Author: Daniel Himebaugh
Today, we received notice that Washington's Shorelines Hearings Board approved a settlement reached by property owner Douglas Tomczak, the Washington Seaplane Pilots Association, the Washington Department of Ecology, Whatcom County, and the City of Bellingham that grants Tomczak permission to moor a seaplane at his Lake Whatcom dock. PLF attorneys represented the Pilots Association in this case, and helped negotiate the settlement that turned permit denial into permit approval.
The case began in June when Ecology overturned a county permit that allowed Tomczak to moor a seaplane at his dock. Ecology claimed that Tomczak's seaplane could introduce invasive species, such as zebra mussels, to Lake Whatcom. Tomczak appealed Ecology's permit denial, and that's when PLF got involved.
PLF represented the Washington Seaplane Pilots Association as an intervenor in Tomczak's appeal. The Association trains seaplane pilots on the proper cleaning of seaplanes to prevent the spread of invasive species, and helped Tomczak during the permitting process. In fact, the county conditioned approval of Tomczak's permit on his agreement to follow the Association's recommended cleaning practices, before Ecology got involved and revoked the county's permit approval.
We thought Ecology's decision to deny the permit was wrong. Asking for permission to moor a seaplane on Lake Whatcom is not an unusual request, since the lake is home to an FAA-approved seaplane base and is available for seaplane use. Plus, there is nothing to suggest that Lake Whatcom is at risk of invasive species from seaplane moorage — the lake has long had seaplane traffic and there is no evidence that a seaplane has ever brought an invasive species to the lake.
Moreover, Ecology's permit denial did not explain how the Association's cleaning program failed to ensure that Lake Whatcom would not be exposed to invasive species. It was unclear what Ecology wanted Tomczak to do to gain approval, since abiding by the Association's recommendations allegedly missed the mark.
Through much work, however, PLF attorneys were able to help resolve the situation, reaching a settlement agreement that grants Tomczak's permit, which means that Tomczak will be able to keep his seaplane at his dock on Lake Whatcom. Furthermore, the Association was able to establish its invasive species prevention practices as a standard that could inform future permit decisions. This was one case where common sense and property rights prevailed, and this case could lay groundwork for keeping Washington's waterways open to seaplanes.