Shorelines Hearings Board Needs to Ask the Right Questions
Who's Testimony is Really Reliable?
(One of 3 leases executed in April of 2013)
Background - Not Disclosed
In April of 2013, Taylor Shellfish executed 3 separate leases with private tideland owners in Pierce County which would more than double in size their Stratford-Meyer geoduck farm. The farm is located to the south of the recently approved "Haley/Seattle Shellfish/Taylor Shellfish" geoduck farm and north of Herron Island along the shoreline of Case Inlet. (The original farm has operated since the mid-2000's.)
Background - An appeal of Haley/Seattle Shellfish/Taylor Shellfish decisions and belief a cumulative impacts analysis should be required.
One year later, in May of 2014, the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat appealed a permit approved by Pierce County and an associated mitigated determination of non-significance (MDNS) decision. In the initial hearing before the Hearing Examiner, affidavits were submitted to Pierce County by representatives of Taylor Shellfish and Seattle Shellfish stating no additional farms "abutting the Haley Farm" were proposed. Pierce County's staff noted "no applications for nearby farms were pending before the County." No mention of plans for the Stratford-Meyer farm to more than double in size was made, a plan known in April of 2013 if not sooner. In October of 2014 the Hearing Examiner denied the appeal of the MDNS and approved the permit. The appeal to the Shorelines Hearings Board was denied and the permit, with conditions, was approved in May of 2015.
Why an analysis was not required.
The SHB noted "Pierce County has no pending aquaculture applications between the county line to the north and Herron island to the south." Taylor Shellfish's Diane Cooper submitted an email from the Corps stating it only had "...2 pending applications in all of Pierce County for geoduck farms." (They were not for the 3 leases signed in 2013). Disclosure of the 3 executed leases for tidelands north of Herron Island, south of the "Haley" farm, was not made.
Was Pierce County's testimony really that reliable?
In its decision, the SHB found Pierce County's "testimony" to be the "most reliable" which lead it to believe there was no need for a Cumulative Impacts Analysis and the Coalition had "...failed to prove that there will be adverse impacts from the Haley farm, along with other existing aquaculture and reasonably foreseeable aquaculture in the vicinity of the Haley Farm." (p. 32 SHB decision)
Current permit application (at least what's known) March 23, Pierce County announced Taylor Shellfish intended to more than double in size its Haley/Stratford geoduck farm, using leases it had executed in 2013. It will accept comments through April 19, by 5PM (See permit application announcement here)
True, but not the complete story. What else is there?
"Additionally, the Applicant provided affidavits by Cooper and Gibbons, speaking on behalf of Taylor and Seattle Shellfish, respectively, indicating “No plans to operate any additional shellfish aquaculture farms abutting the Haley Farm.” Further, the MDNS and staff report considered aquaculture activities adjacent to or abutting the proposed site, noting that no aquaculture activity occurs within 4,300 feet of the Haley site and no applications for nearby farms were pending before the County."
Size is a relative term - and like geoducks, it just keeps getting larger and larger, overwhelming south Puget Sound.
In the October 2014 decision, the Hearing Examiner noted the Haley/Seattle Shellfish/Taylor Shellfish geoduck farm was "in proportion" to the area proposed. Currently, Taylor Shellfish is also proposing an additional 25 acre geoduck operation in nearby Burley Lagoon, also in Pierce County. More importantly, the University of Washington recently released a study stating a mere increase of ~3 acres to ~7 acres of geoduck farming in the Central Basin of Puget Sound would cause significant adverse impacts. The UW wrote, "Gear...Impacts Ecosystem If Farming Increases." If only 7 acres in the Central Basin causes impacts, what will the current proposals in south Puget Sound do?
"The scale of aquaculture operations shall be in proportion with the surface area and configuration of the affected water body. The proposed site is not within a constricted waterway, but along the shore of Case Inlet. Case Inlet is long and wide and the proposed farm, even at 11 acres, is within an appropriate scale for such a water body, even considering other aquacultural activity in Case Inlet." (p. 28, Hearings Examiner Decision, October 2014)Get involved. Pierce County is accepting comments now.