“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever,” said Jacque Cousteau. Spellbound seagoers who patronize Cornet Bay have the RCFB to thank for awarding a $1,664,000 grant to the Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission to fund a pier replacement project, which should improve their boating, or at least mooring experience at the most popular dock in the park. Project information states, “…demand for moorage has increased to 6,000 guests annually as well as thousands of additional day users, indicating a need to add additional capacity,” and, “The moorage facilities were built in the 1960s and have exceeded their useful life. Recent assessments determined that they needed to be replaced before they were considered unsafe and closed to public use….State Parks will replace the pedestrian access pier, gangway ramp, pilings, and moorage floats and build 384 linear feet of new moorage,” “The primary recreation opportunity provided by this project is motorized boating.” The contract agreement shows the end date as December 2018, with work slated to begin 31 July 2017 and end 30 September 2018.
Besides the benefit of new moorage for boaters, existing creosote-coated pilings will be removed. According to the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “Creosote is the name used for a variety of products that are mixtures of many chemicals…Animals that live in the water, such as crustacea, shellfish, and worms…take up coal tar creosote compounds. For instance, mussels attached to creosote-treated pilings and snails and oysters living in water near a wood-treatment plant had creosote in their tissues. Coal tar creosote components are also broken down by microorganisms living in the soil and natural water…The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that coal tar is carcinogenic to humans and that creosote is probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Another advantage: metal grates along the new dock’s surface will allow more light to pass through, which helps eel grass grow. The Department of Ecology’s Puget Sound Shorelines page explains the importance of eelgrass, “Each blade of eelgrass is a small food factory,” “Eelgrass meadows cushion the impact of waves and currents, preventing erosion,” “During low tides, eelgrass shelters small animals and plants from extreme temperatures,” “Many animals use eelgrass beds for nursery areas, others swim or walk among the leaves, or burrow in the sediments,” and “Within eelgrass meadows, there is food and shelter for a wide variety of sea anemones, marine worms, snails, limpets, crabs, birds, and fish.”
The project isn’t without controversy. The September 2016 progress report asks, “Are there any significant challenges that might hinder progress or keep you from meeting your project milestones? If so, please tell us about them.” The answer, “Yes. The project could be subject to appeal by the environmental watchdog group, Sound Action thus delaying regulatory approvals.”
Sound Action is “a Puget Sound watchdog group working to protect vital nearshore habitat and species.” The site says, “We want to hear from you!” so I sent off some questions via email. Director Amy Carey, “What we do is review every state nearshore development permit issued by WDFW (called an HPA) and we appeal or reach out to the department if there the permit does not comply with state law or if it allows habitat loss.¶Last year, out of the 500 or so permits we reviewed, State Parks had two permits for projects in the San Juan’s that were overturned or modified on our appeal. Each permit – both for replacement moorage – was appealed because the project was allowed over protected vegetation including eelgrass and kelp and violated law. We were not stopping those projects by any means, just worked to ensure that eelgrass was protected. WDFW had given a free pass to damage habitat and we stepped in to change that.¶When this Cornet Bay project comes up for HPA processing, we will review the permit and the project – and will again take action if there is a threat to protected habitat. My hope is that parks has now learned they need to follow the rules and will be complying up front. Fingers crossed.”
In late July, I stopped by the Deception Pass State Park administration building hoping someone could confirm or deny a rumor I’d heard–when the project is complete, fisherman (and crabbers), will be prohibited from fishing (crabbing) along the pedestrian-accessible addition, which will be for boat moorage only. Park Manager Jack Hartt himself greeted me after a brief wait at the (unstaffed) counter just inside the door. I’d never seen him, except in photos, but I’d read the book he published last year Exploring Deception Pass: An Insider’s Guide to Washington’s Favorite State Park. I smiled and said, “I know who you are,” as I explained the purpose of my visit and handed him my (outdated) map of the moorage improvements.
He asked my name, offered me a copy of the current layout, confirmed the rumor and acknowledged that once the project was complete, the number of linear feet of dock available for crabbers (and fisherman) would decrease, though not significantly. By my calculation, the length of the new near dock, where crabbing (and fishing) will be allowed will be one-third less than it is now. As to Sound Action’s actions, he said he believes that the organization’s goal is only to ensure that rules are followed. As a combined crabber and sea-creature-watcher, I’m disappointed at the thought of a more crowded crabbing-allowed dock but excited at the prospect of additional pedestrian-accessible sea-creature-watching space.
Update 20 October 2017: Surprised by the lack of progress on this project, I exchanged emails with Derek Gustafson, NW Region Capital Program Coordinator of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and learned, “the projects were submitted to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in accordance with all requirements and laws and the Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) was issued by WDFW…Unfortunately, this project is now being held up at the Federal level as the Army Corps of Engineers on the basis that they have decided to conduct formal consultation with one of the services with authority (NOAA fisheries). We’re just now starting to understand the issues behind the decision as it appears that there is a cultural shift within the agencies on how they now review and condition these types of projects. It may be months before we fully understand the issues and can navigate the process. This will impact the schedule for construction but also may impact the design and force changes.”