and a story of love for this place,” says Martha Kongsgaard at the beginning of the video on this page.

Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership, is celebrating the removal of a massive bulkhead on Bainbridge Island. The removal, known as the Powel Shoreline Restoration Project, occurred in the fall of 2012. The outcome was to reconnect a saltwater marsh with the lower shoreline by removing 1,500 feet of man-made bulkhead from property owned by the Powel family.

In the midst of the excavation — which removed rocks, logs and huge chunks of concrete — Babe Kehres, a family member whose house overlooks the site commented, “I think it’s going to be beautiful when it’s done. For me, it’s about taking things back to the way nature wanted them to be.”

Reporter Tad Sooter covered the story for the Kitsap Sun (Aug. 30, 2012). It turned out that removing the bulkhead was less costly than repair — but not by a whole lot. Still, restoring the natural conditions provided tremendous ecological benefits without creating undue shoreline erosion.

The video, by Quest Northwest reporter Sarah Sanborn, shows the excavation in progress and explains why we should celebrate the project and the Powel family. But my favorite part is a slideshow on Sarah’s blog, which shows before and after photos of the shoreline. It is easy to imagine why fish, wildlife and other creatures would prefer the more natural condition.

Yesterday’s ‘King Tide’ nearly broke all-time record

Bolstered by a low-pressure weather system, yesterday’s “King Tide” was felt throughout Puget Sound. At its extreme, the high tide came within 0.01 feet of breaking the all-time tidal record set for Seattle on Jan. 27, 1983.

Reporter Chris Henry wrote about some of the local problems in a story published in today’s Kitsap Sun. And the Sun’s editors put together a “photo gallery” of pictures taken by area residents. Pictures from other areas were posted on the Flickr website, where the Department of Ecology manages the “Washington King Tide Photo Initiative.”

I especially liked Jim Groh’s photos of the Poulsbo waterfront. Take a close look at the picture taken yesterday (below) and compare it to the one in Sunday’s Water Ways entry, which shows last year’s King Tide. If the word “Poulsbo” doesn’t look right in the picture below, it’s because the bottom half of the letters are under water.

This week’s King Tides are declining, but they are expected to be high again starting Jan. 14.

Poulsbo’s waterfront on Liberty Bay. / Photo by Jim Groh
Silverdale Waterfront Park on Dyes Inlet. / Photo by John Yates
The boat ramp at Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island was nearly covered by water. / Photo by Julie Leung

Be alert for tidal flooding and King Tide photos

Some of the highest tides of the year, combined with a strong low-pressure system, could provide “King Tide” observers with ideal conditions tomorrow (Monday) for taking pictures of near-flood conditions or even flooding in some places.

This is the third year the Washington Department of Ecology has put out a call for photos of high-tide conditions.

Photo of Poulsbo waterfront taken during “King Tides” Dec. 28, 2011.
Photo by James Groh, Poulsbo

“Documenting how very high tides affect the natural environment and our coastal infrastructure will help us visualize what sea level rise might look like in the future,” states Ecology’s “Climate Change” blog.

The King Tide photo initiative began in Australia in January 2009. Washington and British Columbia joined in 2010, followed by Oregon and California in 2011.

Tide tables predict that tides in Bremerton and Port Orchard will reach 13.4 feet at 8:28 a.m. tomorrow. Check on other locations and other days in Washington state at Saltwater Tides.

The National Weather Service has issued a coastal flood advisory for Western Washington because of low-pressure conditions, which could add 1.5 feet to the tide table prediction. That would put the Bremerton area at 14.9 feet. Check out the Weather Service advisory and the Kitsap Sun story.

While it looks like we’ll have a very high tide, it probably won’t be a record. I was unable to find historical data for Bremerton, but the record high tide for Seattle is 22.4 feet on Jan. 27, 1983. The tide tables predict that Seattle will reach 12.5 feet tomorrow, or 14 feet with the added 1.5 feet because of the low pressure.

Historical data can be found on NOAA’s “Tides and Currents” webpage after selecting a station.

Shortly after I posted this, Jeff Adams of Washington Sea Grant sent me an email to point out that NOAA’s numbers need to be corrected by subtracting 7.94, because NOAA uses a different baseline than we commonly use in this area. That would place the record in Seattle at 14.5 feet, much closer to what we may see tomorrow. I should have known that something was amiss with that data. For more on this point, check out Jeff’s blog, Sea Life. 

