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Holmes Harbor update meeting scheduled in Freeland

The latest in a series of community update meetings about progress being made to clean up Holmes Harbor will be this week in Freeland.

Island County and state planning and public health officials will discuss surface-water-quality monitoring, education and compliance efforts.

Whidbey Island Conservation District representatives will discuss improvements being made at Freeland Park.

The Island County Marine Resources Committee will discuss eelgrass surveying in south Holmes Harbor, and there will be an update on the county’s homeowner septic training program and septic inspection requirements.

Clean-up efforts are being concentrated in the South Holmes Harbor Shellfish Protection District, two watersheds totaling 1.56 square miles that drain into Holmes Harbor at Freeland.

The district was formed in 2007 after the state Department of Health banned shellfish harvesting in the area.

The shellfish ban remains in force. A ban on swimming and wading in the harbor was lifted last fall after water quality improved.

Officials say there is no known single activity responsible for the fecal matter in the fresh-water runoff. They suspect a combination of problems, including those caused by failed septic systems, pet waste, livestock manure and even wildlife droppings.

Armed with a $288,000 grant from the state Department of Ecology that runs through 2012, officials have launched a series of programs to spread the word about the best way to handle fresh-water runoff.

One of the most ambitious is the free homeowner septic training program, in which people with residential septic systems can learn to inspect and certify their own equipment.

New state rules being phased in this year by the county health department require routine maintenance and inspection of all home septic systems.

In their campaign to clean up Holmes Harbor, officials have evaluated more than 340 on-site septic systems in the area.

The county is now offering rebates of up to $100 on the cost of inspection fees and maintenance equipment for homeowners in the four focus areas who complete the septic training program.

Officials also continue to push a “scoop the poop” campaign for dog owners, encouraging them to pick up pet waste, bag it and put it in the garbage. Several plastic-bag dispensers are stationed throughout the harbor, and whimsical signs have been posted to promote the program.

District officials are also urging rural dwellers in the watershed to keep livestock manure under cover, and everyone to discourage wildlife from areas where droppings can mix with runoff, and to contain and filter rainwater on their property.

They’ve also launched a number of smaller programs to cleanse fresh-water runoff, including an environmentally friendly car-washing kit for fundraising groups to use.

The meeting will be from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 28, in Trinity Lutheran Church’s Grigware Hall.

For more information, call Matt Kukuk, county resource enhancement manager, at 360-678-7816 or e-mail him at matthewk@co.island.wa.us.

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