More on Mooring Buoys …

I recently posted about the number of mooring buoys in Port Madison and the likelihood that most are probably illegal. That post is here. I emailed the folks at the Department of Natural Resources regarding this issue. I received a response from the DNR today. It is posted below. I also included my response at the bottom.

First, here is what the actual law says.

From the DNR:

“Hello Rusty,

Thank you for your questions and input on Port Madison Bay (I call it Madison Bay so as not to confuse with Port Madison – the larger, deeper waterbody to the north).  There is definitely a process for permitting and authorizing mooring buoys (see info/links below)  Permits are required from the local shoreline management program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer for the installation (see Permit Guide attached).  As the state’s designated land management agency, DNR does not issue permits, but the use authorization in the form of a license for the long-term encumbrance on state-owned aquatic lands.  Mooring buoy licenses are typically 5-year terms and issued only after all permits have been received.  While there are some authorized buoys in Madison Bay, there are also too many unauthorized buoys.  Many of these unauthorized buoys have their permits with City of Bainbridge Island, but are not authorized with a DNR license.  Both the City of Bainbridge Island and DNR are aware of these unauthorized buoys. DNR is continuing to work with authorizing these buoys one-at-a-time. Since we are limited in staff time and resources, the process can be slow.  I have requested the City of Bainbridge Island to set a temporary moratorium on new buoys in the bay, to no avail.  I also continue to bring mooring buoy issues to my own agency for much-needed attention and the potential for future increases in staff resources.

For your information, authorized buoys are required to mark their buoys with their authorization number, yet unfortunately the marine environment tends to erode the efforts and many do not maintain or seek a permanent solution.  This creates difficulty when trying to identify authorized vs. trespass buoys in the field.  As you may imagine, overlapping buoys don’t just stay in one position and the original coordinates are sometimes inaccurate.  We very much appreciate those that identify their buoy with the authorization number, yet it is wholly inconsistent and difficult to enforce.  This makes it more difficult to identify authorized vs. trespass buoy in the field, and unless a vessel is on the buoy it can be hard to identify and contact the responsible party who installed it.

Here is the process for authorizing buoys:

Encumbrances on state-owned aquatic land require a DNR use authorization in the form of a lease, easement, or license. A recreational mooring buoy requires a use authorization in the form of a license, typically granted for a five-year period, after which a mooring buoy license owner often seeks a new five-year license.  Waterfront property owners may qualify for a no-fee license.  Here is a link to the Mooring Buoy License information on our DNR website at The mooring buoy JARPA application and Attachment E can also be found on this page in the right hand column. The Guidelines for Licensing a Recreational Mooring Buoy and Mooring Buoy Brochure for Residential Owners can also be found there.

To assist your Kitsap County permit process for installation, I have attached a JARPA Contacts Guide. (see attached).

The trespass buoys in Madison Bay, and throughout Puget Sound, are certainly a problem.  While the legal process to permit and authorize can go smoothly (many have successfully done it!),  it can also be complex or delayed at certain steps in the permit process, which then delays authorization, as well.  The trespass buoys are also personal property that cannot just simply be cut off (i.e., we hope it’s the right one!) and it is the heavy anchor on state-owned aquatic lands that also warrants removal or someone can simply re-tie a new chain and float.

I hope that provides you with some insight into the process for buoy authorization and some of the trespass buoy issues.  If you have any great ideas, you are welcome to forward them on.  Otherwise, I would encourage you to notify City of Bainbridge Island about your observations in Madison Bay, and I will continue to notify my agency, as well.”

Not very satisfying.

The way I read this, the DNR has authority, but cannot act, Bainbridge issues permits they have no authority to grant, and the DNR can’t take an illegal buoy because it is considered someone’s personal property. So nothing can be done.

It also appears the DNR is working slowly to permit these buoys. That would be unfortunate as it legitimizes the denial of the greater public’s right to transient anchorage.

My response:

“Thanks for your response. I wrote a blog post about this a few weeks ago. It got more attention than my little blog deserves. That post was the impetus for my questions.

Which City of Bainbridge department should I direct my inquiry to?

I confess to no understanding of the inner workings of government. I appreciate your explanation and understand your position. As a boater and taxpayer, it is very frustrating to investigate an issue, find a law, and then discover the agency responsible for permitting and enforcement lacks the wherewithal to enforce that law – especially in the face of obvious violation. In the same manner a vehicle would be towed if left on the side of the road or in a park, I would expect you all to have the authority and the resources to yank all improperly marked and un-permitted buoys at your discretion. As to required markings, I would be cited should I let markings on my boat deteriorate to the point of illegibility. Those with permits and legal buoys should be held to the same standard.

In this particular case (and likely most), I would suspect most of those buoys are there just to dissuade visiting boats from anchoring. By this act, those homeowners (or whoever placed the buoy) are denying the public access to public resources. This behavior should not be tolerated.

I am going to include your response in my blog update. I will not include your name or contact information unless you give me permission to do so. I will email you again if I have questions or ideas.”

Somewhat satisfying.

More to come …

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