Tires litter beach, open old wounds in Tulalip

TULALIP — For the second time in two years, hundreds of old tires are washing up on Hermosa Beach, a narrow strip of sand on the western edge of the Tulalip Indian Reservation.

The last time this happened was in 2006, after a severe storm sent waves crashing into a bulkhead made from old tires. Tulalip Tribes natural resources crews picked up that mess, but the broken bulkhead was left with the remaining tires still inside.

Bulkheads are structures that protect homes from erosion caused by tides.

Time and tides are scattering tires again. They arrive on the beach tangled up in seaweed, half-buried in the sand, sometimes used as perches for bald eagles with nests nearby.

Non-Indian residents of Hermosa Beach, some of whom have spent tens of thousands of dollars to build bulkheads to the tribes’ specifications, say the tires are a reminder of what they say is a double standard.

According to the tribes’ tidelands protection policies, the reservation includes the water and stretches up the beach to the mean high tide mark.

Homeowners say they’ve been told that they’re responsible for building and maintaining bulkheads on the beach — and going through an expensive permitting process set up by the tribe.

“It’s ridiculous that we go through this process, and yet there are tires there floating up on the beach, and that the source of the problem still remains,” said Glen Osterhout Jr., one of the families that has owned a Hermosa Beach summer home since 1929.

They’ve spent between $10,000 and $12,000 preparing to replace an old bulkhead, and expect to spend much more to build it.

Tribal officials strictly control construction of decks, stairways and bulkheads along the reservation’s shoreline. They say activity on the beach damages a delicate ecosystem that is home to shellfish and other natural resources that are key to the tribal way of life.

The bulkhead with the tires was built to protect part of the Fryberg Estates, a residential area owned by the Fryberg family, Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon said. The Frybergs are tribal members and lease out the lots.

The Fryberg Estates is on trust land, which is supervised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Tulalips are working with the BIA to clarify the tribes’ role in cleaning up the tires on trust land, he said.

“It’s a complex issue,” he said. “But our first concern is to stabilize the environment and make it safe for all our citizens, especially the fishermen.”

The question of who owns the reservation tidelands is the subject of a long-simmering dispute between the tribe and non-Indian residents.

According to the state, Washington’s Shoreline Management Act does not apply to reservation land, but may be applied to land owned by non-Indians within reservations.

According to Snohomish County, the tidelands abutting lots owned by non-Indians may be subject to the county’s Shoreline Management Act.

So far, neither the county nor the state has enforced these codes in the disputed areas.

Nontribal resident Fred Cook has lived in his waterfront home for 35 years. He worries about how long it will take for the tires to be removed. In 2006 it took a few months and cost the tribe about $10,000.

Repairing or replacing the old bulkhead would have prevented the problem from happening again, he said.

“You’d think they would have done something with the rest of them and cleaned that bulkhead out,” Cook said. “But evidently they didn’t, and now the problem’s back.”

Hermosa Beach residents say they’ve called the tribal offices, but don’t know whether tribal leaders plan to clean out the bulkhead and get rid of the tires for good.

Until tribal leaders have clear direction from the BIA, crews will simply clean up the wayward tires, Sheldon said.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

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