Fish farm plan goes before examiner Friday

Given an inconclusive recommendation from city staff, a hearing examiner must determine whether proposed floating warehouses at the fish farm off South Beach are consistent with city codes.

At issue is the difficulty of assessing aesthetic impact – the degree of visual intrusion that the structures would cause.

In his report to hearing examiner Robin Baker, city planner Joshua Machen recommended that she take expert testimony to weigh “overall public benefits vs. the public impacts of this proposal.”

Baker will conduct a hearing on the controversial plan at 10 a.m. Friday morning, May 24, in the council chambers.

The salmon farm, owned by the Anacortes-based firm Cypress Island, wants to install floating warehouse feed barges as part of their Rich Passage operations.

The barges could store a month’s worth of fish food, allowing monthly water deliveries instead of the present daily truck deliveries through Fort Ward. The move would create money-saving efficiencies, according to Cypress Island.

While neighbors welcome the reduction in truck traffic, they have complained about the visual impact of the barges, which would be 46 feet wide, 100-plus feet long and rise 16 feet above the water.

Machen’s report questions whether some neighbors agreed when they bought their properties not to complain about the facility, which has been in operation under various owners since 1973, and are violating those agreements by voicing objections.

“The Rich Passage Olympic Mountain View Plat, which encompasses most of the surrounding properties, contained a covenant that property owners or purchasers should not directly or indirectly object or otherwise attempt to restrain or interfere with the lawful fish farming operations,” Machen wrote in his report.

Machen was not able to produce that covenant earlier this week, and could not determine whether the proviso dealt only with operations existing at the time of the covenant, or whether it also prohibited objections to subsequent expansions or changes in operations.

Baker will consider two legally separate but factually connected issues.

She must determine whether the application meets the requirements for a conditional use permit under the city’s shoreline program, which decision can be appealed to the city council.

Because the council may have to resolve the matter in its so-called “quasi-judicial” capacity, council members may not discuss the matter with constituents or among themselves, Machen said.

“We tell them right away when something could go before them in a quasi-judicial capacity,” he said. “From that point on, any correspondence on the issue that comes to city hall goes into the file, but they do not see it. If they get letters or phone calls at home, they are supposed to not read them or have any discussions.”

Baker will also determine any appeals from the city’s decision that the proposal will not have a significant environmental impact.

Both Baker’s decision and any subsequent council decision can be appealed to Kitsap County Superior Court.

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