Olympia Yacht Club faces dredging challenge

OlympianNovember 2, 2013 

The Olympia Yacht Club is precariously positioned where the Deschutes River meets Budd Inlet, and has much at stake in the lake-versus estuary debate. Preparing for an 11,000 cubic yard dredging project and just received a Clean Marina Washington certification for best management practices.

STEVE BLOOM — Staff photographer Buy Photo

The Olympia Yacht Club is a fixture on the downtown Olympia waterfront, serving 250 families at the southernmost end of Puget Sound since 1904.

Other than its visual presence, 213 boat slips, including more than 110 metal boathouses that line up on the north side of the Olympia isthmus like zero lot-line homes on a city street, many people in the Olympia area know next to nothing about the club.

I gathered with several club members this week in their waterfront clubhouse on Simmons Street sandwiched between Bayview Thriftway and the burned-out remains of the Olympia Oyster House, a yacht club neighbor since 1924 that awaits reconstruction after a disastrous July fire.

The club is gearing up for a major dredging project to remove sediment that’s accumulated under and around the docks at the south end of the marina. The last dredging project was 1987 and a lot of material — more than 11,000 cubic yards — has accumulated since then. At low tide, many of the 50 or so members who moor their boats can’t leave on an excursion or return from one either.

This is what can happen when your marina is right next to the nexus of Capitol Lake and lower Budd Inlet, and the community lacks consensus on how to manage the sediment that flows down the Deschutes River into Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet’s west bay.

“We’re right in the gun sights of any sediment transported from the lake into lower Budd Inlet,” noted longtime yacht club member Tom Skillings. He and another yacht club member, Bob Connolly — they’re both ex-commodores - own a Lacey-based engineering firm hired by the club to design the dredging plan, which included studying pollution levels in the sediments slated for removal.

About 40 percent of the sediments showed mercury and dioxin levels slightly above state water quality standards, which means they will be scooped up and hauled to a landfill certified to accept contaminated spoils. The remaining volume is headed for open water disposal near Anderson Ketron islands.

Yacht club members want everyone to know that their boating activities are not the source of the pollution. The dioxin is probably legacy pollution from old industrial activities on the waterfront, suggested Brenden McFarland, environmental review section manager for the state Department of Ecology. The mercury source is a bit of an unknown. Other possible sources are two stormwater discharge pipes that empty into Budd Inlet near the yacht club.

The yacht club takes pollution prevention seriously, members say. The club was recently awarded a Clean Marina Washington certification, which establishes rules for keeping pollutants from boats out of the water.

“The quality of life in the Puget Sound region can only be as good as the Puget Sound itself, and we believe the Clean Marina designation can help us with that,” ex-commodore Mike Contris said.

Perhaps a thornier issue for the yacht club is its preponderance of boathouses, which some members of the community consider a view-blocking eyesore on prime downtown waterfront.

“We would like to see the boathouses moved,” said Friends of the Waterfront member and ex-Olympia mayor Bob Jacobs. He noted the current and proposed Olympia Shoreline Master Program does not allow new boathouses.

At the same time, Jacobs said the boathouse controversy is not a burning shoreline issue for his group.

The yacht club in the 1980s was under pressure from the city to phase out the boathouses, recalled yacht club member Ted Shann. But the city backed off after the club allowed the city to extend Percival Landing across their property in 1988. 

A lot of the yacht club members own old wooden boats. Without boathouses to protect them from the elements,  they would be a maintenance nightmare, Skillings noted.

A case in point is the 37-foot-long Tug E. Bear, the pride and joy of yacht club members Ted and Kim Shann.  Built in 1987 in Taipei, Taiwan, the Shann’s bought it new at the Seattle Boat Show, and it still looks new. The teak decks and trim have prospered under cover provided by a boathouse.

The yacht club sits on slightly more than 10 acres of uplands and tidelands leased from the state Department of Natural Resources through 2027. The club pays DNR $150,000 for their waterfront home.

Here are some, but not all, of the ways the yacht club gives back to the community:

n The club partners with Olympia Parks and Recreation Department to offer junior sailing program that reached 200 youth this year. It’s been going on for 30 years.

n The club hosts a cruise for developmentally disabled members of the community each December, along with a parade of lighted ships each holiday season.

n A cruise for active military personnel known as “Foofaraw” just celebrated its 51st year.

n Provide meeting space at discount rates for the Olympia Power Squadron and South Sound Sailing Association boater safety classes.

n Allows the Squaxin Island Tribe to use the club’s Island Home property to barge fingerling coho salmon to the tribe’s net rearing pens in Peale Passage.

“OYC has been allowed to exist on the isthmus in downtown Olympia,” club members said in a press release announcing the Clean Marina designation. “It does not take that trust for granted.”

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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