King Tides will continue through this week, declining slightly each day, then will return on Jan. 14.

I’m certainly not hoping for high water levels, but where they occur it would be great to have some photos. Feel free to send them to me at cdunagan, as well as uploading to the Flickr page called “Washington King Tide Photo Initiative.”

Orcas hunt for chum salmon in Central Puget Sound

The Southern Resident killer whales have begun their annual travels into Central and South Puget Sound in search of chum salmon.

Southern Resident killer whales passed by Bainbridge Island on Monday.
Photo by Tad Sooter

The shift occurs when chinook salmon have completed their migration and chum are just beginning to come home to their natal streams, as I describe in a story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun. It is widely assumed that the length of their stay depends on their success in finding the later salmon.

This year was predicted to be a low year for fall chum. But Jay Zischke, marine fisheries manager for the Suquamish Tribe, told me that early commercial and test fisheries suggest that the run is either earlier than usual or larger than the preseason forecast. Even so, it may still be a relatively low year for fall chum.

This is the 15th anniversary of another low chum year, 1997, when 19 members of L pod came all the way into Dyes Inlet to find adequate numbers of chum schooled up in front of Chico and Barker creeks. The whales stayed in the inlet for a month and left just before Thanksgiving. There is still debate about whether they wanted to stay that long.

On the 10th anniversary of the event, I wrote about the story of two young researchers, Kelley Balcomb-Bartok and Jodi Smith, who spent most of that month studying the whales and trying to protect them from a massive number of boaters who wanted a front-boat view of the action. Stories, maps and other information about that event can be found on a website called “The Dyes Inlet Whales — Ten Years Later.”
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Shoreline projects gradually restore Puget Sound

We’ve been writing a lot lately about shoreline restoration projects. As with road construction, it seems that the heaviest lifting on restoration projects gets going as summer draws to a close.

About 1,500 feet of bulkhead on Port Madison is being removed by the Powel family with help from Puget Sound Partnership and Bainbridge Island Land Trust. / Photo by Tad Sooter

Notable projects on the Kitsap Peninsula:

Judging from the comments on the stories, some people don’t believe the government should be spending money on environmental restoration when the state and nation are in an economic slump.

Two years ago, Gov. Chris Gregoire made it clear that she believed that the economic troubles did not outweigh the ongoing risks to Puget Sound. I quoted her in the Kitsap Sun Oct. 15, 2010:

Removing an aging bulkhead on Dyes Inlet is expected to improve nearshore habitat at Anna Smith Children’s Park.
Photo by Christina Kereki, Kitsap County

“We are in the hardest economic problem since the deep depression, but we cannot take a recess; we cannot take time out (from the Puget Sound cleanup).”

Investing in cleanup efforts to repair past problems is one thing, the governor said, but the solution is not just costly restoration projects:

“It comes down to individuals like us. We are all part of the problem and we can all be part of the solution.”

She was talking about reducing stormwater pollution by being careful with household and lawn chemicals, car washing, oil and oil leaks, pet waste and other things.

When it comes to restoration projects, it turns out that the recession was actually a good time to begin many of these costly projects. As I reported in “Water Ways” on Oct. 21, 2010, the economic stimulus package approved by Congress helped pay for more than 600 projects directed to Puget Sound problems. The projects carried a price tag of about $460 million and created nearly 16,000 jobs.

The economic downturn also turned out to be good timing in another way. Construction companies hungry for work offered much lower bids than they would have during economic boom times. In many cases, including the Union River estuary project, bids are still coming in at the low end of cost projections.

Property owners who wish to restore their streams and shorelines are getting help from the government and nonprofit groups. In most cases, these projects would not get done by the property owners alone.

The $460,000 Powel bulkhead removal, for example, became a partnership between the Powel family, the Bainbridge Island Land Trust and the Puget Sound Partnership. The partnership’s new executive director, Anthony Wright, stated in a news release:

“It’s exciting to see everyone coming together to do some good for Puget Sound. Puget Sound is going to be healthy again because of people like the Powel family, the land trust and regulatory entities all working together.”

