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Sara Thompson

Sara Thompson

Since November 2011, KP School Bus Connects has been at the forefront of rural transportation innovation. Using school buses after they complete their regular routes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, residents have been catching rides from designated locations to get to Key Center and Purdy Park and Ride and home again.

The program has been a great success and the numbers of riders has grown, according to organizers. Now, thanks to a grant approved by the Washington Department of Transportation, the program will not only be maintained, it will also expand to Mondays.

I am delighted with the way the program has expanded and the way we have been able to bring in new partners to provide transportation on the Key Peninsula, said Marcia Harris, who coordinates the program for the KP Community Council.

The grant is for two years, with funding starting this July. For the first time, the school bus program was awarded federal dollars in addition to receiving money from state sources.

The Washington State Department of Transportation loves this program, said Jacque Mann from the Puget Sound Educational District. It is rural, hugely beneficial and inexpensive. I think theyd like to see it expand to other communities.

The grant, a collaboration with the Puget Sound Educational District, the KP Community Council and the Peninsula School District, was not a slam-dunk. With many programs competing for limited funds, it was a very competitive process. A total of about $2 million was available for grants, some from federal sources and some from the state.

The Puget Sound Regional Council (Snohomish, King, Pierce, and Kitsap counties) oversees the development of the budget for transportation and made its recommendations in April. King County had a top-rated proposal that would have taken the entire $2 million budget, and there were several smaller proposals, including the Key Peninsula grant. After deliberation, the Puget Sound Regional Council recommended full funding for four smaller projects and partial funding for the King County program.

Annie Bell, director of Transportation for the Peninsula School District, said she is excited about the grant renewal and expansion.

We look forward to this project taking off so we can keep serving the people on the Key Peninsula, she said.

During the school year, the buses operate according to schedule as long as school is open. There are no buses during the winter or spring breaks or on school holidays. The summer schedule is now available. The community council is working to expand the program with other partners.

For more information


A previous article in the KP News described the KP School Bus Connects program and its history. Read it here

Tuesday, 05 May 2015 00:22

Longbranch Improvement Club

The Longbranch Improvement Club (LIC) has a proud history as a positive force in the community. Although many associate it primarily with the Longbranch Marina, its first commitment was to education. And the commitment to students on the Key Peninsula continues to this day. As the LIC approaches its centennial, Gayle Brewer, the club president, said, We want to let people know what we do and to expand our presence in the community.

The story of the LIC reflects that of the Key Peninsula schools, farming, boating and even baseball infuse its history.

The LIC incorporated in 1921 to encourage any activity for the betterment of schools, homemaking, roads, marketing, dairy, poultry and all its branches and purchased 10 acres of land just before the first paved county road was completed. 

According to organizers, baseball, which was an especially popular way to socialize-influenced the first use of those 10 acres a field and grandstand provided a home for the Longbranch team. Three acres were donated to build a two-room schoolhouse.

The WPA built the timbered a-frame gymnasium next to the schoolhouse, and that building now serves as the home of the LIC. It was upgraded in 1956 with the addition of kitchen facilities and a wooden floor, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

The Longbranch Marina history is as intertwined in the LIC story as the familiar timber, concrete and stone structure, and goes back more than a century.

In 1885 a wharf was built in Longbranch to serve South Puget Sound. The Mosquito Fleet transported families and agricultural products. A ferry, the Elk, was commissioned and served until the late 1930s.

When Pierce County refused to lease the ferry dock to a private for-profit venture, the LIC came to the rescue. County engineers supplied plans and LIC member provided the lumber, labor and funding to build a floating pier that was installed in 1959. More recently, when the wharf deteriorated, Pierce County had plans but no funding to replace it. The LIC stepped in, raising the necessary money through donations and loans.

This is a remote marine community and people value the beauty and quiet of Filucy Bay. Originally, providing and maintaining the marina was not a business plan it just happened, said Brewer.

One-third of the floating dock is dedicated to public guest moorage. Made available on a first-come, first-served basis for day and overnight users. Boaters have access to fresh water, garbage disposal and restrooms, all at no cost to taxpayers. The lack of amenities is in some ways a blessing, said Clark Van Bogart, club vice president. Boaters really value the incredible setting and its peace and quiet.

The LIC is a heterogeneous group some are very focused on the water, and others not at all.  They rally around the needs of the building as they come up be it replacing the septic system, updating the kitchen or establishing the nature trail just behind the building that is now open to everyone.

In talking about the activities of the LIC, what excited Brewer, Van Bogart and events chair, Delia McGinnis, was the outreach to the schools and students.

Every year, in collaboration with the Girl Scouts and the schools, they host Trunk or Treat a Halloween event with treats and activities for KP families. Kids N Christmas, in conjunction with Toys for Tots, provides gifts for every child, dinner and crafts tables for the kids to make presents for their parents.

