PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners were swamped with public testimony about boat wake in Lake Sutherland this week.
The sentiment expressed in a two-hour public comment period Tuesday was split between those who were concerned about effects of large wake-generating boats and those who support the rights of wakeboarders and wakesurfers to recreate on the scenic lake west of Port Angeles.
Commissioner Bill Peach volunteered to organize a steering committee to gather public input and study the issue after it was raised in a Monday work session.
Peach said he planned to schedule a conference call with Lake Sutherland property owners and members of the wakesurfing community in the coming weeks.
“Let’s see what we can do to try to find common ground,” Peach said after 26 speakers testified Tuesday.
Twelve speakers in the Tuesday meeting said they were concerned about large wake in Lake Sutherland.
Fourteen expressed concerns about regulations that would restrict wake boats or how the issue had been raised.
“This got sprung on us,” said Bonnie Ogilvie, a Lake Sutherland property owner.
“This was kind of like a backdoor thing that just kind of got pushed through.”
Commissioner Mark Ozias, board chairman, emphasized that no decisions were being contemplated.
“We are absolutely at the beginning of our information-gathering stage here,” Ozias said.
On Monday, Acting Code Enforcement Manager Diane Harvey told commissioners that wake from ballasted boats had reportedly caused property damage around the lake and posed a safety risk for children on docks and others in kayaks or canoes.
Wakesurfing boats were designed to create large, high-energy wake that allow wakesurfers to maintain speeds of 8 to 13 mph without a tow rope, Harvey said.
Peach said he had received 50 to 75 comments from people concerned about large wake at Lake Sutherland.
Speakers in a virtual meeting Tuesday referenced an online petition that had generated more than 80 signatures from those who felt the issue had been overblown.
“I think there’s a lot of finger-pointing at the wake boats because it’s the big, scary thing that everybody gets to blame,” said Brady Bradshaw of Port Angles, who recreates at Lake Sutherland with his family.
“I just hope everybody gets a fair shake in this.”
Amanda Stanley of Port Angeles, who has a home on Lake Sutherland, said the negative effects of wake boats are well documented and prevalent across the country.
“My children are terrified of these powerful waves,” Stanley said.
“They’ve been slammed against the bulkhead and into the stairs as they try to enter the water. If they are caught on the floating dock when these waves come, they have to sit down and hold on to keep them from falling into the water.”
Lake Sutherland covers 361 acres, or 0.56 square miles. Stanley and others said there are larger bodies of water in Clallam County that are better suited for wake boats.
“This is the wrong lake,” said Marie Marrs of Lake Sutherland, whose family has owned property on the lake since the 1930s.
“The lake is too small. I personally would like to see the wake boats banned from the lake.”
Ogilvie said the issue was not as one-sided as it seemed from Monday’s discussion.
“This is something that needs to be talked about from both sides,” Ogilvie said.
Ozias repeated during the public comment period that no decisions were being made.
“The Board of (County) Commissioners has taken no position,” Ozias said.
“In fact, we’re just starting to educate ourselves.”
Ozias encouraged the public to email commissioners with their concerns. Comments can be sent to [email protected]
Lake Sutherland is surrounded by private property and has a public boat launch operated by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit, which patrols Lake Sutherland, has stationed “no wake” buoys with 6 mph speed limits about 100 feet from shore, Harvey said.
Other jurisdictions like Whatcom County have extended no-wake zones father out from shore in response to the growing popularity of wakesurfing, Harvey said.
Ryan Stanley said it takes “extreme wind” to create damaging waves on Lake Sutherland given its size.
“Now we have large, damaging waves every day in the summer, and it’s worse on the weekend,” Stanley said.
“This conversation is distasteful because no American wants to restrict another’s freedom or enjoyment of natural resources. But let’s not forget that your rights extend to where mine begin and do not include the right to throw hazards at my property,” he added.
Stewart McCall said he does not wakeboard or wakesurf but has friends who do. He suggested pier docks, buoy movements and allowing wake boats at certain times of day as potential solutions.
“I just feel awful that there’s this stance of exclusion where we’re going to throw these people out,” McCall said.
“These are my friends. This is my community, and I feel really, really bad about it. I would like not to exclude people if there’s any way possible not to do that.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].