On troubled waters: Live-aboard deemed illegal


William Dietz, KP News

On Oct. 31, 2002, Kathy Krech, an aquatic land manager for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources who is now retired, sent a letter to Mr. Gregory Cap (which is actually spelled “Kapp” according to local residents) informing him that three vessels belonging to him, including a 30-foot houseboat, were in violation of the Washington Administrative Code, and would have to be removed “…no later than December 5, 2002.”

Now, in December of 2003, Kapp continues to live on his houseboat in Filucy Bay, or so it appears, and the obvious question is why? Especially since he may be in violation of the law — and there are numerous property owners who would like to see the order enforced. Partly because they consider Kapp’s houseboat to be an eyesore, partly because they’re concerned that the floating domicile could become a magnet for more of the same, but mostly based on the assumption that sewage is going straight into Filucy Bay.

So, how bad is the situation? And to what extent could the houseboat be to blame? According to Ray Hanowell, an environmental health specialist with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, there is some pollution toward the headwaters of Filucy Bay, in the area around the marina, and to the east of that facility where a stream enters the bay.

“We’re getting higher readings of fecal coloform bacteria,” Hanowell says, “which shouldn’t be there. It’s most likely coming from onsite septic systems or local farms…I don’t think the houseboat has contributed to the pollution at the far northern end of the bay, but it could have contributed to pollution in and around the marina, or in the bay generally.”

In an attempt to get Kapp’s take on the situation, KP News sent word through an intermediary requesting an interview, and made sure the invitation was delivered. No reply was received.

While it appears that plenty of local residents are willing to speak off the record about the situation, none of them want to be identified. A variety of reasons were given, ranging from a fear of retaliation to the complexities of local politics. And, while no one was identified as one of Kapp’s friends, people claim that he has some supporters — local folks who maintain that the houseboat is no big deal, and isn’t causing any trouble.

Still, some of the citizens in that area are making their concerns known through their participation in a group called the Filucy Bay Water Quality Protection Team, an organization that includes representatives from local and state government. And, according to Hanowell, the group recently decided to send a letter to the DNR regarding the status of the October 2002 letter to Kapp, and asking what, if anything, the state plans to do.

Todd Meyers, a spokesperson for DNR, said, “There are 56 derelict (unoccupied) vessels on Puget Sound, some of which present a potential hazard to navigation. Those vessels automatically go to the top of the department’s enforcement list. The budget put aside to deal with the problem totals about $300,000 per year, which comes from a fee assessed on recreational boaters. That isn’t a whole lot of money to work with. In order to force someone to move a boat, we need a court order. That’s the only course available to us under the law. We understand that the people in the community are frustrated and (we) feel the same way.”

When asked if DNR plans to seek such an order, Meyers replied that “it’s the logical next step—but we don’t have a timeline in which to do so.” So, will Mr. Kapp be forced to take his flotilla of small craft and seek other waters? Or, will he and his houseboat be left undisturbed? It remains to be seen.

Read William C. Dietz's "The story behind the story" in his For Whatever it's Worth column