Peninsula residents sent a clear message to Pierce County Council members at a shoreline hearing Monday: Restrict aquaculture uses — specifically geoduck farms — on county shorelines.
“Ninety percent of the residents in your district who live on the water don’t even know that this is coming to a shoreline near them,” said Burley Lagoon resident Karen McDonell.
She made references to farming techniques used by commercial geoduck companies that include placing plastic pipes along the shoreline.
She and other Burley Lagoon residents cited environmental changes they’ve observed on the inland waterway since Taylor Shellfish took over a lease there in 2012.
They said they’ve seen fewer seasonal birds, a loss of starfish and sand dollars, and an increase in nets blanketing the waterfront.
Peninsula residents also cited concerns about declining property values if shorelines were dotted with commercial farming operations.
Taylor harvests oysters on approximately 70 acres of the 348-acre lagoon under a lease from Western Oyster Company. The company does not yet harvest geoducks in the lagoon but has applied to Pierce County to operate a 25-acre geoduck farm there.
Monday’s meeting was the second of four the county has planned to hear from the public on updates to its Shoreline Master Program. Last week the County Council’s community government committee held a meeting in Lake Tapps.
The process of updating shoreline policies started more than seven years ago; they haven't been revised in more than 40 years.
It’s been almost a year since County Council members were last on the peninsula to discuss the regulations. Changes made to the shoreline plan since then show the council has listened to the public, said Burley Lagoon resident Heather McFarlane.
“I had a real positive feeling when I read through these (amendments) that they heard us,” McFarlane said after the meeting.
She said the council must balance the concerns of the community with state regulations and pressure from the commercial shellfish industry to allow aquaculture practices.
Diane Cooper, Taylor Shellfish’s regulatory director, disagreed that a good balance is being achieved. She said the county will have to prove that any shellfish harvesting prohibition is based on the “best available science.”
“I would submit that these amendments are not,” Cooper said.
Pierce County Councilman Derek Young, whose district covers the peninsula, said more work is needed on determining allowable uses under the plan.
“You can’t say ‘no’ to geoducks,” he said, responding to some who asked that all harvesting be prohibited. “We have to strike a balance to locate (geoduck farms) in areas that don’t destroy the habitat.”
He proposed four changes to address residents’ concerns.
• Survey the shoreline before approving a permit to measure impacts to habitat and prevent encroachment on other property;
• Require aquaculture permits go through a hearing examiner process and not the current administrative route;
• Strengthen eel grass protections;
• Better protect recreational use along the shoreline.
Young said he hopes to work with county staff in the coming weeks on the changes.