County hopes end is in sight for shellfish ban

County officials hope they can get the ban on shellfish harvesting removed from Holmes Harbor by next spring, three years after it was imposed.

“The idea is to show improvement,” said Matt Kukuk, Island County resource enhancement program manager. “I think we’ve done that.”

He said the pinpointing of pollution trouble spots in the area, along with an intensive community education effort and improvement in water-sample numbers, should qualify the county to move ahead.

“I think we’ve done a lot of work in the watershed, and we should be stepping into the next phase,” Kukuk said. “But it’s up to the state.”

He said county officials would continue evaluation through the summer, and take new samples when rain returns in earnest in the fall. He said if numbers continue to show improvement, then the county would petition the state to remove the ban.

The South Holmes Harbor Shellfish Protection District was formed in March 2007 in an effort to curb toxic substances carried by rain, snow melt and other fresh-water surface runoff flowing into the harbor at Freeland.

It was formed after the state Department of Health banned shellfish harvesting in the area following tests prompted by an application seeking to harvest geoducks commercially.

A ban on swimming and wading in the harbor was also imposed, but was lifted this past fall when testing numbers improved.

The shellfish protection district is comprised of two watersheds totaling 1.56 square miles.

County 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.

County officials have evaluated more than 340 on-site septic systems in the area.

Last month, a residential stormwater drain line that emptied into a county ditch was found to be imbedded in a septic drain field, Kukuk said. County officials quickly contacted the landowner, who rerouted downspouts and capped the line.

“It wasn’t a smoking gun,” Kukuk said, “but repairing this source of contamination was certainly a huge success.”

Armed with a $288,000 grant from the state Department of Ecology that runs through 2012, officials also launched a series of programs to enhance public awareness, including regular community update meetings.

One of the most ambitious programs is free homeowner septic training, in which people with residential septic systems can learn to inspect and certify their own systems, something that’s required every three years.

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

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

The county is 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.

County officials also launched a number of smaller programs to cleanse fresh-water runoff, including an environmentally friendly car-washing kit for fundraising groups to borrow.

The kit uses a hose and electric pump to redirect car-wash water into a grassy strip, where soap, dirt, oils and other pollutants can be filtered out before the runoff reaches the harbor.

Kukuk said the county has been unable to pin down the state on the exact criteria needed to get the shellfish ban lifted.

“Sometimes I think they would like us to continue in perpetuity,” he said. “New data next spring may still not meet state standards. In the end, that’s what we have to do.”

The next Holmes Harbor community meeting will be from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, at Trinity Lutheran’s Grigware Hall in Freeland.

For more information, call 321-5111, ext. 7816, or e-mail

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