Tag Archives: Department of Natural Resources

Puget Sound Partnership may confront net pen controversy

Puget Sound Partnership may take a stand on whether fish farms should be allowed to remain in Puget Sound waters.

The partnership is charged by the Legislature to oversee the restoration of the Puget Sound ecosystem. On Wednesday, the partnership’s governing body, the Puget Sound Leadership Council, received an update on last month’s collapse of a net pen containing 305,000 Atlantic salmon near Cypress Island in northern Puget Sound.

About two-thirds of the escaped fish have been accounted for so far, with about 146,000 found dead or alive in the damaged net pen and about 55,000 caught by fishermen. (All but about 5,000 of those were caught by tribal fishers in Puget Sound.)

This video, taken by a private party and released by state agencies, shows the collapse of the Cypress Island net pens on Aug. 19

About 100,000 Atlantic salmon apparently escaped and have not been caught by people, although most of those probably were eaten by predators, experts say. Officials continue their efforts to figure out where any remaining fish have gone, specifically any that swam up into the streams, according to Amy Windrope of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The Atlantic salmon, an exotic species in Puget Sound, don’t appear to be eating anything, let alone young native salmon, Windrope said, and there is not much concern that they will breed with native fish. The greatest concern is that they might somehow disrupt the spawning behavior of native salmon, whose populations are already stressed by adverse conditions in both marine and fresh water.

The Atlantic salmon appeared to be healthy and free of parasites at the time of the release, she said, but they became less and less healthy as starvation set in.

In addition to Windrope, the presentation to the Leadership Council included reports from representatives of the state Department of Natural Resources, which leases the seabed where the pens are located, and the Department of Ecology, which issues permits under water-quality laws.

Puget Sound tribes are about to release a position statement opposing salmon farms in Puget Sound, said Russell Hepfer, a member of the Leadership Council and vice chairman of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Council. He did not elaborate, except to say that the non-native fish don’t belong here.

According to Windrope, the tribes see Atlantic salmon as weeds in the garden of Puget Sound. Such cultural viewpoints should be taken into account in the overall discussion, she added.

Soon after the Cypress Island net pen collapse, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Public Lands Commissioner Hillary Franz issued a moratorium blocking further net pen approvals until an investigation is complete.

Maradel Gale, a resident of Bainbridge Island, addressed the Leadership Council at Wednesday’s meeting near Port Gamble, saying the Bainbridge Island City Council has effectively limited the expansion of net pens at the south end of the island and would like to get rid of net pens altogether.

She said Cooke Aquaculture, which owns all the net pens at four locations in Puget Sound, receives the benefits of using the public waterways and placing the ecosystem in peril while taking very little risk upon itself.

Dennis McLerran, a member of the Leadership Council who has worked for various environmental agencies, said Washington state law has long provided a preference for aquaculture over many other shoreline uses. Like it or not, he said, those preference are “baked into state policies” that direct state agencies to support aquaculture, including salmon farms.

“That is where the Leadership Council should have some discussion,” McLerran said. “Are those preferences in state law appropriate?”

The state of Alaska prohibits salmon farms, while California’s complex regulations allow them only under specific conditions related to water supplies, said Kessina Lee of Ecology.

Jay Manning, chairman of the Leadership Council and former director of the Washington Department of Ecology, said the Legislature will no doubt want to hear a complete report on the Cypress Island net-pen collapse, and he urged the agency officials to be fully prepared to answer questions from lawmakers.

“You will be asked, when the Legislature comes back, ‘How big a deal is this?’” Manning said, noting that he has heard from some people that it is a very big deal, while others say it is nothing at all.

Windrope noted that native salmon populations are already struggling, “and this is one more injury to the salmon.” But since the escaped Atlantic salmon don’t appear to be competing for food, the question comes down to whether they are affecting native fish in other ways. That question is not fully answered, she said.

“For DNR, this is a very big concern,” said Dennis Clark, who helps manage aquatic leases for the agency. “We have a contract with a multinational company, and they failed to adhere to it.”

DNR serves as the landlord for the Puget Sound net pen operations, he said. The aquatic leases run out at various times, from 2022 to 2025, and the agency is taking a closer look at the net pen structures to see what should be done from both a scientific and landlord perspective. Commissioner Franz is taking a special interest, he added.

“We are trying very hard to learn from this (incident),” Clark said, “and we understand that we may need to devote more resources.”

