WASHINGTON, DC – Federal legislation now requires the Army Corps of Engineers to address the safety risks of placing dead trees in Lake Chelan to offset the environment damage allegedly caused by building a dock.
The House Appropriations Committee passed a bill April 25 that requires the Corps to address the safety risks to recreational users of woody debris placed in Lake Chelan, according to U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wenatchee).
“Individuals wishing to construct a residential dock must pass through an exhaustive and very expensive permit process,” wrote boating safety instructor Russ Jones in a guest column to The Mirror. “Yet any agency wishing to deposit non-native species into the lake appear to be able to do so without the simplest of review processes. This was also the case with the use of submerged fruit trees. No prior study was conducted nor has there been any follow up study.”
With the dramatic rise and fall of the water level through the different seasons, local residents have raised concerns about the possible movement of this woody debris and the safety hazards that it poses to boaters and other recreational users of the lake, Hastings said.
“Washington residents have enjoyed waterskiing, swimming, boating and fishing in Lake Chelan for generations, and it is critical that it remain a safe environment for recreation,” said Hastings, who contributed language in the bill, “I am pleased that the Appropriations Committee acknowledges the need for the Corps to address the safety hazards of woody debris in Lake Chelan and reevaluate its use in the future so Lake Chelan can remain a safe place for Washington families to enjoy recreational activities. Additionally, I question the science and lack of monitoring of large woody debris as a mitigation requirement.”
In January 2011, Chelan City Council members unanimously adopted a complicated resolution restricting the use of large woody debris as an environmental offset to construction projects such as boat docks over the lake.
“In layman’s language, it would allow large woody debris but only low enough where it won’t interfere with boaters,” said council member Wendy Isenhart at that time. “It’s our responsibility to make policy here and we need an expression of our policy.”
Chelan County Commissioners followed shortly thereafter with a similar resolution.
Hastings’ language, which was included in the report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2013 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, requires the Army Corps of Engineers to report back to Congress on their efforts to address the safety hazards posed by woody debris in Lake Chelan, the liability of the Corps and private dock owners should a person or property be injured or destroyed by the woody debris, and whether woody debris should continue to be an acceptable option offered for mitigation within Lake Chelan.
In March, Hastings, who has long questioned the need to mitigate the impact of docks on fish, submitted a request to Administrator Lubchenco of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the science used to determine the impact of docks on fish species.
Lubchenco has yet to respond to this request.
One prescribed method is to anchor apple trees, referred to as large woody debris, near the shoreline to create artificial fish habitats. The Army Corps of Engineers and the State Department of Ecology created a prospectus that includes research allegedly proving this method would work in Lake Chelan.
The agencies call the trees “large woody debris” and fear that every time a portion of the lake is covered by such things as docks, it has a negative impact on the ecology of the lake.
Making up for that negative impact, by tethering dead trees near the lake shoreline to create habitat for fish, is called “mitigation.”