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Thursday, July 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Homeowners, environmentalists oppose geoduck farming

The Associated Press

TACOMA, Wash. – Opponents of a plan to raise giant clams on Pierce County beaches filled plastic garbage bags with shellfish farming debris they say they collected near their homes and hauled them to recent hearings on the issue.

The only waterfront property owners who seemed to support geoduck aquaculture were those who will be leasing acreage to Taylor Shellfish Farms.

The Shelton company, the West Coast's biggest shellfish grower, has made two small permit requests for Case Inlet in southern Puget Sound between Tacoma and Olympia.

Company president Bill Taylor serves on Gov. Chris Gregoire's Puget Sound Partnership, charged with restoring the health of Puget Sound's waters. Taylor Shellfish also has earned a federal commendation for environmental stewardship. But that didn't seem to impress the roughly 20 people who turned out for two Wednesday hearings before deputy examiner Terrance McCarthy.

If Taylor meets state and federal requirements and the county grants the two permits, the company could cultivate thousands of geoducks on a combined total of less than three acres of tideland.

McCarthy said he expects to make a decision in a couple of weeks, but said he first needs some additional documentation, including maps of nearby eelgrass beds.

Opponents of the plan displayed images of trash-laden beaches in Pierce and Thurston counties and labeled them with the names of the shellfish-growing outfits they blame for the debris.

They told stories and showed pictures of a river otter and bald eagles tangled in gear and they urged county officials to step up regulations holding growers, such as Taylor, accountable.

"If you're a shellfish grower, you can dump in our water. It's OK," said Sheri Luedtke, of Lakebay, who lives near one of Taylor's geoduck farms. "Aquaculture is the preferred form of pollution in this state."

Also speaking against the permits were representatives of Save Our Shoreline and Henderson Bay Shoreline Association and two environmental activist organizations, Tahoma Audubon Society and Citizens for a Healthy Bay.

They expressed concerned both about the rubbish left behind and the potential destruction of sensitive beaches.

Live geoducks, wild or farmed, rank among the Puget Sound's most valuable resources. They are pricey because of their appeal to Asian buyers, both domestically and overseas.

Taylor Shellfish Farms cultivates about 60 acres of geoducks in the South Sound, including about 11 in Pierce County, said spokesman Bill Dewey.

Diane Cooper, Taylor's environmental quality manager, represented the company at the hearing. She admitted she's disturbed by the photos of growing operations run amok. Taylor strives to avoid litter and responds to complaints about loose gear on beaches, she said.

"That's not to say we don't have debris that escapes from our farms," she said.

She also said geoducks are not cows and don't contribute to pollution. Rather, Cooper said increased population growth around the sound has degraded water quality so much that it's hard for Taylor and other growers to find tidelands where water is clean enough to produce shellfish.

Stan Cummings, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Bay, recommended the county conduct a thorough environmental analysis of geoduck farming before allowing more farms.

His group requested a moratorium on new geoduck aquaculture permits in a June 19 letter to Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. Ladenburg has not responded, but Pierce County planner Ty Booth said a new set of interim regulations is in the works.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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