Contamination may force shellfish closure

An increased level of pollutants at the Oyehut/Illahee beach approach may trigger a state-mandated shutdown of commercial and recreational shellfish harvesting in that area by the end of the year.

The state Department of Health water quality sampling station off Damon Road indicates that the area is not meeting National Shellfish Sanitation Program guidelines, according to Grays Harbor Environmental Health Director Jeff Nelson.

Nelson said he got word of the initial findings earlier this month and formally notified Ocean Shores city officials on June 12. Nelson said it’s impossible to know whether the closure could impact beaches in the city limits of Ocean Shres but it almost certainly will impact the Oyehut/Illahee beach approach area.

Scott Berbells with the state Department of Health said that more tests need to be done, but the initial results don’t look good.

Monitoring stations in the Moclips and Pacific Beach area have also found an increased level of pollutants, including increased levels of fecal coliform. But unlike those areas, where the increases typically occur in the summer, the pollutants at the Oyehut/Illahee beach approach seem to be appearing all year. The beaches off the Oyehut/Illahee approach have typically been open to recreational and commercial razor clam harvesting. But if the findings hold true, Berbells said, shellfish harvesting would no longer be allowed in that area.

“We are still evaluating all of this and need to take more freshwater samples from storm flow going to the beach,” Berbells said. “We would make the closures as small as possible.”

Berbells said that the beach would still remain open to recreational uses, however.

County Commissioner Terry Willis said last week she was concerned about the possible economic impacts to the tourist-dependent area.

The county commissioners had been considering a new shellfish protection district concentrated mainly in the Moclips and Pacific Beach area. Nelson said he had been considering including the rest of the North Beach in with the shellfish protection district, as well, and now he is almost certain that the county will need to include the Oyehut/Illahee beach approach area into the district. Nelson acknowledges that there has been some opposition to that line of thought from some officials in the City of Ocean Shores, worried the county could be imposing a new taxing district on them.

But he said that’s not the plan. About the only potential financial impact some on the North Beach may experience are fees related to regular septic tank inspections. As it is, some home owners on the North Beach with septic tanks pay the county about $180 every three years for inspections.

Nelson said he’s working on a new county website to discuss the plan in greater detail and hopes to have it online soon. The shellfish protection district would also need to go through a public hearing process before the commissioners could approve it.