Camp Seymour receives permission on controversial water tower, puts project on hold

Camp counselor Katy Nardi grabs the canoe Daejonna Artis, 10, is riding at Camp Seymour on the Key Peninsula in August 2016.
Camp counselor Katy Nardi grabs the canoe Daejonna Artis, 10, is riding at Camp Seymour on the Key Peninsula in August 2016. News Tribune file photo

In an effort to expand its services, the historic Camp Seymour on the Key Peninsula is preparing to install a 60-foot-tall, concrete water tower, despite the opposition of many peninsula residents.

The tower was approved by the Pierce County hearing examiner on Aug. 28, but a meeting with the Key Peninsula Advisory Commission and residents in July showed a lack of support from the community.

According to Pierce County Planner Ty Booth, the Key Peninsula Advisory Commission recommended the tower be denied by the county.

Chairman of the Key Peninsula Advisory Commission, Don Swenson, said it feels like the county is favoring businesses over taxpayers.

“Virtually everybody who was opposed to the tower talked about how they really like the camp, and the camp has always been a partner in the community,” Swenson said. “Nobody has any complaints about the camp at all. It was simply that it was the tower was going to be a huge eyesore.”

Swenson said the July commission meeting had one of the largest audiences he’s seen, with a majority of residents speaking against the tower.

According to county documents, Camp Seymour has been looking to expand its services and programs, but to do so it is required by the Pierce County fire marshal to increase its fire suppression support. The tower would provide enough pressurized water through a gravity-assist. Swenson said the option of a 60-foot-tall, 30-foot-wide tower was only one choice the camp had.

This map shows the location of a proposed 60 foot tall, concrete water tower that would support Camp Seymour of the Key Peninsula Pierce County Courtesy

“(The fire marshal’s requirements) could also be met with one or two smaller towers and a pump system,” Swenson said. “Which we would have been more in favor of. It would have been easier to hide the towers, and the pump could be anywhere on the property.”

YMCA Spokeswoman Michelle LaRue said the camp wants to keep the support of the community and has placed the project on pause.

“Although we did receive approval on the current application, we are committed to reassessing and looking at our options,” LaRue said.

The YMCA is not promising to completely change it’s plans, and there is a chance the large tower still would be built. LaRue said the YMCA paid for outside engineers to create multiple options. Of all the options, the plan for the 60-foot tower included lower long-term and up-front costs. LaRue said the option to build multiple, smaller towers would have meant the towers would not be visible from the road but would have been right next to a neighbor’s property.

“We didn’t think that was fair to our neighbors,” LaRue said.

Key Peninsula residents cited issues with the tower’s design and worried the amount of water the tower would pull from the local aquifer would affect resident’s well systems.

“The Camp’s testimony is that their two wells would have to be drawn from for six months to fill the 330,000 gallon proposed gravity tank,” a letter from Key Peninsula residents Lloyd and Patricia Fetterly stated.

The couple said they live south of the camp and share an aquifer with the camp.

“This is a serious matter. It may well affect the water aquifer in the surrounding area. All the residences in the surrounding area of the Camp are served by water wells,” according to the letter. “The area is not urban, and there is no water utility. No gravity water project should go forward without a report from a hydrologist.”

Pierce County’s development engineers reviewed the planned and stated the tower would not have any “major impacts” on the surrounding environment, according to the county.

“There is no concern from the experts about the aquifer,” LaRue said. “And we will only have to fill the tower once, it won’t be continually flowing.”

LaRue said the tower’s water will be used solely for fire suppression if needed and could be used by the fire department to protect the entire community, not just the camp.

The tower would be built 35 feet from Thomas Road Northwest and more than 200 feet from the shoreline of Glen Cove.

“There are several other small towers located in small spots on the peninsula, but you don’t see them unless you go looking for them because they are easily hidden behind trees or placed in a position where people don’t see them,” Swenson said. “This proposed tower would be almost three times that size, almost double the size of anything that’s already out here. And it’s very close to the road.”

The plans for the tower include a treeline to block the view from the road, but residents said the trees would need to be taller than the tower, which could take upwards of 30 years.

LaRue said the YMCA has found a company in the Northwest which can replant older trees, up to 30 feet tall. If the tower is built, the YMCA would have a line of 30-foot trees planted to block some views of the tower.

Camp Seymour is a historic education camp owned by the YMCA. It runs summer camp programs and education programs through local school districts during the fall and winter. The camp focuses on outdoor and environmental education.

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Swenson said the camp is beloved by many residents who spent summers at the camp as children or sent their children to the camp. He is concerned the camp is ignoring the wishes of its community to save money.

“The only thing I really want to stress is the people who live here and pay taxes on the peninsula are concerned that the peninsula develops the way we want it to develop,” Swenson said. “We would like to keep our community the way we like it. It just seemed to me the hearing examiner chose to be more responsive to a company that does business than the residents.”

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie