Opposing King County for the Love of Fern Cove

The County, inexplicably, chose a fast-track review process that didn’t allow for any public hearings on this controversial, precedent-setting commercial venture.

King County recently approved a permit to install a 10-acre commercial kelp farm at the edge of the Fern Cove Nature Preserve.

If the project can secure a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and a lease from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Fern Cove will have a rectangular grid the size of 10 football fields floating some 1,200-1,500 feet from the mouth of Shinglemill Creek for at least 12 years.

The anchored grid will feature three miles of surface and subsurface ropes and more than 150 floats and buoys, including eight, four-foot-tall navigational buoys equipped with white lights that flash every six seconds and are visible for 2.6 miles.

I have lived in Fern Cove for 22 years, which makes me one of the more recent residents. A cohort of 35-plus neighbors and friends from Cedarhurst Road, Burma Road and the Kitsap Peninsula have appealed the County’s permitting decision.

Our nonprofit group, the Fern Cove Preservation Alliance, objects for a variety of reasons, but each of them is rooted in one fundamental truth: Fern Cove is a special place and should be treated as such.

The County, inexplicably, chose a fast-track review process that didn’t allow for any public hearings on this controversial, precedent-setting commercial venture. The County also failed to attach any conditions to the permit.

So, no Environmental Impact Statement, no monitoring, no oversight, and no plan or effort to track and assess the impacts, positive or negative, on resident and migratory shorebirds, bald eagles, osprey, endangered orcas, porpoises, seals, salmon and otters, or on the humans who live near, visit and cherish the Fern Cove Preserve.

How careless of the County to be so casual with this rare and precious place, which was purchased with public funds and which the County itself has deemed “historic and iconic.”

Why here?

That’s the question that baffles me. Surely there are more appropriate places in Puget Sound for a 10-acre commercial kelp operation. More secluded nooks that aren’t home to a beloved nature preserve and generations of families. Is the “historic and iconic” Fern Cove Preserve, indeed is any nature preserve, really the best place for a business venture that seeks to privatize 10 acres of public aquatic lands for 12 years, and perhaps far longer given the current enthusiasm (and lobby) around commercial aquaculture — more proposals are in the pipeline — and the fact that a lease can be renewed or transferred?

“Why does no one simply state the big picture?” asked one Fern Cove neighbor recently: “‘What is Fern Cove? Is it a pristine area to be preserved as is? Or, is it an aquaculture farming commercial waterway?’”

As our name suggests, the Fern Cove Preservation Alliance is pushing for preservation.

We hope that the USACE and DNR and all the agencies responsible for making decisions about our public lands and dollars will consider an alternate site; or an experimental designation that attaches limits and conditions to any permit or lease; or, at the very least, an open-minded and public discussion about how best to evaluate and lessen potential impacts.

If you’d like more information, feel free to email us at fern.cove.alliance@gmail.com.

Mary Bruno is a longtime islander and author who writes frequently on water issues.