Pact will end Totten Inlet operations

Taylor Shellfish and the state Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday that they have settled their dispute over shellfish and tidelands in Totten Inlet, near Gallagher Cove.

The agreement requires the Mason County shellfish company to remove all oysters it planted on the approximately 20-acre parcel within six months and all geoducks within five years.

In addition, the company will pay the DNR $1.5 million and withdraw its lawsuits against the state agency, in which Taylor Shellfish sought $4.5 million in damages and ownership of the property.

The DNR will assume uncontested ownership of the tidelands. No new lease with Taylor will be granted on the property, and Taylor can’t replant any oysters or geoducks.

The deal replaces one signed between Taylor Shellfish and former DNR Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland the day before Sutherland left office in January.

In that agreement, Taylor received a five-year lease of the tidelands but was required to pay $630,000 in back rent to the state for growing shellfish dating to the 1970s on the disputed property without a state permit.

Newly elected Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark revoked the lease and settlement, claiming they were signed without proper public process.

That triggered two lawsuits from Taylor against the DNR, plus a $4.5 million claim for damages filed in March.

Shortly after the claim was filed, the two parties began negotiating the new settlement.

“This is a fair and equitable agreement for the people of the state of Washington,” Goldmark said in a prepared statement. “We will continue working with the shellfish growers in our state to ensure that this sustainable industry creates jobs and generates revenue for restoration projects in Puget Sound.”

Taylor Shellfish president Bill Taylor said: “We wanted to get this resolved and behind us. I think we’ve cleared the air with DNR. We should be able to move forward.”

Taylor said most of the 175,000 oysters on the contested tidelands have died of old age because of harvest delays caused by the long-standing tideland controversy.

“They should have been harvested a year ago,” he said.

The value of geoducks on the property once was estimated at $3 million, but that varies with market conditions, Taylor said.

No decision has been made on the future use of the state-owned tidelands in Totten Inlet, DNR spokesman Aaron Toso said.