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County narrows search for polluters

FREELAND — Island County doesn't know precisely where the pollution is coming from that's fouling Holmes Harbor, but officials said they have narrowed their focus to four areas within Freeland as the likely problem areas.

Holmes Harbor has been closed for shellfish harvesting and other recreational activities since March 2007. Water quality specialists from the county said the pollution that's making its way into the harbor is coming from four areas; the neighborhoods that border East Harbor Road and south to Main Street, properties along Myrtle Avenue, properties bordering East Shoreview Drive and Woodard Avenue, and properties bordering Cameron Road and crossing over Highway 525.

Dry weather last year prevented the county from pinpointing the sources of pollution. Water quality specialists told members of a community advisory team at a meeting last week that a wet spring had allowed them to take more water samples, which allowed them to further refine the fecal coliform contamination picture.

"We had a good opportunity to really focus monitoring this year with the spring as wet as it was," said Chris Wilson, assistant planning director for Island County.

"We have made some significant progress in terms of moving upstream where we are actually finding the problems. We're starting to refine where the problems are," he said.

Janielle Marcell is a water quality specialist with the county who helps sample water in Freeland every other week. Marcell told the advisory team that more information meant the county was getting closer to solving the contamination issues.

"Since we made the last map we've got more data and the results have changed," Marcell said.

Focus Area One is the largest area of concern for the county, and is comprised of more than 100 acres with nearly three quarters of the land in an undeveloped or natural state, Marcell said.

The area includes land east of the Whispering Firs development and southward along East Harbor Road into Freeland all the way to Main Street.

Out of 10 samples taken in the first area, the geometric mean of the samples taken indicated 449 fecal coliform colony forming units. The state’s standard is 100 units.

Focus Area Two, the second largest contaminated area with 27 acres, borders East Shore—view Drive and southward, mostly between Myrtle Avenue and Freeland Avenue. Sixty percent of the land is residential in use and 9 acres, or a little more than

30 percent, is undeveloped.

The 10 samples taken there discovered 273 colony forming units.

The third focus area, 12 acres in size, encompasses land from East Shoreview Drive between Freeland Avenue and Woodard Avenue and extends about a third of the way toward Highway 525. More than a third of the land is residential in use and one acre is used for agriculture. It had 174.9 colony forming units across five samples.

Focus Area Four borders Cameron Road and crosses Highway 525 half-way to Bush Point Road. The land area consists of about eight acres and represents 31 percent residential and only 5 percent undeveloped land. Thirty-nine percent of the land is used for agricultural use here and accounted for 115 colony forming units within nine samples.

"We have areas that we can say are not contributing to the fecal bacteria problem. So those we are not looking at any more," Marcell said.

Included in that group is Nichols Brother's Boat Builders, Inc., the Freeland shipyard.

There is still a large area, in excess of 200 acres, that needs more sampling to determine if contamination is occurring.

The large swath of land includes parcels bordered by Woodard Avenue across Highway 525 eastward to a line roughly parallel to Osprey Road.

"We still need to collect more data in the lower watershed to determine whether or not we are moving forward with that area for source identification," she said.

But even when water runs dry, the county water quality staff will walk the land following ditches and other stormwater systems, Wilson said.

"There is still work to be done. We're walking up ditch lines to figure out where water is moving," he said.

Island County has sent out a letter to residents within the four areas and invited them to a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 2 at Freeland Hall to discuss the contamination issue. It will give homeowners a chance to work with the county to resolve any issues that may be adding to the pollution of Holmes Harbor, such as improper handling of animal manure and mud and other factors.

Wilson said the purpose of the meeting is straightforward: "Let's focus on where the problems are coming from and talk to those people and ask them, 'How can we help you?'"

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