Shades of gray at the port

Plan to ban water discharge irks Everett boat owners


Herald Writer

EVERETT — Leif Hagen makes it a point to buy biodegradable soaps, shampoos and toothpaste.

After all, most of the soapy water that goes down the sinks and showers aboard the boats at the Port of Everett Marina goes straight into Port Gardner Bay.

If a proposed city shoreline plan gets final approval, as many as 200 people who live on boats in the marina would no longer be allowed to discharge that water, known as gray water.

Live-aboards and marina staff members plan to tell city planning commissioners at a meeting tonight how ridiculous it would be to ban the discharge of gray water as outlined in a draft shoreline management plan.

"We could not comply," said Connie Bennett, marina director. "We do not have the facilities to enable the boat owners to comply. The boats themselves are not equipped to comply."

The focus has been on educating boat owners on ways to minimize the discharge of hazardous cleaning substances, Bennett said. To ban the discharge of gray water would ultimately bar marina tenants from living on their boats, she said.

Most boats don’t even have tanks to store the gray water. Russ Reed, an Olympic Boat Centers boat and yacht salesman with 17 years of experience, said most boats from 7 to 65 feet sold in the area don’t have gray water holding tanks.

"It’s not common practice yet," he said, adding that the boat owners he knows are environmentally sensitive anyway.

The proposed shoreline plan also bans discharge of black water or sewage, which the marina also bans. Boaters are required to store sewage in sewage tanks and dispose of it by either having a professional company empty their tanks or use the marina pump station, Bennett said.

Hagen said most boaters he knows are responsible and care about the environment. They are careful not to rinse grease or other contaminants down the drains, he said.

And while docked at the marina, many live-aboards use the marina showers and toilets, not the ones on their boats.

The city, however, is not convinced that gray water does not affect the environment, especially in light of the chinook salmon listing on the endangered species list, said Dave Koenig, planning department.

"We don’t know if there are any issues," Koenig said. "Unless we have environmental documentation … we’re not comfortable blessing the discharges of gray water."

The city’s concern is not the water discharged from bilge pumps or people washing their boats, Koenig said.

Koenig said city staff wants the port to take responsibility.

"What we’re saying is if that is happening, it’s going to be the responsibility of the marina operator to make sure there is not an environmental effect because of it," he said. "The rules have potentially changed because of ESA (Endangered Species Act listing) and the port needs to make sure that what they are doing is OK."

Curt Hart, spokesman for the state Department of Ecology, said his department encourages marinas on a voluntary basis to minimize gray water discharge as much as possible. Ecology also encourages minimizing the use of soaps and detergents, he said.

Some boat owners are worried that Everett could open a can of worms.

"If it starts here, it could set a precedent," boat owner Ken Gepner said.

Gepner and other boaters hope city leaders who make the final decisions will learn more about gray water and that boaters are taking precautions to make sure they are not polluting their backyard waters of Possession Sound.

Joe Dusenbury, harbor master at the city of Des Moines Marina, said there are many shades of gray to gray water.

"We’d really like to see everything contained, but we realize that’s a goal, but as a practical matter, we’re really not there," he said, adding he’s sure that sooner or later no discharge will be allowed in Washington waters. "We’re pretty happy with the way people are (handling it) here. We’re not enforcing (discharge of) gray water as long as it doesn’t get out of hand."

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