Rich Doenges of Ecology said the Atlantic salmon that got away are considered a “pollutant” under Washington state law. While no long-term effects have been seen following previous escapes of Atlantic salmon, there is some risk to native salmon. The key is to quantify that risk and determine if it is low enough to make the operations worthwhile. If necessary, he said, compliance orders can be issued and state water-quality permits can be amended to require additional safety measures.

Seattle attorney Doug Steding, representing Cooke Aquaculture, said he wanted to convey “sorrow and regret” from the company over the potential impacts of the escape.

“We want to make right with respect to this terrible accident,” he said, adding that the company is committed to working with investigators into the cause of the escape and finding ways to make sure that it never happens again.

Steding noted that Cooke recently acquired the Puget Sound facilities and did not own the Cypress Island net pens when the fish were placed in them. The company should have shared more information with the public about plans to upgrade the facilities, he said.

“You have an important task sorting through the difficult science and integrating with the values of the people of Washington,” Steding told the Leadership Council, adding that Cooke hopes to remain a part of the discussion.

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.

Derelict vessel rules get stronger next month

The state’s derelict vessel law, revised this year by the Legislature, will oil the gears of a state program that disposes of abandoned vessels throughout Puget Sound and along the Columbia River.

Legal action is pending against the 180-foot New Star, which was supposed to stay at the Port Ludlow Marina a few days but has been there since October. Photo courtesy of DNR
Legal action is pending against the 180-foot New Star, which was scheduled to remain at the Port Ludlow Marina for a few days but has been there since October. / Photo courtesy of DNR

For some reason, Washington state and Kitsap County in particular seem to attract more than their share of junk vessels. If you are on or near the water, you may spot these old boats grounded on the beach or else abandoned at anchor.

Some of these ugly boats are still seaworthy and just need some loving care. If the owners act responsibly and find safe moorage or else move their boat from place to place, they will probably never have to deal with the state’s Derelict Vessel Removal Program. Otherwise, recent changes in the law will allow the process to grind on more quickly.

Check out my recent stories in the Kitsap Sun on:

Melissa Ferris, who heads the state’s program under the Department of Natural Resources, told me she is pleased with the final version of the law. For one thing, it imposes a permanent $2 fee on vessel registrations in Washington state, a fee that was scheduled to drop back to $1 at the end of this year.

The $2 fee has allowed her program to operate with two staffers instead of one, she said. The Legislature additionally funded a third person in its jobs bill last year, and the new staffer has focused his full attention on identifying derelict boats and completing the paperwork needed for disposal.

Within the past few months, Melissa said, five abandoned vessels were removed from Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay. Others were pulled out near Port Orchard and Manchester — not including the numerous vessels taken into custody in Kitsap County over the past few years.

“We’ve removed a lot in Kitsap County, but we’ve been generally busy in a lot of places,” Melissa told me.

Vessel removals are pending in King, Pierce, Thurston, Jefferson, Clark, Skagit, Island, Whatcom and San Juan counties. Check out the list of “Notices of Intent to Obtain Custody” on DNR’s website.

Besides the permanent fee, the revised law removes criminal sanctions for failing to register your boat. Now, you will be hit be a fine, much like failing to purchase new car tabs.

Some of the fine goes back to the law-enforcement agency that writes the ticket, so the result could be increased enforcement.

From Melissa’s point of view, more boater registration is a good thing, because much of her time is spent tracking down legal owners who have not registered their vessels for many years.

In addition, government agencies will be required to inspect and register their vessels prior to sale. It’s surprising how many boats on the water these days used to be owned by a state or federal agency. Government vessels are generally exempt from registration.

The revised law also authorizes $200,000 to be spent on a pilot program that will take back boats the owners no longer want. It’s easier and cheaper to take the boats while they’re floating rather than dealing with them after they sink. Melissa said she will look to California, Florida and other states that have experience with similar take-back programs.

“We want to focus on boats that are the hardest for people to take care of on their own,” she noted.

Large cabin cruisers and old sailboats with little value are the most likely candidates for the take-back program, which could be made permanent if it is successful.

Appeals by boat owners who face losing their boats must be filed with the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board, instead of the courts, under the revised law.

Local governments are free to set up their own appeals process if they get involved with abandoned boats. As always, local governments that go through the process of disposal can recover 90 percent of the cost from the state program.

