Seaplanes in, mussels out at Lake Whatcom

October 20, 2011

Washington state seaplane pilot Doug Tomczak can now dock his airplane at Lake Whatcom.

Tomczak had received a conditional use permit to moor his seaplane at his dock on Lake Whatcom, which has a seaplane base; but the state Department of Ecology overturned the permit, claiming that the seaplane could introduce invasive species such as zebra mussels. Concerned that it could create a precedent for keeping seaplanes off of Lake Whatcom, the Washington Seaplane Pilots Association appealed the denial. With the help of a volunteer legal team and support from area pilots, WSPA and Tomczak reached a settlement with the Department of Ecology that both approves the permit and protects the ecology of Lake Whatcom.

“This has truly been a team effort and has involved many of our members as well as outside experts and all of our board members,” said WSPA President Stephen Ratzlaff in an email to supporters informing them that a Washington state appeals board had approved the settlement. Seaplane pilot and attorney Ken Berger donated his time to represent Tomczak, and the public interest legal organization Pacific Legal Foundation also pitched in to help, Ratzlaff said.

During mediation, the WSPA worked with the Department of Ecology to develop procedures to prevent the spread of mussels. Ratzlaff said the WSPA believes that those procedures are reasonable and, while specific to this case, will lay the groundwork for handling similar situations.