Owned since 1911, a 30-acre, 3,000-foot waterfront compound (including low tidelands) on Lorenz Road is the center of a local controversy. Across Mayo Cove from Penrose State Park, Reeder family descendants Jod Soeurs, his sister Ona Reinke with husband Cliff Reinke, all reside in the original farmhouse. Soeurs’ brother, Orrin, and his wife, Therese, own a second home on the site. The eldest sister, Juel Erickson, lives in Seattle. Three siblings are retired with fixed incomes; the property is mortgage-free. They say that while property tax payments are now doable, rising values are worrisome.

Siblings Ona Reinke and Orrin Soeurs on the beach of the 30-acre property where each has a home. The family hopes to lease the tidelands to a goeduck farmer, which has caused controversy throughout the area. Photo by Vic Renz

“We have protected and loved this land for nearly 100 years,” says Ona Reinke. They figure easily within 10 years, possibly sooner, taxes will overwhelm their capacity to absorb them. Orrin Soeurs says previous generations paid their own taxes, and they would do the same.

“I don’t feel right passing on a burden to the children,” he says. “This land is irreplaceable. It’s one of the last untouched places left along the peninsula (aside from the parks). It’s our family history; we will never sell any of it while any of us (four) are alive. Once we’re gone, unless it’s self-supporting, developers could move in as they have at Driftwood Point.”

While exploring financial options, the siblings say, they came to believe geoduck aquaculture would be a source of ecologically viable income.

Bill Taylor, owner of Shelton-based Taylor Shellfish Farms, visited the family in summer 2005. According to the family, he said about one acre (200 or so linear front shoreline feet) would sustain cultivation. Taylor reportedly indicated theirs was the only suitable geoduck farming tract in Mayo Cove, due to sand and mud erosion as well as pollution. The application submitted Feb. 6 by Taylor Shellfish, an agent on Souers’ behalf, and the Pierce County Planning and Land Services master application dated Feb. 2, give the site area about 5 acres “net developable, minus any… environmentally constrained lands.” Documents from BioAquatics International, the company that did the site eelgrass/macroalgae survey in December 2005, state, “All the surveyed area, with the possible exclusion of southerly portions, lies within WDOH (Washington Department of Health) approved shellfish harvest area.” No date for a required hearing has been set.

According to neighbors Cynthia Johnson-Kuntz and Richard Kuntz, a Souers family member called them about the family’s intentions. After inquiring, they were satisfied the area Orrin pointed out to them accurately represented what he understood to be the potential farm. Owners of about 200 feet of nearby waterfront themselves, the two became curious and eventually visited Totten Inlet in Olympia, camera and notebook in hand, to see for themselves.

Cynthia  Kuntz says they discovered 30 of the inlet’s 33 miles of tidelands are now geoduck farms. The State Department of Natural Resources owns the second class tidelands; no permits for aquaculture were required. On the sunny afternoon they visited low-tide beaches, they reported observing no one enjoying the shore anywhere, as far as they could see. They did see workers — installing geoduck tubes, harvesting geoducks, laboring at various tasks along the beach.

Kuntz says, “We did not see one recreational boat; only boats to and from shellfish beds.” They spoke with beachfront homeowners, took photographs, and chatted with a young workman who enthusiastically explained his harvesting duties until a superior in a boat saw him, docked, and sent him back to work.

Far removed from the vision described by the Soeurs, who received their information from Taylor, the Kuntzes said what they saw horrified them. They returned home and shared both their findings and their decision to oppose geoduck farming in Mayo Cove with the Soeurs. They created “No Geoduck Farm,” a not-for-profit organization whose by-laws are pending. Kuntz says they genuinely like their neighbors. Both families agree their decisions to be on controversial opposite sides have created tension; both remain steadfast, however, in their opposing positions.

Kuntz says, “TSF sells themselves as stewards of the environment; that scared me. (Our association) was created for the purpose of stopping this farm… To us, it’s all about property rights. Legally we’re concerned about safety; it’s also about the environment.”

“We really had no idea this (opposition) would happen,” Ona Reinke says. “We had only the best intentions. Pierce County planner Ty Booth walked the beach. And it’s our land. (When) we began to receive some unkind commentary and email… we stopped (trying to explain).”

Her husband, Cliff, mentions property rights. “(Other people’s) right to view our property does not supersede our right to use it.” He says Taylor indicated the farming bed would be visible less than 5 percent of summer’s long days and not in winter’s short days at all. The Souers are convinced no harm will come to either their land or the surrounding area. “We are relying on science and Bill Taylor,” Orrin says.

Just after the Fourth of July, signs saying “No Geoduck Farm. Keep Penrose Safe” started appearing. Anti-farming efforts from several local organizations continue with door-to-door canvassing. The Soeurs are aware the Mayo Cove Shoreline Association is actively seeking ways to halt the permit. Their brochure states the association is “committed to working together with state and local governments to stop the reckless commercialization (of) our pristine Puget Sound Beaches.”

Orrin invited a member of “Save Our Shoreline,” another local anti-aquaculture group, to come see for herself in early July; at press deadline he hadn’t heard from her yet. At their visit to Totten Inlet, the Kuntzes met a waterfront owner willing to talk with the Soeurs about her experiences with geoduck farming. In an email to KP News on July 19, Kuntz stated the owner had contacted the Soeurs family and received no reply.

“We’re short on sleep,” Orrin says, “but not enough to change course. This is not an easy, overnight money scheme. We’re in it for the harvest, and that won’t come until the end of the six-year lease with TSF.” He says they will “wait out” any permit delay. “If anything (appears to be) ruining any part of our land, we will address it immediately,” he says.

Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee acknowledges this new aquaculture’s lack of science. He recently sponsored a resolution affecting both shellfish businesses and upland tideland owners, and is working with state Rep. Pat Lantz to initiate an intertidal programmatic environmental impact study during the upcoming legislative session. At a meeting with the Department of Natural Resources about a month ago, Lantz requested a halt to state tidelands aquaculture auctioning pending scientific study. DNR declined; leases on 9 acres of Key Peninsula tidelands at four separate sites are scheduled to close on Aug. 4. DNR plans to auction 25 acres per year, up to 250 Puget Sound tideland acres over a 10-year period.

Dedicated to preservation of property rights, Lee is also “absolutely opposed to going in later and attempting to clean up damage” done to the environment as a result of unsound practices whose long-term effects are not yet known. Due to a pending lawsuit concerning a permit on Bainbridge Island, the county prosecuting attorney advised Lee that a moratorium on geoduck farming until baseline science can be obtained. His office has requested documents from Island County, where aquaculture is also being established.

Geoduck farming is a burgeoning industry, changing the way residents of, and visitors to, the Pacific Northwest enjoy and use salt waterfront, both public and private. According to Lee, the next aquaculture challenge to waterfront will be commercial mussel farming, a related form of aquaculture his office is following.  Lee’s office is attempting to work with the appropriate agencies to introduce legislation and guidelines that allow economic growth, and also protect the shorelines.

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