The Department of Natural Resources has delayed eviction for residents living on the water at two Olympia marinas while legislators revise state law.
The original eviction was scheduled for Thanksgiving Day. In September, DNR notified West Bay Marina and Martin Marina that several houseboats didn’t qualify as vessels and therefore were not permitted in harbor areas.
Ginny Stern, a 14-year resident at West Bay Marina, celebrated Thanksgiving with dinner instead of moving boxes. Stern helped form the Olympia Liveaboard Association to fight the eviction.
In October, the association filed an injunction, and state legislators met with DNR officials to reduce the pressure on local marina tenants.
Stern is optimistic that legislators can solve the problem statewide. The issue revolves around definitions for boats and vessels, which are managed under a different set of rules than houseboats.
Legal action is the liveaboard association’s “Plan B” for keeping the issue moving forward.
“We’re not floating homes. We are in marinas, we are vessels, we are not a threat to navigation or commerce,” said Stern, who lives on a 30-by-12-foot houseboat with her cocker spaniel, Ms. Diva. If evicted, Stern and nearly a dozen neighbors would be forced to find a private marina or dry dock.
“I might be just unrealistically optimistic,” Stern said, “but there is a smart path forward that lets all sides meet their needs without making anybody a bad guy.”
Marina managers agree that the current law is also bad for business.
“It’s 12 good, paying customers,” said Neil Falkenburg, general manager of West Bay Marina. “That’s a chunk of change every month that wouldn’t be coming in.”
State Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle, is working on a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would standardize the language and clear up confusion in the houseboat-vessel definition. Residents on Seattle’s Lake Union have tussled with the city over the distinction between vessels and private dwellings.
District 22 legislators are closely watching. State Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, said a legislative fix must also take a long-term look at water quality issues that led to the original law. One specific concern is the discharge of gray water, which is wastewater from household sources other than toilets. Gray water often contains chemicals and pollutants that threaten public health and the environment.
“The houseboats themselves aren’t the problem. It’s the risk of environmental degradation,” Reykdal said. “We all share an interest in letting this be a very viable lifestyle without risk to water quality.”
The DNR may delay eviction for another six months if marina residents are making “good faith efforts” to comply, said DNR spokesman Peter Lavellee. The department has not yet filed a response to the liveaboard association’s legal action. Although the DNR’s relationship is with marina owners and operators, Lavellee said there is interest in reaching a helpful solution for tenants.