Melissa said the revised law encourages boat owners to deal with boats before they become a problem. “I think it will help move the whole program from a reaction process to a preventative focus,” she said.

A work group will tackle some of the more difficult issues that were not resolved before final passage of House Bill 1245 this year. Issues include how to make the owners of large vessels financially responsible for the problems they cause and how to get more boatyards interested in disposing of large vessels.

Melissa says this positive legislation was the result of a successful collaboration between state agencies and the bill’s sponsors: Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, in the House and Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, in the Senate.

Other information can be found on the website of the Derelict Vessel Removal Program.

Controversial Maury Island gravel project has been approved

Washington Department of Natural Resources has approved a 30-year lease to allow a dock in the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve. It was the last approval needed for construction of a gravel mine that has been the subject of intense opposition by environmental groups.

Robert McClure, environmental reporter for the Seattle PI, calls the approval the most controversial of Land Commissioner Doug Sutherland’s eight years in office. Sutherland has taken this action in his final weeks as head of the DNR, having lost in the November election to Peter Goldmark.

Goldmark issued a statement saying he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

“The timing of this decision, only one day after the Puget Sound Partnership brought forward their plan to clean up Puget Sound, is very troubling,” Goldmark was quoted as saying in the Seattle Times. “While I understand there is only one lands commissioner at a time, this decision does come after the voters of Washington sent a very clear message.”

Amy Carey, president of Preserve Our Islands, was not pleased with Sutherland’s decision. She told the Times, “It’s disappointing he felt he had to stick to Glacier’s needs and agenda. There’s absolutely no reason that this decision had to come out now other than that Glacier wanted it now. It’s a really pitiful legacy as his tenure ends.”

In a news release, Sutherland said, “This has been an extremely rigorous process, and our aquatics staff have examined every document submitted to us and to the permitting agencies to be sure that we have addressed the issues. I directed staff to add requirements to protect this aquatic ecosystem in the long-term—which they have. This lease agreement accomplishes the goal of environmental protection while allowing existing commercial activities.”

Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, had this to say in her blog:

One of the black clouds hanging over the Puget Sound Partnership’s celebration the other day was the bleak budgetary outlook. Optimism about the new plan is tempered by the knowledge that money will be hard to come by. Not to sound too naïve, but since it’s expensive to undo the harm that we’ve done to our Sound over the years, why would we proceed to do more? Saying “no” to a bad idea like the Maury Island gravel dock doesn’t restore the Sound to health, but at least it’s a pretty cost-effective way to avoid making things worse.

Maybe I’m also naïve to think that in a year when we lost seven more of our endangered orcas, most likely to starvation, responsible decision-makers would say no to a project that puts one of the whales’ favorite winter fishing grounds at risk. Perhaps the whales had heard what was up in Sutherland’s office on Tuesday, when they decided to spend that very day hanging out in the Vashon area—their first visit of the season.

Conditions of the lease include the following, according to the DNR:
Continue reading

Should the state look for more encroachments on its tidelands?

Maybe it’s just my nature to dislike clouds of uncertainty. I’m always hoping that people will do what they can to blow the clouds away.

Taylor Shellfish Farms faces a $1.3 million assessment for growing shellfish on about 16 acres of state tidelands. This has gone on for years, and it would still be going on if not for a group of folks opposed to a new method of geoduck harvesting used by Taylor. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

I’ve talked about this before in Watching Our Water Ways. Whether it was an innocent mistake by Taylor may be an important question, but I’m just as interested in whether Taylor and other growers may be encroaching onto state tidelands in other areas.

Fran McNair, aquatic lands steward for the Department of Natural Resources, said it is up to shellfish growers and other tideland users to know their boundaries. She said this fine against Taylor could serve as a warning to everyone.

I asked her whether recovering $440,000 for a three-year period — $1.3 million with treble damages — would cause the state to look for other places where private operators are encroaching on state land.

Her response was that the Legislature maintains tight control on the budget for aquatic lands management and she does not have the staff to go out looking for other encroachments. Of course, if anyone knows of any, she would be glad to check them out.

McNair said she can’t even use any portion of the “extra” money recovered from Taylor to go looking for other encroachments — even if money recovered by the effort would fully pay the cost. To take any action would require a legislative appropriation, she said.

In fact, working on the Taylor problem has diverted staff from their normal jobs, she said, and now they are behind on what they should have been doing.

