State plan could mean big changes in the harbor

Under a new plan proposed by the state, many who have boats moored in Quartermaster Harbor will be required to move them to a different location and spend thousands of dollars on new, environmentally friendly anchor systems.

The new requirements come as part of a plan the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has drafted to better manage Quartermaster Harbor, part of the state-owned Maury Island Aquatic Reserve. Under the draft plan, the state will also pull a number of abandoned buoys in the harbor and require buoy owners to pay an annual moorage fee — a requirement that has been widely ignored on Vashon. DNR officials will present the draft plan and take comments at a public meeting on Vashon next week.

Lisa Randlette, an environmental planner with DNR’s Aquatic Resources Division, said the state is concerned about what it believes are environmental and safety hazards posed by the abundance of boats and buoys in Quartermaster Harbor.

The harbor has grown increasingly congested over the years, Randlette said, and today it contains clusters of boats that are too close together, abandoned buoys that pose navigational hazards, anchors that drag and damage the underwater habitat and a handful of derelict and deteriorating vessels. The state has received complaints from boaters and waterfront residents concerned about the state of the harbor, an important habitat for spawning herring and wintering birds. From time to time, a boat has broken loose from its mooring or sunk, Randlette said.

“It’s everybody’s resource, and we need to make sure the boating community, the environment and the neighboring resources are compatible,” she said.

The new buoy management plan, which has been discussed at several public meetings on Vashon, has so far received a mixed reception on the Island. For years there has been a laissez-faire attitude among Quartermaster boat owners, some of whom moor their vessels wherever they see fit, often using anchors that don’t comply with state law and failing to license their buoys with the state. The state, in turn, has historically not enforced licensing regulations. When the state began its planning a couple years ago, only a handful of the buoys in the harbor were properly licensed.

Some boat owners at public meetings have complained about the costs associated with the new plan. Annual mooring licenses cost between $175 and $562, depending on the boat’s size. And the installation of an embedment anchor system — the more environmentally friendly and secure anchor system currently required by the state — will cost boat owners thousands.

Jim Arnold, an off-Islander who installs a type of embedment anchor, said his systems run from $2,000 for small boats to $5,000 for boats longer than 50 feet.

John Burke, a longtime Vashon boater who has attended DNR’s meetings, says he worries that some who have modest boats won’t be able to afford new anchors.

“Here we are going to be a harbor for rich people,” he said.

The state’s plan would also create two mooring fields, which are like parking lots for boats, Randlette said. Buoys would be laid out near the marina in Burton and by Dockton Park — the two most congested parts of the harbor — and spaced 160 to 180 feet apart. Randlette said the boats would have a much wider berth than they currently have, assuring they cannot swing into one another.

Some have expressed concern that the new buoy fields might leave some boaters with nowhere to park.

“I’m not sure what they’re thinking of  as order is really what we need,” Burke said. “They’re talking about limiting the number of mooring spots drastically.”

But Randlette said that by the state’s calculation there should be spots available for everyone currently moored at those locations, though some will have to move their boats farther out than they are used to.

“It’s close to the number of buoys and boats that are out there now,” she said.

Several boaters reached last week said that while they weren’t excited about the costs associated with the new plan, they agreed that order was needed in the harbor.

“People could put a buoy in where boats would be hitting each other,” said Don Wolczko, a longtime boater. “It hasn’t been a problem to my knowledge, but it certainly could be if it’s not regulated.”

Jeanne Dougherty, who has a buoy in Burton, said she also doesn’t blame the state for wanting the harbor to be safer for boats and for the environment.

“There’s no reason why DNR shouldn’t be managing it,” she said.

Dougherty said boaters she knows are now waiting to learn how the new plan will affect them and hoping the state might be flexible with the type of anchor system it allows, perhaps permitting some that are close to meeting regulations.

“I really do hope they try to work with people,” she said.

Randlette said she knows complying with the law will be expensive for some, but noted that most boats on state land in Quartermaster have been moored for free for years and the plan mostly involves enforcing current laws.

“We’re talking about private, exclusive use of public land,” she said,

Over the last two years DNR has performed extensive outreach on Vashon, Randlette said, explaining the upcoming changes to boaters and asking for help in determining which buoys are no longer being used.

Working with the public, officials have identified about 100 buoys they believe are abandoned and that will eventually be removed. DNR has also collected 80 applications for mooring buoys, which it is holding until the plan is finalized, and has partnered with the county to remove a handful of derelict boats.

Randlette said she believes there are about 100 more boats moored on state land that DNR has not received applications for, and state officials are continuing their outreach efforts.

Once the state collects public comments on the draft plan and creates a final version, it will be incorporated into the management plan for the aquatic reserve. Regulations for mooring will be enforced as soon as next spring, Randlette said, and eventually anyone who doesn’t comply will face a fine.

“We recognize there will be a transition time,” she said. “We’re just trying to get a handle on the accumulation instead of doing it ad hoc, one buoy at a time. It’s the fairest way for everybody involved.”


DNR will hold a public meeting to present and take comments on its draft plan for Quartermaster Harbor at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, at McMurray Middle School.

The plan can be viewed at

The public can submit written comments on the plan through Jan. 7 by mailing them to Washington State Department of Natural Resources, SEPA Center, P.O. Box 47105, Olympia, WA  98504, or by emailing


We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the Oct 26
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates