Tomales Bay plan would cost boaters

David Briggs
A draft management plan seeking to mitigate impacts to eel grass and other wildlife in Tomales Bay proposes a limit to the number of moorings and the removal of “illegal and improperly placed moorings.”

A new management plan proposed last week could dramatically change boating on Tomales Bay.

Most if not all boats currently on the bay are allowed there on the basis of a gentleman’s agreement; because the bay is overseen by seven different agencies, to properly permit a vessel would require more red tape than any boat owner could reasonably be expected to navigate, and it generally isn’t done. Thus, up until now Tomales Bay boaters have not had permits, and have not been officially regulated.

But a new Tomales Bay Vessel Management Plan released last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the California State Lands Commission (CSLC ) is about to change that — and some locals are not happy.

The draft plan calls for a consolidation of jurisdiction over the bay, with oversight of vessel management taken up solely by the sanctuary.

Dumping oil and sewage waste from boats will be forbidden, and under the new guidelines, boat owners will have to obtain permits annually and adhere to strict guidelines for moorings.

But that can be expensive. Costs for mooring equipment vary, but a typical 55-gallon drum concrete mooring installed at a 18 to 22-foot depth would cost $1,400 to $1,600, including installation.

Methods proposed by the plan cost significantly more.

According to the draft, the primary goals in establishing a program for the siting and permitting of moorings are to protect bay habitat, decrease threats to and disturbance of wildlife, and “ensure safe and enjoyable water-related recreation.” The authors of the plan say this will be accomplished by “removing and preventing illegally and improperly placed moorings and mooring materials.”

The plan was developed in conjunction with an Advisory Council Working Group, which included 14 representatives from agencies, businesses and the community. Frederick Smith, who served as executive director for the Environmental Action Committee (EAC) of West Marin at the time, was among those 14. He said concerns were raised that traditional moorings used in the bay — usually 55-gallon oil drums filled with concrete — could be dragged around on the bottom in rough weather, disturbing eel grass.

“The working group came up with a lot of common sense solutions,” Mr. Smith, who no longer works for the EAC, said of the process. “I commend the marine sanctuary for even convening the group and for asking our opinions. My main concern is that they don’t over-regulate when there is not a big problem. I’m very excited about the idea of creating a no-discharge zone in the bay and providing protection of eel grass habitat, but at the same time I am concerned by the potential cost burden on boaters, who are mostly local folks. I’m mainly concerned over the permitting process.”

The plan sets out an adaptive management approach for decisions regarding various mooring technologies, and suggests methods it deems least damaging to the bay environment. It will also set a cap on the number of moorings in the bay at 160. This includes 130 leases in state lands for privately owned vessel moorings and up to 35 moorings at Lawson’s Landing.

State land for moorings at Lawson’s Landing are subject to the terms and conditions of a 25-year commercial lease issued by CSLC in 1998, and are not subject to the requirements of the plan. Moorings for aquaculture are also not subject to the plan.

The new management plan will also require leases. Moorings that do not hold a valid lease or are not in the process of obtaining a lease would be tagged and given notice to apply for a lease or remove the mooring within 45 days of notification, the plan states. Further, no mooring would be allowed within an eel grass bed, and any mooring currently situated in seagrass would have to be moved.

The CSLC would require a non-refundable $25 filing fee for a lease application, and a minimum expense deposit of $1,000. All staff costs associated with processing the lease would be charged against the minimum expense deposit. Any money not used would be refunded to the applicant, and any overages would be charged. Additionally, there would be an annual rent of $250 to be paid for moorings within the CSLC’s jurisdiction. Lessees would also be charged for the annual inspection of their vessels and moorings, at a cost of about $300 per hour, or $500 per year, the plan estimates.

Chuck Edwards, a Marshall resident and longtime boater on the bay, expressed shock over the proposed changes. A member of the Coast Guard in the 1970s, Mr. Edwards holds a Bachelor’s in biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and worked as a commercial fisherman in the bay for a time. He’s had a boat moored in the water in front of his property since 2004, but all and all has been boating in the area for 40 years.

“I’m vibrating. I can’t believe it,” he said of his reaction reading the plan. “What I’m seeing is a potential political fiasco. They’re employing a Draconian method for implementing it, with no demonstrable problem to begin with.”

He said that boaters on Tomales Bay had long been able to regulate themselves, and doubted that the traditional moorings caused damage to underwater flora. Further, he said that the screw-type moorings recommended by the new plan would not be effective in a bay like Tomales, where the bottom was loose with silt.

“There needs to be some kind of overview and oversight, I’m not arguing with that,” Mr. Edwards said. “I’m arguing for a reasonable approach, and this doesn’t feel or seem reasonable to me.”

Mr. Edwards said the plan frustrated him so much that he decided to list his boat for sale on Craigslist.

“They’re creating a system wherein they appoint special contractors we have to pay to make our moorings ‘legal’… I’ve spent my life on this bay, but I don’t want to play the game.”

The draft Tomales Bay Vessel Management Plan and Environmental Assessment/Initial Study is open for public comments until September 21. A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. on September 18 at the Dance Palace Community Center, in Point Reyes Station.