Conflict resolution considered for Lake Sutherland wake dispute

PORT ANGELES — All three Clallam County commissioners favor hiring a conflict-resolution expert to resolve the feud between Lake Sutherland wake boat users and property owners.

Commissioners Mark Ozias, Bill Peach and Randy Johnson said Thursday in separate interviews that they favor signing a contract with Peninsula Dispute Resolution Center, whose executive director, Renee Riopelle, gave a presentation at the commissioners work session earlier in the week, on Monday.

Her video transmission to the commissioners was largely garbled, and she declined Friday in a text message to be interviewed until after she meets further with the board.

Commissioners will discuss the agreement at today’s work session.

The pact would direct the Port Angeles-based nonprofit to bring the lake’s warring factions together in hopes of hammering out a compromise agreeable to both sides.

Peach, whose Port Angeles-West End District 3 includes Lakes Sutherland, praised Riopelle as presenting “a really unbiased approach” to producing a resolution to the lake dispute.

“I very much look forward to using their acumen to solve these issues,” Johnson said.

Commissioners’ Chairman Mark Ozias predicted the contract, administered by the commissioners office, will cost far less than the $50,000 that would require formal board approval.

“What we have really heard from the community was that we’d like to work together to come to some kind of resolution rather have something implemented from on high,” Ozias said.

Riopelle’s contract would be administered by the commissioners’ office.

Wake boats are weighted with ballast in the stern so the watercraft plows through the water, churning large waves ridden by wakeboarders who hang tight to a rope and ride the curl. Wakesurfers let go, riding the wave freestyle.

Property owners who encircle the house-ringed 361-acre county lake west of Port Angeles say the wakes can dangerously buffet other recreationists and docks and cause shoreline erosion, assertions Acting Clallam County Code Enforcement Manager Diane Harvey testified to at a commissioners’ meeting last year.

Wake boat enthusiasts have argued against further regulations, saying they have a right to use the lake for recreation and that they are being unfairly blamed for problems at the half-square-mile body of water, where motorized recreation is encouraged by a state Department of Fish and Wildlife public boat launch.

The remedy may not entail banning the watercraft, a measure getting play in an online petition on that had generated 133 signatures as of Friday, urging the prohibition “to improve safety and prevent further damage.”

Peach said he has been meeting over the last month with wake boat proponents and opponents, he said.

“I’m not looking at a ban,” he said.

“I shared that with the groups, and they agreed that’s the best outcome, and that they would talk to each other.”

He said he was encouraged by the lack of “bitterness and hostility” in recent meetings with wake boat opponents and proponents that characterized earlier discussions of the issue.

He said measures that may be imposed to dull the impact of the watercraft could include imposing more restrictive boat-speed limits and moving boundary buoys closer to the center of the lake. No-wake buoys in 6-mph zones now float 100 feet from shore.

Peach lauded restrictions imposed by Kootenai County, Idaho, commissioners, last May.

The latest rule would keep a no-wake zone 100 feet from shore, and make anything within a 150-foot buffer from shore a “no excessive wake” zone on the Spokane River. A no-wake zone that extends 200 feet from shore would be established for other lakes in the county and a “no excessive wake” zone would extend 300-feet from shore.

“One of the things that I’ve been sharing is, ‘Whatever you guys come up with has to be enforceable,’” Peach said.

A solution will be better and have more validity “if it comes from the bottom up than top down,” Ozias said.

“There’s a lot of disagreement about the impact or lack thereof of wake boats, but more importantly, there was a more real, commonly expressed sentiment from a lot of the folks we heard from, from neighbors and users, to work together to find a solution,” he said Thursday.

“If it works, we’d like to do more of it.”

The commissioners said Thursday they did not know if changes to accommodate solutions at the lake would require changes in county ordinances.

New regulations may be required if buoys are placed, for example, 200 feet from the shoreline, Johnson added.

Johnson, who represents Port Angeles-area District 2, said Thursday he’s fielded about 40-50 comments from county residents on Lake Sutherland boat wakes.

“Honestly, they’ve been about 50-50 on both sides of the equation,” he said.


Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at

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