One mother came up to me last year, said McGinnis, and said they had been coming for eight years, commenting, You have no idea how much this has meant to us.’”

In addition, the LIC offers scholarships to grade-school students to attend summer camp and scholarships to Peninsula High students who started their education at Evergreen.

Other events are geared to building community spirit. The Fiber Arts Fair is coordinated with the KP Farm Tour. Spaghetti feeds and pancake breakfasts are times for friends to gather and enjoy good company. And Memorial Day and Labor Day dances provide a great time for everyone as well as a chance to raise funds. 

New members are welcome. The fee for membership is just $25 single, $40 family, and each member is asked to attend at least three member meetings a year and to contribute 15 hours of volunteer service.


For information, visit

Janine Motts eyes light up when she talks about the changes in adult education that Tacoma Community College (TCC) is bringing to Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula. Mott, TCC executive director for the Gig Harbor Campus and Continuing Education, discussed the innovations in Adult Basic Education, which is more commonly known as the GED program.

TCC has had an adult basic education program for at least 15 years, with support from the Gig Harbor Garden Tour ( since 1998. Mott said that until recently, the program focused only on GED test preparation. Over time two trends have surfaced: Potential employers, if given two equivalent applicants, will prefer the one with a high school diploma over one with a GED; in addition the GED test is becoming more difficult to pass.

Enrollment was spotty by late 2013. TCC cancelled the winter 2014 class to reassess and make changes. The new program opened the following spring.

The TCC basic skills department redesigned the curriculum with the goal to offer a learning experience that went beyond teaching to the test and would give students the opportunity to see themselves as lifelong learners. In addition, students do more then get a GED –– they can enter a high school completion program.

The class was relocated –– the Red Barn offered space and was more central than the Home fire station.

The new course includes two classes. Each class read/write and math meets twice a week for two hours. Students meet with an advisor prior to registration to review transcripts and job experience in order to understand their individual needs.

Tony Sincich, attending his second quarter, quit high school in his senior year. It just wasnt for me, he said. After two years of working, he was too old to participate in programs offered through the high school. He thinks this program is great, citing the one-on-one attention, flexibility and lower pressure. He appreciates being able to pace himself, and plans to continue to work toward his high school diploma with electives at the Tacoma campus after this quarter.

Garrett Loney dropped out after the ninth grade. As with Sincich, high school was not a good fit. He, too, loves the program. He thinks the small size helps kids who may have trouble focusing. He plans to take the GED test at the end of the quarter, then wants to go to the Tacoma campus to complete his high school diploma and get an associate degree.

Mott discussed technology and its role. It is not the only answer, she stated. Using technology in outreach takes both skill and access, and access can be a real problem in more rural communities. But we also know that we must develop those skills for adults to be successful. For that reason the program purchased 15 laptops, which students receive for the quarter, along with an email account through TCC.

How is the new program working? We are very pleased, said Mott. With a target of 15 to 25, current enrollment is 12, so there is capacity for more. And she noted, This quarter we have six students who returned for a second quarter. That simply never happened before. It is huge and we are thrilled.

Aaron Murphy, attending his first quarter, was enthusiastic. He dropped out after his junior year because he needed to work, and more recently moved to the Key Peninsula. He has a quote from Benjamin Franklin that means a lot to him: If you do tomorrow what you did today, you will get tomorrow what you got today. With that in mind, he decided it was time to change it up joining the adult basic education program for high school credit and a diploma is pretty cool. And the schedule still lets me work here at the Red Barn in the afternoons, he said.

Want to know more?

Visit the TCC Gig Harbor website at, or call (253) 460-2424.

Tuition is $25 a quarter though students may be eligible for a waiver. There is also a $4 fee for course materials.


Interested in Adult Continuing Education? Visit the TCC Continuing Education at, or call (253) 460-2424.

Republican Michelle Caldier, elected in a rancorous campaign by a close margin to replace Larry Seaquist, is a political newcomer. She now represents the Key Peninsula as one of the state representatives to the 26th District.

Caldier grew up in Kitsap County, the fourth generation of her family to live there her great-grandfather served as the first postmaster of Kitsap County. She graduated from Central Kitsap High, then received her associate of sciences from Olympic College before earning her bachelor of science and then her doctor of dental surgery from the University of Washington.

From the ages of 10 to 17, she entered into the state foster care system, largely in response to an abusive stepfather. During that time she lived in many different settings, and she credits a stable school situation for her ultimate success. She was able to stay in the same middle school and high school throughout those tumultuous times. Her junior high counselor ultimately became her high school principal, and he encouraged her to enter the Running Start program.

