PORT ANGELES — Clallam County officials have been flooded with concerns about erosion and other property damage caused by boat wake at Lake Sutherland.
The three commissioners agreed Monday to form a steering committee to make formal recommendations that may include moving the existing “no wake” buoys farther from the shore.
Numerous citizens have reported sinkholes in their yards, broken docks and eroded foundations along the 361-acre lake west of Port Angeles.
The damaging wake is caused by recreational boats designed to displace large amounts of water for wakeboarding and wakesurfing, Code Enforcement Officer Diane Harvey said.
“These waves that are being created right now are strong enough to knock a small child off a floating dock,” Harvey told commissioners.
“These waves are strong enough to knock a power boat or a kayak or a canoe over. Again, I have been told that this has actually happened on Lake Sutherland.”
Commissioner Bill Peach said he has received 50 to 75 comments from citizens concerned about what is occurring at the lake.
Lake Sutherland is surrounded by private property and has a public boat launch operated by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. It is popular for summer recreation and is patrolled by the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit.
“This is an issue that deals with not only private property rights, but the rights of individuals that are affected by people enjoying their private property rights,” Peach said.
“There is clearly a need for us to address this.”
Harvey said wakeboarding and wakesurfing are relatively new sports that cause more wake than tubing, water skiing and jet skiing.
Wakeboarders use a tow rope at speeds of 16 to 23 mph, Harvey said. Wakesurfing is done with no tow rope typically behind a 24- to 26-foot boat traveling at speeds of 8 to 13 mph, Harvey said.
“These boats are designed to create large, high-energy wake,” Harvey said.
Commissioner Randy Johnson said some jet skiers use the large wake to launch into the air.
“Obviously, people are having a good time, but there are other issues because it’s causing damage,” Johnson said.
Under Clallam County code, no wake buoys are positioned in Lake Sutherland 100 feet from the shore. The no-wake zones have a 6 mph speed limit, Harvey said.
Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said the Marine Unit rarely issues citations for wake violations in Lake Sutherland.
“In general, we enforce them voluntarily,” Benedict said.
Given the size of Lake Sutherland, Benedict said it may be difficult to push the no-wake zones closer to the center of the lake.
“It would just make it a hell of a lot more congested in that area,” Benedict said.
Harvey cited a 2017 study that found a causal effect between large-wake boats and shoreline erosion on Chesapeake Bay.
Last year, Whatcom County passed an ordinance to move the no-wake buoys on Lake Samish 300 feet from the shore, Harvey said.
“I don’t believe that the people who are doing these wake boats understand what is actually going on with respect to the shoreline,” Harvey said.
“They’re just trying to have a good time. But it does not look like a 100-foot buoy is sufficient for these types of new-technology boats.”
Benedict questioned whether a 300-foot no-wake zone would be adequate to dissipate the wave energy from boats that generate large wake.
“I don’t have an easy answer,” Johnson said. “There isn’t one.”
Peach, who represents Lake Sutherland and the western third of the county, suggested adding signs that speak to the erosion. He offered to organize a steering committee to investigate citizens’ complaints and make formal recommendations to the board.
The steering committee will include concerned citizens and representatives of the county Sheriff’s Office, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, code enforcement and possibly the Parks, Fair and Facilities Department, county officials said.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Mark Ozias encouarged Lake Sutherland property owners to submit their concerns by email. Comments can be emailed to [email protected].
“It’s evident to me from today’s discussion that all three commissioners very much understand that this is an issue of great concern for every property owner and user of Lake Sutherland, and it’s important that we find some way to address it,” said Ozias, board chairman.
“Adding some signage is an easy first step and will hopefully at least help a little bit.
“I think that having a group meet to do some further analysis as to additional options, ranging from buoy movements all the way up to an ordinance, and then coming forth with some recommendations or a recommendation makes very good sense.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].