Some people doubt that the restoration projects are doing much good. Some say they simply are not worth the cost. But experts who have studied nearshore ecosystems argue that the ecological connections along the shoreline have been so severely disrupted that restoration is the best hope of saving the Puget Sound ecosystem.

I’ve heard people say that science does not support these kinds of restoration efforts. That’s an opinion not held by most experts, but if you are willing to do some reading, you can come to your own conclusions.

Some of the leading experts in our region have been taking part in the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project, which includes a website of technical reports and plans. If you’re a fan of science, like me, you may feel like a kid in a candy shop as you peruse the many reports.

I would recommend the following as a beginning:

The pair of explanatory drawings below is taken from a chapter of the “State of the Science” report mentioned above. See Fish and Invertebrate Response to Shoreline Armoring and Restoration in Puget Sound (PDF 440 KB) by Jason D. Toft, Jeffery R. Cordell, Sarah M. Heerhartz, Elizabeth A. Armbrust, and Charles A. Simenstad.

Summer chum pose enigma for the Union River

The Union River near Belfair — the last estuary you come to when venturing into Hood Canal — slaps us in the face with an enigma.

The Union River flows into the very end of Hood Canal near Belfair. The red outline is part of the Pacific Northwest Salmon Center.

For the moment, I can’t do much more than pose some perplexing questions. But I get the feeling that if we could get the answers, we would understand more about salmon recovery in Lower Hood Canal and possibly other places as well.

The Union River also highlights the customary finger-pointing as to why certain stocks of salmon declined in the first place and what it will take to bring them back. Of the four H’s — harvest, habitat, hatcheries and hydro — the greatest finger-pointing goes on between harvest and habitat.

Let’s take Hood Canal summer chum and focus on the Union River, which was the subject of a story I wrote for Monday’s Kitsap Sun.

First, why did summer chum go extinct in the Dewatto and Tahuya rivers — the closest rivers to the Union — while maintaining a viable population in the Union?

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Point No Point Lighthouse gets a bit of a makeover

Point No Point Lighthouse — the centerpiece of a county park near the tip of the Kitsap Peninsula — has undergone $100,000 worth of improvements.

Jeff Gales of U.S. Lighthouse Society can be seen in the fresnel lens at Point No Point Lighthouse near Hansville.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid

The $100,000 came from a grant program called Partners in Preservation. Under the program, millions of dollars have been handed out in recent years for historical restoration work by American Express in coordination with the National Trust for Historical Preservation.

The Point No Point Lighthouse received the cash in 2010, when numerous other projects in the Puget Sound region also received money. See Partners in Preservation – Puget Sound for a description of all the projects.

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Poulsbo leads Kitsap with new shorelines plan

Poulsbo is the first local jurisdiction in Kitsap County to update its Shoreline Master Program, as required by state law, and send it on to the Washington Department of Ecology for ratification.

The Poulsbo City Council approved the document Wednesday, as reported by Kitsap Sun reporter Amy Phan.

As required by formal state policies, the shorelines plan adopts numerous new regulations to accomplish these basic goals:

  • Protect the quality of water and the natural environment to achieve “no net loss” of ecological function as time goes on,
  • Encourage water-dependent uses along the shoreline while discouraging uses that are not connected to the water,
  • Preserve and enhance public access and recreational uses along the shoreline.
Poulsbo shoreline designations (Click to download full size (PDF 976 kb).)

Keri Weaver, Poulsbo’s associate planner, does a good job outlining the content of the Poulsbo Shoreline Master Program in her staff report (PDF 224 kb) submitted to the City Council. The full SMP (PDF 552 kb) is more revealing and not difficult to read.

The document lists five “shoreline environments,” defined by ecological characteristics and current uses, each with its own development rules:

  • Shoreline residential
  • High intensity
  • Urban conservancy
  • Natural
  • Aquatic

Check out the shoreline maps to locate each of the environments.

The always-controversial issue of buffers was settled during the previous update of Poulsbo’s Critical Areas Ordinance. The City Council saw no reason to revisit its justification for 100-foot buffers along the city’s saltwater shoreline on Liberty Bay and 150-foot buffers along Dogfish Creek, the largest stream draining into bay. In addition, 25-foot setbacks expand the no-building zone, but water-dependent uses and public access may be exempt from those setbacks.

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