Shellfish protection district seeks to form citizens’ group

The county is looking for volunteers to help guide programs in the South Holmes Harbor protection district.

The Resource Enhancement program of the Island County Health Department wants to develop a community action team. The team would help to provide a more thorough approach to work being done in the district and at quarterly community update meetings, said Aaron Henderson, county environmental health director.

The next update meeting is this week in Freeland.

“We originally had designated all the people who attended these meetings as ‘CAT’ members more or less, but there was no structure to what they were doing,” Henderson said Monday.

“For the most part, people just came and listened,” he added. “But I want to take advantage of people’s interest and concern for their environment and public health.”

Henderson said the new group of five to 10 volunteers would assist county staff to identify priorities, set goals, recommend presentations for community meetings and help carry out the completion of some projects.

He said more people could be added to the group, depending upon the interest, and the team may meet during the first half hour of each quarterly update meeting.

The next update meeting is from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, at Trinity Lutheran Church’s Grigware Hall in Freeland. Snacks will be served.

A sign-up sheet for those interested in joining the community action team will be available at the meeting, Henderson said.

“I think there’s a lot we can accomplish as a community, rather than simply a few health department employees,” Henderson said. “We’re trying to energize the most interested folks.”

Also at Thursday’s meeting will be an update on water-quality goals, and a review of upcoming preservation activities in the watersheds, he said.

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 freshwater surface runoff flowing into the harbor near Freeland.

It was created 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 it was lifted last 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.

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 the regular community update meetings. They’re 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.

To learn more, call Matt Kukuk at 360-678-7816 or e-mail

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