North Bay reopened for commercial shellfish harvesting


Irene Torres, KP News

The state Department of Health issued an initial order in January for the commercial shellfish classification of a portion of North Bay, upgrading the beds classified as “conditionally approved” to “approved.”

Bonnie Knight, Port of Allyn executive director, said, “There were a tremendous number of old septic systems basically dumping sewage directly into the bay. Some of the oldest consisted of a rotted out 50-gallon drum, which had been buried, with piping run to the shoreline. We were all tremendously relieved when the last of these were cleaned up.”

The Port of Allyn was involved directly in the early stages of a cleanup project, starting as far back as 1988. After the initial study phase was completed, port commissioners realized it made more sense for Mason County to take the lead, and the port stepped aside, Knight said.

Mason County Health Department staff identified the sources of the pollution in the area as faulty main sewer connections and domestic animal waste. The county fixed these problems and water testing shows that the area meets the water quality standard for an “approved” classification.

Don Melvin with the state Department of Health Office of Food Safety and Shellfish Programs said, “North Bay ... is one of the most successful shellfish restoration projects for the program. In 1991, 1,260 acres of North Bay were listed as prohibited and closed to shellfish harvest due to high levels of fecal coliform bacteria.”

DOH upgraded most of the bay to “conditionally approved” in 1992 after many of the malfunctioning on-site sewage treatment systems were repaired. In 2002, workers completed construction of a community sewage treatment system. The quality of water in the bay improved significantly and the DOH upgraded nearly all conditionally approved areas to approved. The treatment plant eliminated the use of on-site systems for almost all the homes and businesses surrounding North Bay.

The Port District has contributed over $20,000 to the project. “Every property within 200 feet of North Bay (from approximately ¼ mile south of State Route 3 on Grapeview Loop Road to just north of Rocky Bay on State Route 302) was included in the initial installation,” Knight said. “Each property had to install a grinder pump and electrical service to hook up to the system.”

On-site system repairs by area residents enabled DOH to upgrade much of the bay to “conditionally approved,” a classification requiring a five-day closure of the bay any time the area receives a half-inch or more of rain in 24 hours. “Approximately 50 acres of shellfish beds were not included in the upgrade and were closed to harvest due to a local pollution problem. The area that is presently closed to all shellfish harvest includes all of the shoreline and tidelands extending from the mouth of Sherwood Creek to the boat ramp north of the Allyn dock,” Melvin said. “Most of this area was active for commercial shellfish harvest prior to the 1991 closure, but it has not been in production since the closure. “

Melvin said the county health department personnel is investigating the possibility that untreated storm water from Allyn and Sherwood Creek, flowing into the closed area, are the most likely sources of the contamination. Approximately 150 acres of North Bay tidelands including a public beach remains closed because of continued high levels of bacteria.

“The North Bay restoration project involved a huge amount of effort and expense on the part of the residents and the county,” Melvin said.