Pierce County Council puts off action on pair of waterfront complaints

When the weather starts to heat up, so can the tempers of waterfront residents as they clash with people who want to run their boats and have fun.

Two places on opposite ends of Pierce County illustrate the conflict.

At Delano Beach on the eastern shore of the Key Peninsula, boaters like to anchor and have floating parties that can disturb nearby homeowners.

At Ohop Lake near Eatonville, boaters enjoy driving fast and pulling skiers behind them, and they’d like to do it for more hours of the day.

Members of the County Council were asked to bring their regulatory powers to these conflicts last week, and in both cases decided to leave things alone, at least for now.

The council’s public safety committee was first asked to consider banning a practice known as “rafting” along Delano Beach. The area is an attractive destination for boaters and waders because the water is shallow and warms up quickly in the summer sun, committee chairman Jim McCune said.

The trouble is, people sometimes park along the road and cross through private property where, once at the beach, they can wade out to boats that tie up together, McCune said.

“The drinking, the nudeness, the going potty in the water in front of you, it’s not appropriate,” the Graham Republican said at a June 8 public hearing. “It’s pretty blatant, bad activity. It’s usually caused when they raft up together.”

“Rafting” has been illegal on Lake Tapps for the past decade. McCune proposed applying similar restrictions to Delano Beach — the first time such rules would be extended to local saltwater.

Councilman Derek Young felt that would be the wrong approach.

“There are already laws on the books for any illegal activity,” the Gig Harbor Democrat said.

Nobody spoke for or against the proposal, and the committee voted 4-1 to postpone any action indefinitely. McCune said they would keep an eye on the issue throughout the summer.

The discussion about Ohop Lake, by contrast, attracted a large crowd and a lot of testimony. That proposal would open 21 more hours a week when boaters could ski and wakeboard.

Citizens packed the council chambers. Most who spoke expressed concerns about fast boats driving around the narrow lake — it is one-third of a mile at its widest point — and about property erosion along the shore.

Boaters who use the lake can cruise faster than 8 mph from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Under the proposal, those hours would expand from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The rules are meant to give other users such as anglers, paddlers and swimmers the opportunity to use the lake in calm conditions.

“The current speed limit regulation allows appropriate use by many forms of lake recreation,” said Mike Cramer, who’s owned a home on the Mount Rainier foothills lake for 15 years. “To change the regulation would allow the speedboats to dominate the lake’s usage.”

Another resident, Charles Bryarly, worries about erosion. “I built a fence five feet off the lake, as close as code would allow, and that was five years ago. Now it is falling in the lake. All of that five feet of shoreline has eroded away because of the boat wakes.”

But Ohop Lake resident Denise Anderson favors expanded hours. “I could go visit my friends at the other end of the lake after work without being restricted to 8 miles per hour,” she said, adding that spreading boat traffic over a longer day could make the lake safer.

After listening to public comments, McCune determined that the people directly involved would be the best ones to figure out a solution.

By a vote of 3-2, the committee gave a citizen work group two years to come up with a plan and bring the matter back for council review.