Seattle Shellfish, an Olympia-based company with dozens of aquaculture facilities throughout Puget Sound, filed suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle alleging that unnecessary regulations are preventing the company from growing.
The company specifically claims the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers waited five years to respond to its applications to continue commercial shellfish operations at established farms, and when officials finally did respond, they wrongly refused to authorize farming in certain areas.
The argument centers around something called Nationwide Permit 48. The permit was issued in 2007 and was intended to authorize commercial shellfish activities within a "project area," the lawsuit states.
When the Corps of Engineers finally issued letters this year in response to Seattle Shellfish's applications, officials refused to authorize any portion of Seattle Shellfish's farm area that was not actually planted with shellfish before March, 2007.
Jim Gibbons, president of Seattle Shellfish, says that the permit covers both planted and non-planted portions of the company's farm, something that's confirmed by Endangered Species Act consultations and biological opinions from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Unless the lawsuit is successful, