Steilacoom expects to ban low-tide beach driving

Staff writerMarch 4, 2014 

Steilacoom hopes to protect one of its northernmost natural areas by prohibiting vehicles from driving onto the mudflats of Chambers Bay at low tide.

The ordinance, set for action at Tuesday’s council meeting, follows a year of study. The town determined it doesn’t have authority to stop people from driving down the embankment and onto the mudflats to pull in fishing nets or to put kayaks and other nonmotorized boats in the water.

“It’s damaging the tidelands,” Town Administrator Paul Loveless said. “In order to get there, you have to go down a bank, so you have erosion of the bank. Every time you go up and down, you destroy a portion of the bank.”

Last year, Loveless said he witnessed three instances in which people drove onto the area during low tide. The town has also received complaints.

The state has no rules regulating access during low tide, except for limited areas such as clam beds on the ocean, state Department of Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Ted Jackson said.

“There’s nothing that prohibits people from driving out onto the beach itself,” Jackson said.

That’s why the town wants to make it illegal within its 2-square-mile boundaries. An ordinance before the Town Council for approval Tuesday night would make it illegal for people to drive their cars into any of the town’s waterways, although the primary purpose is to protect Chambers Bay.

Boat launches are protected and would not be affected.

“If you look along Chambers Bay on the east side, the town has responsibility for the bulk of it until you get to the end of Chambers Bay near the old mill site,” Steilacoom Mayor Ron Lucas said. “In the state of Washington, I think there’s a pretty clear indication that you’re trying to sustain the banks and river streams and bays.”

If approved, the new regulations would do just that, Lucas said. The town is concerned about damage the cars have caused on the bank leading to the bay, and worries about additional damage if a vehicle were to get stuck in the mud during low tide.

The regulations include a $500 fine if people are caught, but Lucas said the regulations go beyond the fine.

“It’s not something where we’re looking to fine people,” he said. “Now we’ll have the ability to educate them on what we have and the value of Chambers Bay to us.”

The council is scheduled to vote on the regulations at its regular meeting Tuesday (March 4) at 6:30 p.m. at Steilacoom Town Hall, 1717 Lafayette St.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

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