A proposal to establish a commercial geoduck farm on Henderson Bay once again pitted those in favor of expanding the aquaculture industry against those who fear such a development could imperil their property and the environment.
Those on both sides of the issue turned out Thursday night at the Key Peninsula Civic Center for a public meeting before the Key Peninsula Advisory Commission on a longtime application to farm acres of geoducks — large, long-necked clams — on private land west of the Purdy spit.
The commission voted to recommend the county’s staff report to approve the proposed project subject to the dozen conditions related to keeping marine debris under control.
There will be a public hearing before the Pierce County Hearing Examiner at 9 a.m. March 27 at the Pierce County Public Services Building (Annex), 2401 South 35th St., in Tacoma.
The issue centers on a proposal for land owned by Darrell and Maija deTienne of San Francisco. They also own a beach-front home in the area.
They are proposing to have Olympia-based Chelsea Farms grow and harvest the distinctive bivalves on their 10.74-acre property, which is submerged except during low tides.
The proposed farm is less than a half-mile from Purdy Sand Spit Park.
The application for the proposed farm was submitted in July 2005, said Pierce County senior planner Ty Booth, who presented a staff report to the commission that the county prepared.
Those who believe the application has expired due to the length of time that has passed don’t agree with the county, Booth said.
“We have met all the legal obligations,” he said.
On Nov. 21, the county concluded its environmental review of the proposal and issued a Mitigation of Determination of Nonsignificance, meaning the county imposed a dozen conditions to address concerns regarding marine debris and monitoring, and that the proposal will not require an environmental impact statement.
The proposed project was not deemed big enough to warrant an EIS, Booth said.
John Lentz, who owns Chelsea Farms, said the proposed geoduck farm will help the environment. He cited the ability of the large clams to pull in water, filter food and expel waste through its siphon. He also objected to those against the would-be farm because it’s private property.
“This is what I want to do,” he said.
Lentz dismissed comparisons of his relatively small proposal to Taylor Shellfish Farms, which took over a 300-acre oyster and clam farm in Burley Lagoon last year.
Many residents are worried that Shelton-based Taylor Shellfish Farms will expand its geoduck farming to Henderson Bay and Burley Lagoon.
Lentz also sought to assuage fears over the proposed farm’s environmental impact. He addressed the issue of PVC tubes that are one of the residents’ major concerns. Those who live in the area complain the tubes often end up washing up on their beaches.
The tubes are used as predator exclusion devices, Lentz said, to protect the clams for about two years, before they dig deep enough to not be reached by creatures that seek to eat them.
“The PVC tubes are really the best thing we have so far,” Lentz said, in comparison to other devices such as flat nets or pots. “We try and be good neighbors.”
Lentz said he constantly experiments to improve farming techniques, recover loose PVC tubes and open up his beach to scientists and university students for study as proof of his intentions when it comes to the environment.
Marlene Meaders, a senior associate with Environ — an international environmental consulting and health sciences consulting firm — presented a review of potential good and bad impacts on the environment from the proposed geoduck farm.
In general, the report concluded any negative impacts by the future farm would “be minimal and insignificant, and are largely overshadowed by the long-term water quality and habitat benefits created by the culture practice.”
The report did identify the possible release of gear associated with geoduck farming as a downside, but it said that could be corrected via “monitoring, prevention and clean-up efforts.”
Residents who spoke at the public hearing were not convinced of the proposed farm’s benefits on area beaches and waters. They argued that geoduck farming could damage the area’s marine life, recreational opportunities and natural beauty for years to come.
“I’m just here because I’d like to see the environment protected,” said Paul Garrison, who provided commission members with photographs of a beach with thousands of PVC tubes stuck in the sand, noting he was afraid his property will end up looking like and that storms will undoubtedly scatter debris.
“For me, it’s about the environment,” he said. “For these people (geoduck farm proponents), it’s all about the money.”
His comments were echoed by Rob Wenman, whose property is adjacent to the proposed geoduck farm. He called the testimony from the county and Environ “voodoo science.”
“Our concerns go way beyond this proposal,” he told the commission, saying he’s concerned with the environmental impact of the proposed farm. He said an EIS should have been conducted.
“I know this beach intimately,” Wenman said, calling Henderson Bay a treasure that is now threatened.
Milo Walker said he’s concerned that he and other area property owners won’t get any sleep at night due to the noise created by the planting, farming and harvesting of geoducks.
“That’s pretty much the axe I’ve got to grind,” he said.
Walker said he’s afraid the proposed geoduck farm would mean native geoducks would vanish and never return.
“As was said before, this is big money,” he said.
Charles Morgan, an area resident since 1951, said: “I’m obviously against this thing.”
Property owners can use their property as they see fit, as long as they do so within the confines of the law, Morgan added.
“But he (proposed geoduck farm owners) can’t do what he wants with our water,” he said. “That will take food away from natural wildlife.”
He also wondered aloud what would happen to the aquaculture industry if and when the Chinese economy goes into a downturn. About 95 percent of the region’s geoducks end up in China, where the clams prized for their crisp, briny sweetness fetch a premium price.
Larry Norton, who has lived in the Burley Lagoon area for 10 years, said he’s worried about tubes and nets littering his beach.
“That’s going to be a mess,” he said.
Norton also lamented possible higher traffic volumes and the increase risk of automobile accidents due to any future commercial geoduck operations in the area.
Recreational diver Bob Paradise said nearby activities like SCUBA diving and kayaking will be negatively impacted by the proposed farm.
Debris from a geoduck farm would mean people, who are drawn to area beaches’ wind and waves, will be injured, he said.
“It’s a concern of mine,” Paradise said.
Reporter Brett Davis can be reached at 253-853-9243 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_brett.