FREELAND — Island County is beginning the public process of forming a shellfish protection district to clean up pollution in Holmes Harbor.
Roughly 3,000 Freeland residents were mailed a newsletter this week from Island County detailing why a shellfish protection district must be established. It also details some of the impacts the district will have on local residents and visitors.
The Board of Island County Commissioners will hold public hearing in Freeland next month to hear public comment on the formation of the district.
The commissioners are expected to adopt a resolution for the creation of the district with the purpose of developing a strategy to improve public health and the marine environment in south Holmes Harbor.
County and state officials hope the result will be better water quality, which would mean reopening the area to shellfish harvest and swimming.
The Island County planning department will be the lead agency on the clean-up.
According to Jeff Tate, assistant planning director for Island County, the upcoming hearings are an opportunity for the county to invite public participation on this issue.
“It’s not a question if the district will be formed. Once the area was downgraded by the state Department of Health, by law we are required to form a district,” Tate said.
In 2006, the state Department of Health released a report that found six outfalls, or freshwater ditches, that drain into Holmes Harbor were contaminated with elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria.
In the test area, the state found that water quality in Freeland drainage ditches near the harbor had the highest potential for impact on public health. The Department of Health findings were based on water quality data that was collected over a period of several years.
The boundary of the district includes two major watersheds in Freeland; from Freeland Park west across Highway 525, and northeast between Bush Point Road and Honeymoon Bay and Mutiny Bay roads.
The area does not include the community of Holmes Harbor or the houses along the water east of the park.
However, Tate said, water sources outside the district boundary will also be tested.
“At this point fecal coliform has only been detected in the ditches at Freeland Park,” Tate said.
Once a district is formed, a closure response group of different agencies and citizens’ groups — such as the Friends of Holmes Harbor, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Ecology, Indian tribes, the Island County planning department and port offices — will work together to address the issue.
Tate said there will continue to be significant outreach efforts with all users, residents, businesses, visitors, over the course of the few months.
“The county and the state can’t solve the problem by themselves. All the property owners will have to help us,” Tate said.
“If you walk your dog in Freeland Park, pick up the poop and dispose of it,” he said. “Everyone can contribute, even in small way, to helping clean up the harbor.”
While shellfish are largely unaffected by fecal coliform, its presence suggests a potential risk to human health if consumed.
However, there has not been any reported illnesses from shellfish harvested from the area.
The state health department issued a formal notice of closure in July for commercial and recreational shellfish harvest from the area. The area is also closed to swimming or wading.
In an effort to reach as many local residents as possible, the flyer is being mailed out this week to all postal patrons in Freeland describing why the district is being formed and the impacts to individuals.
The county will also be distributing information through local businesses and posting in kiosks at Freeland Park.
The shellfish protection district will be funded through existing county funding and a $288,000 grant expected from the state. No additional fees or taxes will be instituted by the county.
Throughout the next year, the Department of Ecology and the county will continue monitor water quality and attempt to identify the sources of fecal coliform.
Gayle Saran can be reached at 221-5300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.