During dental school, as a divorced mother with a young daughter, she felt well-supported by fellow classmates, especially other single mothers. We watched out for each other, she said. And once she completed dental school and established her practice, she became a foster mother herself, caring for a 16 year old and then a 13-year-old daughter. There were some rocky times, she admits, but she now describes herself as a proud mother and foster mother of three beautiful daughters, a grandmother and a small-business owner.

I believe education is the key to a better future for everyone and will support measures to fund education first and make sure children receive our first dollar, and not our last dime, Caldier said.


Two years ago, after working for more than a decade in a dental practice serving nursing homes and volunteering to care for the underserved, she joined others to lobby the Washington State Legislature to restore funding for adult dental care for those on Medicaid. When that was successful, she was inspired to run for a seat. 

Her legislative priorities are protecting the most vulnerable, prioritizing education in the state budget and efficiency with taxpayer dollars. She serves on the following committees: education, 


healthcare and wellness, general government and information technology.

Education is a top priority, and she notes that paying for the mandated changes will be an issue. She remains opposed to increased taxation and feels that the needs can be met by more efficient use of current funding spending more wisely. In addition she said that with an improved economy, there is more money in the state budget.She said that transportation has been identified as high priority for the Key Peninsula and she felt she could not support the Pierce County transportation plan because it did not address the needs of her district living on the north side of the Narrows. She said she is still learning about the buckets of money and wants to be sure that the Key Peninsula gets some of those dollars perhaps thinking outside the box and using more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Caldier notes that her roots are in Bremerton and Port Orchard, where she now lives. To get to know the Key Peninsula, she made phone calls from a list of voters provided by the state.  

When asked how she will continue to be in touch with the concerns of the Key Peninsula, she said she has attended the Key Peninsula Business Association meetings and the Key Peninsula Community Council. She also attends local events. She encourages constituents to contact her directly.

I always have an open door, she said. I am here to represent everyone. Contact me with questions, concerns or issues you think are important.


Her email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and her phone number is (360) 786-7802.

Monday, 30 March 2015 01:04

Meet your elected representatives

Derek Young, recently elected to the Pierce County Council by a razor-thin margin, did not come to politics with a long-range plan to do so.

He moved to Gig Harbor at age 9. His grade school and middle school have both closed, he said as he smiled ruefully.

At least Gig Harbor High School is still standing,he noted. 

His parents, sister and nieces all continue to live in Gig Harbor.

Young attended the University of Washington. When he returned to Gig Harbor with the mindset of a young environmentalist, he was frustrated by his communitys reaction to the then new growth management plan.

He said he ran for a position on the Gig Harbor City Council to make a point and never expected to win. But he took the race and at age 21 found himself on the council, where he served for 16 years.

As a result of his involvement in transportation and land-use issues, Young participated in a number of regional committees and came to the conclusion that decisions made at a county level have an enormous impact on local communities. At that point he decided to run for the Pierce County Council. After a hand recount, he was declared the victor in January, replacing Stan Flemming.

District 7, covering north Tacoma, Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula, represents a true snapshot of Pierce County covering the most urban, the most rural and everything in between,Young said.

To get to know the Key Peninsula, he has attended many meetings. Over a recent two-week period, he came to a Community Council meeting, attended the first organizational meeting of the Key Peninsula Democrats and met with the Key Peninsula Business Association. He plans to spend one to two days a week doing outreach to his constituents and noted that sometimes just hanging aroundcan help to keep in touch with people.   

Councilman Derek Young can be reached via phone at (253) 798-6654 or email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Youngs interest in land use continues unabated.

If we are to protect rural areas, we need to grow in more populated areas. The trick is to do it gracefully and to maintain the character of each community. It is hard, but it is important to try,he said.

When asked what he sees as the main issues facing the Key Peninsula, he prioritized the Shoreline Management Plan, the Key Peninsula Community Plan as it fits into the Pierce County Comprehensive Plan, and transportation. His involvement in other pressing issues mental health services, the county business plan and the jail ––has added to his busy schedule.

Working with the County Council has had its challenges, Young said. Although the broad strokes look similar, the work is on a larger scale compared to that of Gig Harbor, and the area is much more diverse.

Young also has seen a much more partisan approach. While colleagues on the Gig Harbor City Council might not agree, the climate was one of mutual respect and collegiality. He has felt that there has been more one-upmanship at the county level and hopes that this can change.

Its up to us to minimize conflict, not to put politics above the community,he said.

I am enjoying the heck out of getting to know folks I didnt know prior to the campaign,he added. The institutions on the Key Peninsula are extraordinary, as is the level of community spirit and civic responsibility. There is a bit of a were on our ownfeeling that comes from the rural location. It is tremendously humbling to be given the honor to serve. My door is open. I am a phone call away and answer all my emails.

In 2008, following a four-year process, a group of 15 Key Peninsula citizens completed a community plan, a document describing the Key Peninsula and providing a guide for future development. It is available online at

Pierce County is now reviewing its comprehensive plan and the shoreline management plan. What will that mean for the Key Peninsula?


