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Friday, September 25, 2020

Changes to Lake Samish ‘no wake zone’ cause concern

By Melody Kazel 

Residents of Lake Samish are concerned about safety on the lake, though their definitions of what safety looks like differ.

On June 4, the Whatcom County Council passed an ordinance amending the county code related to wake zones on Lake Samish. Since then, there has been debate in the Lake Samish community about the ordinance and how it was passed. 

A no wake zone is an area in which a boat must drive at minimum speed. The ordinance increased distance of  no wake zones. Boats driving at faster than 6 mph must stay 300 feet from shore. It restricted vessels being used to displace water for wake purposes to 300 feet from shore, meaning they cannot operate within that area except for takeoff or landing. The ordinance also designated a larger no wake zone by the bridge located just south of Lake Samish Park.

Map by Mallory Biggar

County Council Member Tyler Byrd, who sponsored the ordinance, said the idea for updating the codes was brought by leaders within the Lake Samish Association. The issues community members brought forth — erosion, dock damage and the safety of swimmers — seemed like serious problems, according to Byrd. 

While the residents in favor of this ordinance explained their experiences and brought forth their own data, Byrd said that no official study has been done to confirm or deny claims of erosion problems on the lake. Prior to passing the ordinance, no official investigation was done into the extent of dock damage. One of the main reasons the ordinance was passed was because the council believed it was what the majority of Lake Samish residents wanted, Byrd said. 

“It looked like the right thing to do from both the county’s standpoint as well as the community members’ standpoint,” Byrd said. 

Once the ordinance was passed, and the buoys were moved to indicate the new no wake zones, a conflict arose.

“The community came out in force and said, ‘Hey, listen, we had no idea about this. We don’t agree with it,’” Byrd said. 

After seeing that many members of the community were opposed to the ordinance, Byrd walked around Lake Samish and asked people their thoughts about the ordinance. He asked anyone who was home, he said. 

“Some of them took me out back and actually showed me their shorelines and what they thought about the issue,” Byrd said. “The feedback was not unanimous, but the vast majority of people didn’t like what had happened or how it occurred.”

The county council had looked into the extent of dock damage, going out to the lake to see what it looks like. Byrd said after investigation they realized that dock damage was not as bad as they had initially thought. 

Eric McHenry, a Lake Samish resident who is against the ordinance, said he felt due diligence wasn’t done when the ordinance was passed. 

“I think that the vote, originally, was rushed because they didn’t see any opponents to the original ordinance, and that was because the Lake Samish Association, that is supposed to inform the residents of anything going on on the lake that would affect them, did not do their due diligence,” McHenry said. 

According to McHenry, the majority of the Lake Samish community was unaware the ordinance was being discussed. He said the members of the Lake Samish Association who brought the ordinance to the county council did not inform residents. 

Those opposed to the ordinance are calling for a compromise.

The compromise ordinance calls for two things, McHenry said. First, to keep wake surfing and wakeboarding out at 300 feet but allow all other activities on the lake to take place within 150 feet from dock or shore, as it was before the ordinance was passed. Second, move the no wake zone south of the bridge from 2,700 feet to approximately 800 feet from the bridge. 

McHenry walked around the community with a petition for the compromise and got several hundred signatures, then brought it to the county council. 

Two meetings were held since then to discuss a compromise ordinance with the Lake Samish community. While proponents of the compromise ordinance see it as a fair deal, others who supported the initial change disagree. 

A main argument from both sides of this disagreement is safety. Lake Samish residents Debra Noonan, Gary Simon, James Willson and David Mauro all supported the original ordinance. They said they had concerns regarding the safety of swimmers, small boaters — such as kayakers — and dock users. 

Noonan said a boat once came so close to her dock it nearly knocked her grandchildren into the water. 

“We were on the dock and a boat went by fast and set up a big wake,” Noonan said. “I had to grab my kids because the dock was rocking so hard that they would have been knocked off.” 

People who support a compromise, such as McHenry, also cite safety as a major concern. McHenry said he supports a compromise partly because the original ordinance pushes boaters closer together in the middle of the lake, creating a greater potential for accidents. 

“Since the ordinance being passed, there was an accident where somebody had to make a sudden adjustment in their track and somebody was wakeboarding and broke their leg,” McHenry said. 

Both sides of this issue care about the safety of people on Lake Samish. Those who oppose the compromise believe it would make the lake less safe for swimmers, small boaters and dock users. Those who support the compromise believe the original ordinance made the lake unsafe for boaters. 

While all may not agree that this compromise ordinance will bring the greatest amount of safety to lake users, the community is coming together to try to find a compromise. Byrd has decided to sponsor the compromise and said the county council is looking more thoroughly into this ordinance before they pass it because they want to make sure they get it right this time around. The debate is still ongoing and the county council is uncertain when the compromise ordinance would be brought forth to be voted on.

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