Donald Hansen said permitting more geoduck farming on Henderson Bay between Purdy and Key Peninsula will put a “septic dump” in front of his home and create safety hazards for those using the water for recreation.
“I’m against this geoduck aquaculture,” the Henderson Bay resident said. “I think there’s every reason in the world not to allow that.”
Hansen is not alone. He’s among people raising objections to proposed changes in policies regulating shorelines in Pierce County.
Some residents oppose having their dock lengths restricted. Some don’t like a proposal to add 100-foot buffers for new houses on saltwater shorelines. But the biggest outcry at a public hearing last week was over geoduck farming.
The county says it aims to tighten rules on commercial growers of the Puget Sound’s famously large bivalve – even going beyond state Department of Ecology standards.
But some residents of Henderson Bay and adjacent Burley Lagoon don’t think the changes go far enough.
They complained to the Pierce County Planning Commission last week about the equipment used to farm geoducks, from PVC pipes to rebar-reinforced nets.
“It is not your grandfather’s oyster farm,” said Laura Hendricks, of Henderson Bay.
“We ask that you protect the citizens here,” Hendricks said. “And we ask that you protect the wildlife as long as you’ve got it, because once it goes, you’re not going to get it back.”
The state-mandated Shoreline Master Program update is the first revision of policies to regulate and protect 1,300 miles of shoreline in Pierce County since they were adopted in 1974. The regulations must ensure “no net loss of shoreline ecological functions.”
Some residents said they’re worried that Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton will expand its geoduck farming to Henderson Bay and Burley Lagoon.
Earlier this year, Taylor Shellfish took over a 300-acre oyster and clam farm in Burley Lagoon. Taylor spokesman Bill Dewey said the company will apply to Pierce County to farm geoducks on a small portion of that area.
Taylor has three geoduck farms on Case Inlet in Pierce County, Dewey said in an interview.
Pierce County has 11 permitted aquaculture operations, with all but one involving geoduck farming, said Debby Hyde, who is leading the shoreline program update for the county. Of those 11 operations, one is for geoduck farming on Henderson Bay; none is for Burley Lagoon, she said.
In addition, Pierce County is processing one application for geoduck farming on Henderson Bay and another for harvesting on Burley Lagoon.
Dewey stressed that geoduck farming is regulated by permits. It requires a hearings examiner’s approval.
“There will be nets and there will be tubes,” Dewey said. But he said his company changed its farming process years ago to eliminate plastic debris.
He said the environmental effects of geoduck farming are “short-term and comparable to natural disturbances that the beach experiences every day from wind, waves and currents.”
The Planning Commission is reviewing the shoreline program update to send to the County Council by mid-October. The state Department of Ecology must decide whether to give final approval to whatever the council adopts.
Henderson Bay and Burley Lagoon residents spoke out about shellfish farming during an hourlong public hearing before 60 people Wednesday at Peninsula High School. The hearing was the second of six that the planning commission will hold on the shoreline program update.
David Allard, who lives on the lagoon, said PVC pipes from geoduck farming already wash up on his beach.
He cited examples of how he believes the new regulations aren’t strict enough. The proposal says aquaculture projects should not involve the use of pesticides and herbicides. It adds when they are used, data should be maintained by the operator and provided to the county upon request.
John McDonell, who also lives on Burley Lagoon, said geoduck farmers should have bonding requirements for their equipment.
“I’ve had barges wash up on my beach, destroy my bulkhead,” McDonell said. “To let an industry run willy-nilly and leave their equipment and let it go where it wants is a travesty.”
Pierce County counters it is strengthening rules for geoduck farming.
Ty Booth, a Pierce County planner, said the shoreline program update would ramp up regulation of aquaculture. It requires more information from those who apply to harvest geoducks, and more study and monitoring of farming if they receive a permit, Booth said.
Hyde said the county’s new regulations go beyond state standards by adding requirements such as setbacks between aquaculture and adjacent properties, as well as debris cleanup and monitoring.
Hyde said the state requires the shoreline program update to balance the public’s enjoyment of the water and people’s ability to use their property, whether for business or recreation.
During the hearing, Burley Lagoon resident Claudia Casebolt said she worries people won’t be able to use the area for recreation if geoduck farming expands.
“I just have a lot of concerns that we don’t really know what we’re getting into here,” she said.