A public meeting on the application took place Oct. 25 at Peninsula High School, with more than 100 people attending. It included an open house with information provided by Taylor and the Pierce County Department of Planning and Land Services (PALS), followed by oral presentations and public testimony.
“The proposal for this farm is different from any we have approved in the past,” said Dave Risvold, environmental biologist with PALS. “Previous farm proposals have been located along long, exposed sections of shoreline, whereasBurley Lagoon is relatively enclosed. Theproposedfarm isconsiderablybiggerthan past proposals and theshorelinearea is moreheavily developedthanhas been the case with most of our previous farms.”
To address these concerns, the county and Taylor agreed that an environmental impact statement (EIS) would be the most appropriate process.
Risvold said that since the early 2000s, when rapid expansion of geoduck farming (including illegal activity) resulted in public outcry, the county has been thorough in evaluating proposals for geoduck farms. Reviews have paid close attention to the effect on the environment, aesthetics and recreation. The main difference from earlier reviews is that with an EIS, there will be more opportunity for public input.
Most public comment at the meeting focused on concerns about loose plastic from the geoduck gear, noise and the deleterious effects on other wildlife caused by the high concentration of geoducks and the low-pressure, high-volume hoses used to harvest them.
Diane Cooper, of Taylor, reviewed the history of Burley Lagoon. The Tyee Oyster Co. started farming it in the early 1900s. The Western Oyster Co., owned by the Yamashita family, purchased the farm in 1952.
On Nov. 14, the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed both the Superior Court and Shorelines Hearings Board decisions to deny a 5-acre geoduck aquaculture permit in Henderson Bay to the Chelsea Farms shellfish company of Olympia. Chelsea proposed installing more than 56,000 plastic tubes planted with geoduck and covered in plastic netting.
The Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat petitioned the hearings board to intervene after Pierce County approved the farm's permit in 2013. The board found that the buffers Pierce County approved for the farm would not adequately protect fragile eelgrass meadows, which are protected under the state Shoreline Management Act.
The lagoon is deeded for shellfish farming only. In 2012, Taylor began leasing the farm and took over the operation. The processing of shellfish was moved from the lagoon to Shelton, techniques were modernized, and some old equipment was removed.
Cooper described geoduck farming as less intensive than that of oysters and clams. Oysters mature in three to four years, clams in two. The active work of farming them is continuous. Predator exclusion nets cover the clams. Oysters may be in bags or may be protected by nets, depending on the beach and current. Geoducks, in comparison, are planted in protective plastic tubes that are left in place for one to two years and then removed. (Recent practice has replaced solid tubes with mesh tubes). The geoducks are harvested four to five years later.
Three scenarios will be initially evaluated for the EIS. The first is that all 25 acres would be planted at once, though typically sites are planted in a patchwork over several years because of the limited availability of seed. The second scenario is that two-thirds of the area would be planted at any given time. The “no-action” alternative would leave the 25 acres in its current use for clams and oysters.
The issues identified for the EIS were environmental (sediments, aquatic vegetation, water quality and fish and wildlife), noise, recreation and aesthetics.
Risvold expects the first draft of the EIS will be completed in early 2017, when it will be available to the public for additional comment. A final EIS will be written and presented at public hearings and to the Key Peninsula Land Use Advisory Council sometime in 2018. A final EIS with the PALS recommendation will be presented to the Pierce County Hearing Examiner. That decision then goes to the Washington State Department of Ecology for review.
All previously approved permits have been appealed to the state Shoreline Hearings Board.
For more information, go to www.co.pierce.wa.us.