Washington Department of Natural Resources has launched an effort to inventory state-owned tidelands that the agency manages to determine if private owners are illegally encroaching on those properties, and both Clallam and Jefferson counties are part of that study.
DNR spokeswoman Jane Chavey said the agency that manages about 68,100 acres of state-owned tidelands, or 106 square miles in the state, is gearing up to complete the inventory by year’s end.
“We are identifying the traits or characteristics of aquatic lands in general that could be potential encroachment situations,” said Chavey.
“We may end up with some areas of concern in Jefferson and Clallam counties, but there is no way to guess how many at this point.”
Clallam County has 6,417 state-owned acres and 3,236 private acres of tidelands.
Jefferson County has 3,731 state-owned acres and 4,857 private acres of tidelands.
DNR Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark announced this week that the agency will undertake the project to help identify potential trespass situations and unauthorized uses.
The process will include comparing geographic data from shellfish companies and state and federal agencies with DNR data to identify areas in Puget Sound where trespasses are most likely to occur.
Once the areas are identified, DNR will deploy staff to conduct on-the-ground inspections.
Chavey said summertime is a particularly good time to examine tidelands because of the extra low tides and long daylight hours.
“These are lands owned by the public, and we need to make sure their resources are not being taken advantage of or harmed,” Goldmark said in a news release. “If someone wants to do business on public land, the proposed use should be evaluated and, if appropriate, authorized — and the public should be compensated.”
Chavey said most of the work is expected to be done on the southern beaches of Puget Sound and Hood Canal.
The need for the inventory was highlighted by the recent discovery of a potential trespass on publicly owned tidelands by Taylor Shellfish in North Bay, at the end of Case Inlet near Allyn.
Taylor has a shellfish operation on Quilcene Bay.
State tidelands are directly adjacent to privately owned tidelands Taylor is currently farming.
The incident was discovered by DNR staff and Taylor Shellfish, and the company is working cooperatively to assist DNR in the investigation. Taylor has agreed to pay for a survey to determine the actual boundaries of the area in question.
“Waterward boundaries between private and state tidelands have been historically difficult to verify,” said Taylor Shellfish president Bill Taylor. “Modern [Geographic Information System] mapping tools have made this easier, and in cooperation with DNR, we’re using them to identify other tideland areas we farm which may need survey verification.”
As steward of the 2.6 million acres of state aquatic lands, DNR manages the bedlands under Puget Sound, the coast and many of Washington’s beaches, natural lakes and navigable rivers.
They include 90,000 acres of harbor areas and all submerged marine lands below extreme low tide, or 3,430 square miles of bedlands under navigable waters, as well as freshwater shorelands and bedlands.
Chavey said in many locations, the state owns the tidelands from the edge of the upland ownership out to the point it becomes always submerged bedlands.
In many other cases, there is a private owner who has been growing shellfish for decades, some of the tidelands sold into private ownership in the early 20th century and never surveyed, she said.
“We now have better tools to clean up these questions,” Chavey said.
Port Townsend-Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at email@example.com.