The Washington State Legislature passed the Growth Management Act in the 1990s. The act outlined planning goals to guide the development of comprehensive plans for each county. The goals included urban growth, reduction of sprawl, transportation, affordable housing, economic development, natural resource industries, open space and recreation, environment, public services, historic preservation and shoreline.

In 1995, Pierce County passed its comprehensive plan and has reviewed it every eight years since then, as required by the state. The plan guides county decisions related to growth and development in unincorporated Pierce County. The plan is due for review, and now, at 20 years and with newer census data available since the last update, the county is taking action. 

Impact of Comprehensive Plan Revision on the Community Plans

Because the various community plans (there are 10 in addition to Key Peninsula) had many commonalities, county staff wanted to simplify procedures. In addition, some community issues such as zoning regulations, agricultural resource lands and design standards are now addressed in county programs or regulations.

Between April and September 2014, county staff met with the individual land use advisory commissions to work on the community plan consolidation.

The staff worked with the Key Peninsula Land Use Advisory Commission (KPAC) to highlight sections of the community plan that might be shifted to the comprehensive plan sections that were common to the community plans and those that were regulatory in nature. The groups also identified sections that KPAC wanted to keep intact reflecting unique aspects of the community plan while moving the more general policies to the Pierce County Comprehensive Plan.

Impact on the Key Peninsula

Jeff Mann, senior planner with Pierce County Planning and Land Services, and other staff met with KPAC and concerned citizens. He described the reaction to the county process early on as mixedbut also felt that ultimately the reception was supportive. 

Members of KPAC and those who worked on the current plan have some concerns. Don Swensen noted, for example, that although ground water is common to all community plans, the concerns in Graham are very different from the concerns on the Key Peninsula, where the shoreline plays a dominant role.

He and others fear that simply presenting all regulatory issues in the county document, separate from the community plan, will remove the context for those very regulations. His hope is that the community plan, where people struggled over every word to assure that the plan reflected the unique characteristics of the Key Peninsula, will remain intact and that it can simply have cross-references to the pertinent sections in the county plan.

A few changes may be of particular interest to those on the Key Peninsula.

Some properties will be redesignated as agricultural resource lands. These are plots greater than five acres and with good soil, and would be preserved for agricultural use including agritourism. Affected landowners have been informed.

Detached accessory housing units (self-contained residential buildings) are now included in housing density. Most of the Key Peninsula is designated as rural residential 10. A maximum of two residences is permitted as long as 50 percent of the lot is designated as open space. Current detached units will be grandfathered in, and attached units do not add to housing density.

The new comprehensive plan encourages schools serving rural locations to be located in neighboring towns but recognizes the need for schools to care for students where they live. If additional capacity were needed in the community, expanding current sites would be preferred over building new facilities.

On March 11, staff from the county presented the new plan to KPAC and community members. A follow-up meeting for questions and comments took place the following week.

Staff will incorporate comments and take the document to the Pierce County Planning Commission for review and recommendations.   

For more information, visit the Pierce County website for the Realize 2030 Comprehensive Plan Update at 

The public meeting of the planning commission for rural area modifications will be April 28 at 6 p.m. in the public meeting room at the Pierce County Public Services Building, located at 2401 S 35th Street in Tacoma. Final recommendations will be complete on April 30 and the county council will vote on the plan in June.  

Wednesday, 04 March 2015 11:39

Feeding the hungry on the Key Peninsula

Food insecurity is a real problem in this country one in five families in Washington receive support from food pantries supported by state food assistance programs. The Key Peninsula is no exception.

Two food banks with permanent locations Key Peninsula Community Services (KPCS) and Bischoff Food Bank as well as one mobile unit, FISH Food Bank are serving local residents. All have proud histories and help to ensure that people do not go hungry.

The story of a recent new arrival illustrates some of the struggles. (She faces a domestic violence threat and asked to remain anonymous.) Last July, her ex-husband took her two young sons. Homeless, she and her boyfriend lived in a tent in Tacoma and moved to the Key Peninsula in December at the suggestion of a relative. They were able to get a tent from KPCS and lived in an abandoned house while getting food support from both food banks.

Now she has legal help through the YWCA and a place to live near the Bischoff Food Bank, where she volunteers. She has been reunited with her children. The oldest, who has moderate autism, is enrolled in kindergarten and she hopes her youngest will enter the Head Start program at Evergreen. She is looking for part-time work.

People here have been amazing and helpful. Now I have a safety net. If they dont have what I need, they help to find it,she said.

Penny Gazabat, executive director at Key Peninsula Community Services, said the need for food has increased dramatically since 2008, when she first started. We had 97 families in our food basket program in 2008, and we have 300 now.

