Neighbors hope to oust oyster plant

Does Misery Point need an oyster processing plant?

For some residents, the answer is a resounding no. Critics say the plant would damage the nearby waterway, ruin the character of a rural Seabeck neighborhood and defy zoning laws.

But for Hood Canal Oyster Company proprietor Jim Hayes, building a processing plant on his lot on the northwest shore of Seabeck Bay has been a dream since the 1980s. The project has been in the works since 1993.

“I submitted paperwork back in 1993 but it got tied up in the Growth Management Act,” said Hayes, who currently operates his business out of his home on the 9900 block of Misery Point Road. “After that we jumped back on the wagon (in 1999) and went for the ride again.”

As with any form of shoreline development, Hayes had to request a number of conditional-use and zoning-variance permits from the county. But several neighbors have fought the process, even taking Hayes to Superior Court after county planners endorsed the project.

Hayes’ request currently is being reviewed by a hearing examiner, with a decision expected within the next two weeks.

“The area is zoned rural residential and the area is a shoreline of statewide significance,” said Rob Thomason of Seabeck, who opposes the oyster plant. “What does the county Department of Community Development not understand about that?

“If you let one guy build on the beach, then you have to let the next guy build a commercial facility. Where does it all end? This is a nice, quiet residential neighborhood and I’d like it to stay that way.”

William Broughton, Hayes’ attorney, said the businessman has “bent over backwards” to meet neighbors’ needs. The 3,750-square-foot, three-story structure is designed to look like a single-family home with minimal intrusion and visual impact on neighboring properties. The project also has the blessings of a number of state and federal agencies.

“This is a good project,” Broughton said. “It’s unfortunate we have a couple of neighbors that believe this will lower their property values.”

Linda Valley, who has lived next to the Hayes since 1987, said the attacks aren’t personal.

“We feel it’s not the right place,” Valley said. “It doesn’t fit in with the area and we’re also concerned about the wildlife in and around Seabeck Bay.”

Hayes, who has professionally harvested shellfish locally since the 1960s, said he realizes the time-consuming permitting process is normal and hopes the hearing examiner will approve his project.

“This is a well-thought-out project and we’ve passed all the tests and rules,” he said. “It just isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be like this. My operation is not that big and I don’t plan on being that big. The good here outweighs the bad.”

Some biologists fear the plant’s shoreline location could introduce aquatic pests and predators into nearby waters. For that reason, several recently-built oyster processing plants have located inland.

“The plants in the past were built on the water because the oysters were placed in barges and taken to the plant,” said Russell Rogers, a shellfish expert with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “However, a lot of processors today bring their shellfish in by truck.”

Rogers said there are no state regulations preventing an oyster processing plant on the shoreline, but many operators have found construction of an inland plant less complicated.

The state does regulate what harvesters can do with oyster shells once the meat is removed.

Hayes said by placing the plant on the water’s edge and using perfect timing, the shells could be placed back into Hood Canal, where new seed could grow.

“We’re helping Mother Nature out by putting the seed back in the water,” Hayes said. “It’s a good environmental plan.”

Rogers said state regulations call for the shells to sit out of the water for 90 days to kill off predators, such as Japanese oyster drills.

“Regulations prohibit them from dumping them back in,” Rogers said. “What is preferable is that the shells are washed off and kept clean as possible to provide a better surface for the oyster larvae to settle on.”

Hayes said he gets some of his shellfish from two locations on the west side of Hood Canal that have minor oyster drill infestations. When clean oysters are collected from those sites, he said, crews carefully wash equipment to avoid spreading the aquatic pest.

Four to six people would work at the plant if it wins approval.

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