Geoduck Farming up Again at KPAC


Sara Thompson

Map of approved (green), pending (red) and approved but appealed (yellow) geoduck farms on the KP. Courtesy Pierce County Planning and Land Services Department

It has been nearly two years since geoduck farming was addressed by the Key Peninsula Land Use Advisory Commission (KPAC), but at the May meeting, the group was asked to weigh in on a new permit request for farms on the west side of the Key Peninsula. Three property owners want to lease their land to Taylor Shellfish Farms on 4 acres of intertidal land north of Dutcher's Cove and south of Vaughn Bay. The new location would abut existing farms that have been operating since 2009.

About 15 community members attended the meeting. No one living in the immediate vicinity of the proposed farm was present.

Ty Booth, senior planner for Pierce County, convened the meeting. He provided materials summarizing the proposal, outlined current aquaculture activity and reviewed its consistency with the Key Peninsula Community Plan and compliance with the state Shoreline Management Act.

Booth also reviewed the status of farming in the region. He observed that, compared with the significant public outcry concerning geoduck farms in 2006, there were very few comments on this application.

There are eight farms with approved applications and three applications pending on the Key Peninsula. Of those three pending applications, only one is actively being pursued. An additional application is under appeal.

Booth noted that all the advisory commissions conduct their reviews much earlier now. "The commissions were concerned that they were hearing cases so late in the process that it was often too late for them to provide input that could result in meaningful changes," he said.

Diane Cooper spoke on behalf of Taylor Shellfish Farms. She said Taylor is a five-generation, family-owned business employing 500 workers. It has won international recognition for their work in sustainable aquaculture. She described the growing cycle and harvesting of geoducks and noted that Taylor has been responsive and innovative in its techniques, such as its use of mesh tubes to mitigate any negative environmental effect. She also noted the extensive review process involving multiple state and federal departments required for a successful application.

KPAC Chair Don Swensen asked whether Taylor had a plan if the Chinese market falls through, since Taylor sells most of its geoducks there. He also pointed out the density of farmed geoducks far exceeds that found in nature.

Other members noted the review did not yet include recommendations or conditions for approval because it was early in the process, and asked whether they would be able to weigh in again later. Booth said they could make individual comments on the website.

Public comments came from supporters and opponents of the application.

Longbranch resident and KP News writer Lisa Bryan commented that Taylor has been a strong community partner and environmental steward. She compared them favorably to the timber industry, which has no apparent community connection.

Laura Hendricks of Protect Our Shoreline criticized the use of pesticides and herbicides in other areas and the use of high-density polyethylene on beaches. She doubted that no other permits were pending, and said there may be potential requests that have not been made public.

Of the seven members of KPAC, two (Marcia Harris and Mark Nelson) supported the application and five (Don Swensen, Audra Garcia, Cindy Worden, Mark Cockerill and Colleen Mullen) opposed. Those opposed expressed concern about the lack of specific information in the initial review and were also concerned that Pierce County had not provided sufficient compliance oversight in the past. Those in support felt that if the application is in keeping with the KP Community Plan and county regulations, it should be approved. They also suggested that it is time to review the current plan.

Cooper said Taylor is determined to meet the requirements of the community plan, but that it is difficult to respond to concerns that are not part of the plan, such as the stability of the Chinese market or Pierce County’s oversight. She noted that Taylor has not actively sought tidelands on the Key Peninsula, but has responded to requests from landowners wanting to lease them. She said the owners of the tidelands now being considered contacted Taylor after watching how the adjacent farms worked. She said Taylor has no other leases under consideration.

Taylor also has an application for a farm in Burley Lagoon. Because it is larger (25 acres) and deeper than is typical of other farms, Taylor is conducting its own environmental impact study.

Planning and Land Use Services (PALS) will complete the review process and present its findings to the Pierce County examiner. The examiner will review comments and the KPAC vote, as well as compliance with the shoreline plans, in making a decision. That decision may then be appealed at the state level.