Ed Townson, executive director at the Bischoff Food Bank, said, Before I got involved, you could not have convinced me that there was this much need. It breaks my heart. The current government help is just not enough. We have about 10 new families register with us each month.

Key Peninsula Community Services

KPCS was founded in 1982 and was located in Vaughn until 1989, when it moved to its current location just south of Home. It depends on volunteers but also has two paid staff. The food bank manager salary is paid through a community block grant and fundraising provides a salary for the driver of the refrigerated truck. 

The bank partners with Food Lifeline in Seattle, which gives access to QFC, Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Target; independent relationships were developed with Costco and Safeway. The food bank also works with the Tacoma-based Emergency Food Network (EFN), which is a distributor to many food banks and hot meal providers in Pierce County.

KPCS is a member of the Food Bank Coalition, a group of more than 60 food banks in Pierce County. This organization advocates for food insecurity issues and, as a member, KPCS is eligible for a higher volume of food and for the federal commodities program.

The nonprofit serves residents of the Key Peninsula. Clients register once a year and are asked to show a photo ID and a piece of postal mail to confirm residency. If they are homeless, this is waived. There is an income cap 185 percent of federal poverty level but proof of income is not required.

A total of about 36,000 pounds of food is distributed each month through two programs: Bread Closet and food baskets.

The Bread Closet is open four days a week and individuals can come whenever the bank is open.  Participants are asked to register once a year and they sign in with each visit so that the number of individuals served is known.

Bread, desserts, fresh produce, dairy and deli items are available, depending on what has been donated. About 2,000-2,700 individuals a month benefit from this program. Products past their prime are donated to farmers to feed livestock.

Households in the food basket program receive a three-day emergency supply of food once a month. The basket provids three meals including meat, cereal, boxed food, coffee, oil and seasonings for everyone in the family. Some household cleaning and personal hygiene products are also available. Gazabat noted that most families report the basket lasts for nearly a week.

Bischoff Food Bank

The Bischoff Food Bank was founded in 2006 by Ross Bischoff. At first, he simply set up a table and handed out food at the Key Peninsula Lutheran Church. Although he died shortly after, his work was continued by Wally Haugaard.

The operation outgrew the church and in March 2013, it moved to Key Center for a year. In March 2014, the KP Bischoff Food bank decided to end its partnership with FISH Food Banks of Pierce County and was temporarily without a home. In June 2014, the food bank moved to its current location in Home, off Key Peninsula Highway.

It is a volunteer operation, with about 16 volunteers working at the food bank and driving to pick up donations. They partner with NW Harvest, Budds Food Distribution in Tacoma and the Emergency Food Network. In addition, Food Market in Lake Kathryn Village donates three times a week.

They support families throughout the entire Key Peninsula. Customers register by filling out an intake form that provides statistical information. There are income guidelines but proof of income is not required. 

Need Help?

Bischoff Food Bank

1916 Key Peninsula Highway, Lakebay

(425) 444-2374


Tuesday-Friday: 2– 6 p.m., Saturday: 2– 5 p.m.

Key Peninsula Community Services

17015 9th ST KP N, Lakebay

(253) 884-4440


Tuesday, Thursday & Friday 10 a.m. – noon and 12:45 – 4 p.m., Wednesday 10 a.m. – noon and 12:45 – 6 p.m.

FISH Food Bank

12521 134th Ave KPN, Gig Harbor

(253) 383-3164


Friday 2 – 7 p.m.

The bank is open five days a week but it has been known to make emergency deliveries to families who lack transportation. Clothing, household items and appliances are also available.

Kimberly Miller, board vice president and warehouse operations manager, said that on a typical month they serve 2,000 individuals and 450 families, supplying 35,000 pounds of food.

Individual donations (food, service and financial) are welcome. Miller noted that they are in particular need of canned goods and protein. Produce is welcome. As with KPCS, food past its prime is donated to farmers for livestock.

Bischoff welcomes those seeking community service hours (high school students meeting requirements or for court-mandated issues such as paying off traffic violations).

FISH Food Banks of Pierce County

FISH Food Banks was started in the 1970s by a group of churches. It provides food on the Key Peninsula once a week through a mobile food bank on Fridays from 2 to 7 p.m. First-time clients are asked to bring photo ID and the full names and birthdates of household members. The food bank operates next to the Key Peninsula Latter Day Saints Church.




Hot meals provided on the KP



The Peninsula Lutheran Church offers breakfast at 9 a.m. on first and third Saturdays, and dinner on the fourth Saturday at 3 p.m. It is located at 4213 Lackey Road KP North, Lakebay


Sunday Community Meal

KP Community Services offers a Sunday community meal at 3 p.m. As many as 50 people come each Sunday, including some seniors and families. Oliver Coldeen coordinates the program. Four churches rotate to sponsor the meal Longbranch Community Church, plus Gig Harbors Wellspring Fellowship, Harbor Christian Center and St. Nicholas Catholic Church.

