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Bay dredging digs up county approval

DRIFTWOOD KEY — The entrance channel that is supposed to allow residents to sail out of Coon Bay and into Hood Canal at any time is in desperate need of dredging — a fact that has been well-known among Driftwood Key residents for three years. And while community members agree that the dredging is needed, how it should be done is where many are conflicted.

With a tidal flow that takes place four times a day, sand fills the channel and results in the need for periodic dredging, said Driftwood Key Club president Bruce Cosacchi.

“It’s part of our life here in Driftwood Key,” he added.

The issue has been a cause for controversy within the small marina community, involving residents, county, state and federal agencies and three different community club board of directors. There have been disagreements over how the project should proceed, whether the project should be exempt from shoreline permits and how property rights could be affected. But after many public meetings, discussions and a recent decision by the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner, a resolution may soon be surfacing.

One dredge only

lasts so long

The initial dredging of the bay was in 1963, when the harbor was just an estuary and was created as a part of the development of the Driftwood Key community. The main bay, the east bay and the waterway entrance to the private harbor were dredged to a minus-eight feet with the appropriate permits.

In 1993, only the entrance channel was dredged to a minus-six feet. The project was considered maintenance and was exempt from a shoreline substantial development permit. The sands were deposited at various upland locations with county-approved permits.

In December 2003, the club voiced the need to dredge again, making a request that would clear the channel a second time in 10 years and the east bay for the first time in four decades. The board requested that the Kitsap County’s Department of Community Development exempt the group from obtaining a shoreline permit for the proposed project because it was viewed as maintenance and did not call for a brand new project. The request included three components: dredging of the entrance channel to a minus-eight feet; dredging of the east bay to a minus-eight feet; and having the sands pulled during the dredge be temporarily deposited on a vacant shoreline parcel off Bay Street.

In July 2004, DCD officials said the group could only dredge to a minus-six feet in both the entrance channel and the east bay and the material needed to be deposited at a location that was not within the shoreline.

The club appealed the decision and went before county Hearing Examiner Stephen Causseaux Jr. in August.

Causseaux issued a decision Nov. 22, stating that the dredging of the entrance channel and east bay constituted a maintenance dredge and is exempt from a shoreline permit. However, depositing of the sand within the shoreline “constitutes a substantial development” and requires a permit.

But because part of the dredging work is not exempt, the entire project requires a substantial development permit. If the group places the dredged sand beyond the shoreline, it will not need a permit for the actual dredging.

While the community club’s attorneys are working out the details, Cosacchi is pleased that a decision was finally made.

“We’re grateful we just got a response from the hearing examiner and now we can more forward,” he said.

The county gave the ok,

but how will it be funded?

The next step is to finance the project, of which Cosacchi and his board have figured will cost $800,000 once it is completed. This figure includes the money spent the past three years on environmental and soil studies, legal fees, permits and consultations, plus the actual cost of the upcoming dredge.

For the past few years, Driftwood Key residents have been paying $50 a year into a dredging fund as part of their membership fees. However, a ballot was recently sent to the membership proposing an increase in annual dues. The current fee is $222, which includes $172 for dues and $50 for harbor and dredging costs. The proposed fee is $370, which includes $172 for dues, $178 for harbor and dredging costs and $20 for building and maintenance fees is in the process of being voted upon.

The idea is to pay for the current project, plus create a reserve for the next dredging project, Cosacchi explained, noting the $800,000 breaks down to $12 a month per membership for the next 20 years.

Whether the measure has been approved and the new fees will be enacted won’t be determined until after Nov. 29. Cosacchi said he is “hopeful” it will pass. If not, the club board will have to explore other funding options.

“We have a duty to the members to maintain a common area here,” he said. “Their property values are directly tied to the Hood Canal access and we have to keep working on this project until we get it done.”

Property owners voice

differing opinions

While the board is expecting to see the light at the end of the tunnel soon, a group of residents oppose how the club has been pursuing the project.

Members of the North Channel Property Owners group live on waterfront parcels adjacent to the entrance channel, including four residents who own the tidelands in the channel. They feel their voices haven’t been heard during the process, especially how the dredge could physically affect their bulkheads.

“We want to dredge,” said NCPO spokesman Henry Howe. ‘We just want them to dredge in such a way to not damage or infringe on our property.”

Members of NCPO have repeatedly asked for the project engineer to sit down with them to assure them that their properties won’t be damaged during the project, but “no engineer has given us the time of day,” Howe said.

“We would love to have an engineer to meet with us and explain why we don't have to worry about damage to bulkheads or erosion to the tidelands. But that’s never happened,” he added.

While Cosacchi said he and others have sat down with the NCPO group to talk about their concerns, Howe said the group hasn’t seen any results working in their favor.

The NCPO is in flux right now, Howe said, as they are waiting to see what the club’s board will do following Monday’s decision and if the NCPO group will need to take further action, legal or otherwise, to protect their bulkheads and tidelands.

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