New Longbranch Pumpout Station Delayed Indefinitely

A project to keep local waters clean has been suspended by the state even while Filucy Bay is threatened with shellfish closures.


Plans to build a pumpout station at the Longbranch Marina, designed to give boaters a way to empty their sewage tanks, was halted by an unexpected permitting roadblock because of a shared well that is used by the marina.

“We’re on hold right now,” said project engineer Brett Allen, a member of the Longbranch Improvement Club, the marina owner. “We have to discuss this with the other members of the Otto Water System.”

The Otto Water System has five current users including the marina plus two additional unused connections. The state Department of Health does not have all the records it needs about well ownership or capacity. No one seems to know when it was installed, except that it was done by Bill Otto many decades ago.

DOH requires that documentation to be legally recorded before it will permit the pumpout station.

This was the last hoop to clear, Allen said.

Following successful environmental and archeological studies, the LIC elected to apply for the required shoreline permits combining the pumpout station with future projects, including maintenance on the marina and possible expansion. The permits were granted with conditions on the later phases, so the LIC moved ahead with the first phase only, the pumpout station. Permits were issued for holding tanks near the parking lots and the engineering plans were completed.

Allen has argued to the DOH that water supply only comes into play for future phases of marina development since the pumpout station does not require fresh water. “The Department of Health says it’s a change of story and these studies need to be done on the Otto Water System,” he said.

The users of the shared well must form an association with bylaws and operating agreements. “It’s something that should have been done a long time ago,” said LIC board member Jim Hettinger. “Apparently it was never done. We just have to go through the process.”

The Key Peninsula already has a pumpout station at Penrose Point State Park, he said, but it has been out of service for at least four years. The state has no plans to fix it, according to Washington State Parks.

The $250,000 grant for the Longbranch pumpout station has been extended until the end of 2023.

The grant is funded by the Washington State Parks Boating Program through the Clean Vessels Act, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service program created to reduce pollution caused by boats. In Washington the funding has been used to create a network of pumpout stations so that boaters away from their home ports have an option for their sewage other than discharging into Puget Sound, a once common practice that is now illegal.

A matching grant of $82,500 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has been spent on development and planning.

In May, DOH announced new restrictions in four of the state’s 115 commercial shellfish growing areas, including Vaughn Bay, due to high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. A further 19 areas are flirting with the borderline and threatened with downgrades, including Filucy Bay, where the Longbranch Marina sits. The latest data show slight improvement at each of the bay’s six sampling stations.

Filucy Bay shellfish harvest has not been in the green since 2001, when fecal coliform levels first went above nationally determined thresholds. That triggered the formation in 2002 of a shellfish protection district for the bay. A team of county surface water managers, conservation district employees, environmental nonprofits and community members work to find and correct sources of fecal pollution.

Pierce County has four shellfish protection districts, all of them on the Key Peninsula: Burley Lagoon, Vaughn Bay, Filucy Bay and Rocky Bay.

Different restrictions apply to different reaches of Filucy Bay. In the far northern cove, where fecal coliform levels consistently spike, commercial harvest is restricted, meaning shellfish must first be moved to cleaner water for a time before they can be harvested. The water around the marina is closed to all harvest, a restriction that applies to all marinas regardless of sample data. The rest of Filucy Bay is approved for conditional harvest, meaning that shellfish may be harvested any time except after rainstorms when an inch or more of rain falls. Several of these areas have come close to triggering increased restrictions in the last two years.

Water quality in Filucy Bay is usually well below the fecal coliform thresholds, according to Barbara Ann Smolko of Pierce County’s Surface Water Management Division. “It’s the spikes that are the issue.”

She said that in the 20-plus years they have been monitoring Pierce County’s four shellfish protection districts, they have found pollution sources that range from liveaboard boats with no septic hookups to artificially high concentrations of wildlife, such as places where ducks are fed. Dogs tend to have a high concentration of fecal coliform in their waste, and dog walkers who do not pick up after their pets on the beach make an outsized contribution to the problem. Logging can also contribute, according to Smolko, if it creates extra sediment in creeks, as sediment attaches to fecal coliform and carries it into the bay.