Harbor Christian Center manages the entire meal. For the others, Coldeen shops for what is on sale at Safeway and plans the menu. The churches provide the manpower and pay for the groceries. KP Community Center donates the facility.

It can be a bit like the Iron Chef, getting a meal on the table for 50 people in two hours,Coldeen said.

Leftovers are boxed and sent home with those who want them.


Thursday Afternoon Meal

Lakebay Community Church offers a Thursday afternoon meal each week at 2 p.m. About 25 people attend, and after the meal there is a supply of donated food for them to take home. It is coordinated by Howard and Diane Johnson as a part of the Mingle and Minister Church Ministry.

A team of nine volunteers from several churches takes turns preparing the meal, with most ingredients donated by Panera, Budds Food Service, Grocery Outlet and, from time to time, Lulus Home Port.

We have a good time and welcome newcomers,Johnson said.





Saturday, 31 January 2015 22:45

Economics of geoduck aquaculture

Editors note: This is the fourth and final article in our geoduck series. The first focused on the hearing for a new farm on the west side of the Key Peninsula, the second reviewed the history of geoduck aquaculture and the third concentrated on the environmental impact.

Washington is the largest producer and exporter of geoducks, and although the economics are far from transparent, there is a fascinating story to be told. Developing technology, policies affecting harvesting, turning a low-end product to a luxury food item and a growing Chinese economy all play a part in this tale.

The early years

The industry did not start until after 1967, when abundant subtidal wild beds were discovered, particularly in Washington and British Columbia. In Washington, quotas were established along with agreements with the tribes (though illegal harvesting was common and continues to be a concern).

In Canada, the harvesting was initially derby-style and the pounds harvested jumped from 2,500 tons in 1976 to nearly 8,000 in 1988. As concerns grew for the viability of wild stock, Canada changed to a quota system and harvesting fell to a low of 3,000 tons in 1995.

The target market at the time was almost exclusively in Hong Kong, and this market was reached via Vancouver, B.C. Initially geoduck was sold as a canned food and ex-vessel prices were just 50 cents a pound.

Profitability grows

As the harvest plummeted in the mid-1990s, geoduck also began to be marketed as a fresh luxury food. Prices skyrocketed and by 1995 it was selling for $7.50 per pound. Wild harvests have remained fairly constant since 2000 (between 3,500 and 4,000 tons). Wild geoduck are now also harvested in Mexico and Alaska. Prices have risen with ex-vessel geoduck now worth $15 a pound or more and $30 for fresh.

As prices increased, the technology of farming developed. By 2002, the first farms in Washington sold their products.

Shipping infrastructure also evolved and while in the early years 90 percent of geoducks were shipped through Canada, Washington now ships directly to Hong Kong and China.

As Chinas economy expands, the taste for geoduck has shown no sign of slowing. Prices continue to rise and the market has moved from Hong Kong to include most major Chinese cities.

The industrys role

Washington, like any other state, needs industry to survive. Businesses pay salaries, purchase goods in order to operate, and pay taxes and fees. In turn, employees buy goods, pay taxes and thus add to the economy.

The shellfish industry, according to the 2013 report by Northern Economics, spent $101.4 million and generated $184 million in output. It was responsible for 1,900 direct jobs and an additional 810 jobs, indirectly. 

This is not an enormous piece of the state economy (the landscaping industry is responsible for a total of 43,000 total jobs (direct and indirect) and sales of $2.4 billion. And Boeing, Amazon and Costco surely dwarf shellfish.

But Kevin Decker from Washington Sea Grant noted, The counties where aquaculture is important are largely rural. For those counties this industry is important. In addition, Washington wants to diversify its industry.

The money at stake

Farming geoducks requires a significant investment. Land must be leased. Seed must be purchased; protective equipment must be purchased and installed, monitored regularly and then removed when the geoducks have dug deep enough to elude predators. And finally, after five to seven years, they must be harvested using high-volume, low-pressure hoses brought in via barge. 

Exactly how much it costs to farm geoducks is not clear. Based on a survey of the Pacific Shellfish Growers Association, the average cost to farm all shellfish is about $5,000 per acre per year. But, as Decker noted, geoduck probably costs more to farm than other shellfish, and there is likely variation in costs depending on the size of the company. He observed that companies have been hesitant to share their data it is a small and competitive industry.

How much money is made at harvest is a bit more transparent. The Department of Natural Resources, with numbers from 2004, estimated that an acre would produce $750,000 per acre every five years. Prices have increased since that time by at least fifty percent, so an estimate of $1,000,000 every five years would be fairly conservative.

