Long Lakers band together to clean up pollutants

After years of constant beach closures and disturbing reports on the organisms taking over Long Lake, near-lake and lakefront residents have decided to push for a long-term solution that could make the lake safe to use year-round.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because a similar plan was tried five years ago by an association of lake residents. However, because the estimated pricetag for the plan they developed came out just shy of $1 million, the plan was dropped and the association dissolved.

One man, however, believes this time will be different.

After a marketing blitz that sent informational fliers to 400 Long Lake-area homes, resident Ken Spohn managed to organize a meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the lake and its endemic problems. Earlier that afternoon, Spohn said he expected the meeting to last an hour or so and said if 20 people showed up he’d be ecstatic.

In fact, approximately four dozen people showed up and stayed for nearly three hours to hear about the lake’s problematic past and potential future. Representatives from the Department of Ecology, the health district and the county all gave presentations which detailed exactly why the lake is prone to sudden bursts of contamination and what might be done to correct it.

“We had a great turnout,” said Spohn, who added he was in a kind of daze all evening, overcome by the outpouring of support.

Long Lake has become infamous for its health and pollution problems. This summer, the Kitsap County Health District sent out at least four health hazard warning notices detailing different pollutants and organisms which had shown up in the lake. The joke at the district office is that the only time Long Lake is usually safe for swimming is in the dead of winter, when the water is too cold to support large microbial populations.

Residents with waterfront property, however, are not amused.

Spohn, who works in King County, said he moved to Long Lake three years ago specifically to take advantage of the cheap waterfront property offered there. He said he found out pretty quickly the lake was not the idyllic setting he first believed it was.

“I came home from work that day and the lake was closed, and it was the first day of summer,” Spohn said. “I had figured a lake’s a lake. We never thought about the quality of the lake water — we were worried about the schools. That first summer, my eyes were opened.”

Other residents were not as vehement in their disappointment with the lake, although everyone at the meeting appeared enthusiastic about the chance for some cleanup work.

Dana Soyat, a Long Lake resident and real estate agent specializing in South Kitsap properties, said most residents have learned to take the lake’s problems in stride. He said many residents simply learn to avoid the really murky areas and enjoy watersports on the lake the same as always.

“It’s the only waterski lake in South Kitsap,” Soyat pointed out.

He also said so far the lake’s highly publicized problems haven’t affected homebuyers’ enthusiasm. For the most part, Soyat said, people are willing to overlook the inconvenience of persistent algae blooms and intermittent bacteria problems in order to have their own dock or lake view.

“If they go in with their eyes open, it doesn’t affect property values,” he said.

That’s not to say everyone wouldn’t be a lot happier if the lake was a bit cleaner.

Due to the interest showed at Wednesday’s meeting, another planning meeting has already been scheduled for early January. Spohn said because they’ve already missed the Nov. 1 deadline for grant applications, residents can afford to take things slowly.

“The problem is they have about three times as many applications as cash,” he said, speaking of the agencies who issue cleanup grants. “You’ve got to have your act together to get the grant.”

Luckily, he said, the plan drafted in 1997 is still hanging around the Department of Ecology offices. Once an organizational body is set up to tackle the lake’s issues, the members can review the plan and see what — if anything — needs to be revised.

“It may be out of date, but it’s a good base to build on,” Spohn said.

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