When I ask these questions, everyone tells me that conducting formal surveys of tidelands is very expensive. I guess it is because of the difficulty of getting survey equipment into areas covered by water. My suggestion is to use GPS and other modern equipment to follow the legal boundaries of state property in a boat and see where people might be using state lands without authorization. Folks/ could be off by a few feet in many places, but that’s not where you’d focus further efforts.

Apparently, the state can’t look back more than three years when trying to collect lost revenues. But I suspect that this statutory limit could easily be changed by the Legislature. It also appears that the DNR can’t afford to touch this idea without a legislative appropriation.

State Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, was key to developing a program to remove derelict boats from state waters. Although it’s a costly effort, the DNR is getting the worst of the eyesores and environmental hazards out of the water. And now boat owners are beginning to take care of their own boats, knowing that the state is serious about the problem.

I have no idea how many tideland owners are encroaching onto state lands, but finding the answers to this question has the potential of actually making some money for the state.

Environmental enforcement: a matter of dollars and sense

When it comes to protecting the environment, I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about enforcement in the coming weeks.

I’ve attended several meetings of the Puget Sound Partnership where people have said that we don’t need new rules; we need existing rules to be enforced.

You don’t have to look very hard to see the problem. At the county level, planners and hearing examiners impose rules that sound like they would protect the environment — including up to 100-foot stream and shoreline buffers in some cases. But once a person completes a project, there is no guarantee that he won’t fill in the wetland or cut down the trees in a buffer area.

Unless someone complains, there is no way to know whether the buffers survive over time. Without enforcement against those who violate the rules, the system becomes abusive against those property owners who act in good faith. That seems pretty obvious, right?

Kitsap County Commissioner Steve Bauer, a member of the Ecosystem Coordination Board for the Partnership, seems to understand the frustration of people who see violations but can’t get quick action. In many cases, the penalties are so low that some people violate the rules under the assumption that fines are just the cost for doing what they want.

In a Monday briefing I covered for today’s Kitsap Sun, Bauer expressed support for a more efficient system, including a process that would bring violations to a hearing examiner instead of district court.

I expect that this issue will be part of this year’s county budget discussions. While the budget is growing ever tighter, I’m sure the commissioners understand that you can’t really address this code enforcement problem without additional staff.

The same thing goes for state agencies — whether we’re talking about the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which our protects our wild creatures; the Department of Natural Resources, which addresses logging practices; or the Department of Ecology, which protects our land and waters from pollution. By the way Lisa Stiffler did a nice job examining Ecology’s enforcement problems in yesterday’s Seattle PI.

Back to the local level, health departments must deal with sewage, stormwater, garbage and hazardous waste problems.

Bill Ruckleshaus of the Puget Sound Partnership often talks about how his organization will not create new regulations. The Partnership simply intends to shine a light on the best actions taking place among governments, businesses and volunteer groups.

To the Partnership’s credit, enforcement has already been part of the general discussion. I found the following in the discussion paper about habitat and land use, which covers rules for protecting critical areas:

Most jurisdictions report a lack of funding to accomplish those tasks and further lack the staff to monitor whether the protections remain after a period of years (beyond the period where they hold bonds or other security for a project). Finally, many jurisdictions also report a lack of adequate funding for general code enforcement efforts (where activities take place outside of the permitting process).

The next step is to address the money issues, both inside and outside of state and local agencies. Until someone faces the financial hurdles, it’s just talk.

Tideland boundary questions could be Pandora’s Box

When I first heard that Taylor Shellfish Farms had encroached on state-owned tidelands on Totten Inlet, I began to wonder if this was an isolated case or was happening all over Puget Sound.

After talking to a variety of people, I suspect that shellfish growers and shoreline property owners may be encroaching on state lands and each others’ property in many places. One observer said the problem may be less in some northern areas of Puget Sound, where stakes on the beach are easily seen as demarcation lines.

I started to explore this issue in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun. I assure you it won’t be the last.

We could be opening Pandora’s Box, in which property boundary encroachments are revealed by expensive surveys. That could lead to expensive legal battles over who gets to claim what. It’s a rather chilling prospect, but who knows how much potential revenue the state may be missing.

Meanwhile, the state is not subject to adverse possession laws, yet private property owners are.

Some might say we should leave this alone, but I do not subscribe to the idea that ignorance is bliss.