How the Key Peninsula fits in

Currently about 200 acres are leased in the state for geoduck aquaculture. On the Key Peninsula, 22.3 acres are currently approved for farming, with 2.5 acres not yet planted. An additional 16 acres were approved and are under appeal, and several other permits are pending. Burley Lagoon, immediately to the north of the Key Peninsula, is the site of two other pending permits for a total of 35.6 acres (including a mixed one for geoducks and manila clams).

All current geoduck farms in Pierce County are on the Key Peninsula. Though the county accounts for only 0.5 percent of all aquaculture in the state, it provides 11 percent of all geoduck sites, and if other permits are approved, that percentage may grow.

According to data from the Pacific Shellfish Growers Association, about 10 percent of aquaculture employees come from Pierce County, so it appears that the industry brings jobs at least at the county level.

If an average acre of farming brings in $200,000 a year ($1 million every five years), then the harvest on the peninsula is probably sold for about $4 million. This calculation does not take into account the costs of farming, the fact that some acreage remains dormant each year or that the clams may be harvested at longer intervals. But by any measure, this is a significant amount of money.

Less tangible impact

If it is difficult to get accurate figures for the expenses and income of the industry, it is probably even more difficult to measure the economic impact along other lines.

Property values are affected but the impact seems to be very site-specific and difficult to measure.

The industry touts the beneficial effects of filtering to water quality but those effects are overstated, according to Jim Brennan, a marine biologist who specializes in nearshore matters.

Brennan worked as a marine habitat biologist for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and then served as the senior ecologist for King County.

We cant necessarily draw conclusions from the East Coast data on oysters,he said. Even there, it has been determined that bivalves filtering the water is not the solution to pollution. Clear water is not necessarily cleanwater.

Other benefits mentioned include fostering of stewardship with increasing awareness of the importance of water quality and serving as an ecosystem health indicator. But, as Brennan notes, there are minimal data to support those assertions and it is difficult to include them in calculating any economic benefit. The long-term consequences on the environment are still unclear as well.

What next?

Just as the environmental impact of geoduck farming continues to unfold, the economic impact story is evolving. Two studies to better understand the economics of the geoduck industry are due to be completed in June.

Decker, of Washington Sea Grant, is working with the Pacific Shellfish Institute to collect accurate data about costs and economic contribution. Katharine Wellman of Northern Economics is working on a study to help with marine spatial planning, a project that encompasses all fishing, shipping, shellfish and any activity that uses the waterways which is of interest to the state departments of natural resources, ecology and health.

Source: Much of the economic history comes from a report produced by Northern Economics for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources; from a report for Pacific Shellfish Institute by Northern Economics and from a paper currently under review at the journal Marine Policy, From Cannery to Culinary Luxury: The Evolution of the Global Geoduck Marketby Gina Louise Shamshak and Jonathan R. King.

The KP News welcomes your comments. Please send them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Want more info?

The next Shoreline Master Plan hearing is at the Peninsula High auditorium on Monday, Feb. 2 at 5:30 p.m. For details, go to the Pierce County Department of Land Services at More information can be found by visiting Marine Spatial Planning, the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat (regular updates) at along with Washington Sea Grant studies at

Wednesday, 31 December 2014 13:27

Transportation for seniors on the Key Peninsula

For many seniors, The Mustard Seed Project and Key Peninsula Community Services have some great options for transportation. 

First, there is a wheelchair-accessible mini-shuttle. In 2007, The Mustard Seed Project joined the Pierce County Coordinated Transportation Coalition. The organization was encouraged to apply for stimulus funds to lease a van, which added to transportation options but was not set up for physically challenged riders.

There is now a wheelchair-accessible mini-shuttle through a pilot program (Community Solutions) with Pierce Transit. The pilot program requires for 25 percent of all the users to be ADA-eligible.

There are regularly scheduled runs taking riders from home to the senior lunches at Key Peninsula Community Services, the Senior Center in Gig Harbor and the Silver Sneakers exercise program at the YMCA. In addition, riders can schedule the shuttle for medical appointments as needed. The shuttle provides a total of about 100 rides per month. 

In addition, The Mustard Seed Project provides a volunteer driver program. Catholic Community Services had a volunteer driver program in Tacoma but with no local volunteers, the time and cost for drivers were prohibitive.

Edie Morgan, executive director of The Mustard Seed Project, began local recruitment and by 2008 had a core of seven or eight to begin driving. It has since grown to a pool of 12.

The volunteer program was initially coordinate by Catholic Community Services in Tacoma but The Mustard Seed Project took over after the first year.

Catholic Community Services covers much of the cost of the coordinator through a contract and then provides background checks on the drivers, insurance and training as well as mileage costs. Those who get rides are not charged, though they are welcome to give a donation.

