After more than two years of planning and outreach, the state has completed its plan to more closely manage boat moorage in Quartermaster Harbor, with hopes of protecting the important aquatic habitat and making the harbor safer for boaters.
The 60-page plan, released today by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), outlines how the state will remove abandoned buoys and other debris in the harbor and require boat owners to install new environmentally friendly anchor systems and register their buoys, placing them in specific locations mapped out by officials. The final plan also responds to some of the top concerns expressed by boaters during the planning process.
Islanders with buoys in the harbor will be required to comply with new regulations as soon as one year from now.
“I feel really good about how the community has voiced what they’ve seen, the issues,” said Lisa Randlette, a planner with DNR’s Aquatic Resources Division and the principal author of the plan. “I feel like the community has stepped up and articulated their concerns for the harbor. ... It’s turned out much better than I could even hope.”
Randlette and other DNR officials say that in recent years the state has grown increasingly concerned about the condition of Quartermaster Harbor, part of the protected Maury Island Aquatic Reserve. The number of boats in the harbor has grown significantly, and today the bay 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 structures. The state has received complaints from boaters and waterfront residents concerned about the state of the harbor, an important habitat for spawning forage fish and wintering birds. And from time to time, a boat has broken loose from its mooring or sunk.
The state, in turn, has historically not enforced licensing regulations in Quartermaster, leading to a laissez-faire attitude among boaters. When DNR began its planning a couple years ago, only a handful of the buoys in the harbor were properly licensed.
Last December, after several public meetings to reach out to Vashon’s boating community and gather feedback about the coming changes, Randlette and other DNR officials visited the island to present a draft of the agency’s plan along with a tentative map of where boats would be allowed to moor in the harbor.
While some at the meeting commended the officials on their efforts to restore the harbor, others expressed concerns about restrictions the plan would place on those who moored boats there.
Many said they thought the 73 evenly-spaced buoy spots the state designated in Burton and Dockton would fill up quickly, not allowing for future growth in the harbor.
In its final plan, the state included additional buoy spots in Burton and Dockton and added a new, 16-boat buoy field at the mouth of Judd Creek for a total of 126 buoy spots in the harbor, leaving some areas clear for navigation. Waterfront homeowners will also be allowed to drop buoys in front of their properties.
Randlette said planners were conservative in their original buoy mapping but decided there would be no harm in adding the additional spots that islanders called for. The agency will now apply for the buoy permits through King County, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers — streamlining the complicated application process for islanders. Officials are unsure if all 126 buoy locations will be approved, but they’re hopeful that most of them will be permitted.
“At the end of the day, I think that will serve everybody,” Randlette said.
Many Vashon boaters have also expressed concern about the costs associated with installing the new anchor systems to be required by the state. State officials say the helical-style anchors are superior because they attach to the sea floor, have mid-line floats and don’t drag and scour the bottom like many traditional anchors. They also have shorter lines, allowing boats to moor closer together without risk of running into one another. Installation of helical anchors, however, can run between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on the size of the boat.
Randlette said DNR understood islanders’ financial concerns and responded by adding some flexibility in the final plan. If a boater can purchase or create an anchor system that, like the helical anchor, doesn’t drag the sea floor and has a short line, the agency will consider approving it, she said.
“The preferred anchor method is the embedded helical anchor, but if people can come up with something that from a performance perspective will be comparable, we’re open to innovation in that regard,” Randlette said.
Once DNR receives final approvals for the buoys, it will begin issuing buoy licenses to boaters as well as removing the 40-some buoys in Quartermaster that have been identified as abandoned and potentially hazardous to other boats as well as the environment.
If funding can be secured, the state will also remove a large, deteriorating net pen that has been illegally moored in Dockton for years as well as a sunken boat beneath the net pen and about 30 creosote pilings in the harbor at Dockton. Last year the state removed two abandoned boats and one sunken vessel in Quartermaster.
“We’re excited about that. I think boaters will get an immediate benefit from having derelict buoys and pilings gone,” Randlette said.
Nearly 80 Vashon boaters have already applied to place buoys in one of the designated buoy fields or in front of their homes. Randlette said that once DNR secures its final permits, which it hopes will happen this fall, it will likely give boaters a grace period of about six months to purchase new anchor systems and, with DNR’s help, place their buoys in the allotted spots.
“There are going to be some costs to putting in these sturdier, more environmentally friendly anchor systems, but at the end of the day what we’re trying to do is ensure some long-term equitability and protection of the harbor,” Randlette said.
As it has worked on the draft the buoy plan, the state has also reached out to local groups with aging and environmentally harmful docks and worked with them on their own restoration projects. In the past couple years, the Quartermaster Marina has installed an entirely new dock system that meets new state environmental standards, and the Quartermaster Yacht Club recently announced its plans for a $2 million project to do the same. King County Parks, which owns the marina at Dockton, has also said it will replace its docks over time to meet the new standards.
The state’s efforts have garnered praise from some local environmentalists. Amy Carey, director of Preserve Our Islands, said harmful anchors and other debris have for years been damaging the bottom of Quartermaster, habitat that is important for forage fish and spawning salmon.
The health of Vashon’s harbor has even wider implications in Puget Sound — Quartermaster has been identified as integral to a federal salmon recovery plan.
“It’s a very critical body of water in ecology. DNR is not going in there on a feel-good exercise,” Carey said.
Preserve Our Islands was at the forefront in the fight to see the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve — which includes the entire harbor, the southeastern shoreline of Maury Island and the southern tip of Vashon — re-designated several years ago. Carey said she’s now glad to see the state’s efforts to protect and preserve the harbor.
“DNR has a big focus right now on their part of Puget Sound recovery and restoration, and this buoy plan is a classic indication of that,” Carey said.
For information on applying for a mooring buoy permit, contact Lisa Randlette at (360) 902-1085 or firstname.lastname@example.org.