The significant limitation of the program is that it can only cover those clients with limited incomes. This is a problem we still contend with,Morgan said. The cost of transportation in our community is very high and we need to find a way to provide rides at an affordable rate for those who can afford it.

Currently about 125 rides per month are scheduled.

Key Peninsula Community Services has had shuttle van for nearly 10 years, thanks to an initial grant from Boeing. Maintenance and insurance is covered by funds raised through donations and grants.

It is used for first and third Tuesday shopping and for field trips. Riders call the Senior Center to arrange to be picked up at home in the morning, and are taken to the Port Orchard Fred Meyers, pharmacies as needed and then lunch together at a location of their choice.

Field trips have included day trips to Mount St. Helens, Portland and theater in Tacoma. The van is for the use of those 55 and older. Penny Gazabat, director of Community Services, noted that those using the service must be relatively able-bodied.

Need a ride?

Are you a senior or an adult with disabilities? To arrange transportation using the mini-shuttle or the volunteer driver program, or to find out about other transportation options, call The Mustard Seed Project at 884-9814.

Are you 55 or older? Need to go shopping? To arrange transportation for first and third Tuesday senior shopping to Port Orchard call Key Peninsula Community Services at 884-4440.

In our almost-island setting, 23 miles long and with countless winding back roads, how do Key Peninsula residents get around without a car? If this is like any other rural community, the car is just about the only option, and around 30 percent of residents depend on friends and family for transportation.

KP School Bus Connects, an innovative program using school buses three times a day, is a creative program that helps people get around.

In 2007, The Mustard Seed Project asked seniors to identify their most pressing barriers to aging in place. Transportation was the major concern. That year, The Mustard Seed Project joined the Pierce County Coordinated Transportation Coalition by far the smallest organization in a group that included Sound Transit. Connections formed through the coalition led to a number of initiatives to meet transportation needs.

In 2010, Pierce Transit faced funding deficits and determined that the ridership of the bus on the Key Peninsula was too low. The route was cancelled. 

The Mustard Seed Project, working with the Puget Sound Educational Service District, applied for a KP School Bus Connects pilot. Using school buses when students were not being transported, service began in November 2011. Community transportation was offered free of charge and targeted underserved populations including seniors, youth, veterans and those with special needs or low income.

The Key Peninsula Community Council took over administering the program in 2013. Marcia Harris, new to the council and with a long work history as a school administrator, including transportation, took over coordination.

What an opportunity this was a chance to make transportation available with no need for a significant capital investment,Harris said. We take advantage of the school buses already in use, and after drivers deliver students at Vaughan and Evergreen at 8:50 a.m., to return to the bus barn in Purdy, they simply make scheduled stops along the way, ending at Lake Kathryn Center and then at Purdy Park and Ride,Harris said. 

The route is repeated two hours later at 11. In the afternoon, there is a single bus leaving Peninsula High for Purdy Park and Ride and then driving as far south on the Key Peninsula as Evergreen Elementary School.

There is no need to call in advance riders simply wait at the scheduled stops. For the minimal cost of fuel and the short additional time the driver takes to make the stops en route to the bus barn, residents have access to transportation.

Dorothy Rawls has been driving the bus for the school district for 11 years and has taken the evening route for three.

Its a very colorful bunch and pretty entertainingshe said. I keep signing up for the route each year. I know what the program is about providing rides to people who really need them.

Emily Poundstone, a Peninsula High freshman, is a regular on the afternoon route that usually carries about a dozen students.

This bus has helped me succeed,she said. Without it, I would not be able to stay after school to get help or to do extra work when I need to. My parents would not be able to pick me up.

The use of the program has grown from just one to two riders a day in 2013 to often more than 10 a day since last spring.

Riders use the service for many reasons. Some can no longer drive, some cannot afford a car or have a car that needs repairs. Others are one-car families with the car needed to get to work while other family members have medical appointments, shopping or other transportation needs.

The council has submitted a renewal grant to cover the costs of coordination oversight and marketing. In addition, Harris has requested funds to expand to three days. She is also working with the Red Barn and Communities in Schools to increase outreach to students.

Some Peninsula High students have not been able to participate in after-school activities because they cant get home allowing them to use the late-afternoon return bus can make that possible. She also hopes that students from the elementary schools who would like to participate in tutoring could take advantage of a later bus.

During the summer, there was a single bus route three times a day on Tuesdays. One driver managed all three trips, which increased route predictability and consistency.

There was a real benefit to have a driver become familiar with the regular riders,Harris said.   

Service on the KP School Bus Connects is available to everyone. The schedule is available online at the Key Peninsula Community Council website or call 884-2877.

Harris is enthusiastic, feeling that this could be a model for other rural communities. She and Annie Bell, who is the director of transportation for Peninsula Schools, hope to share this model and lessons learnedwith other school district transportation directors across the state at their annual conference in late June.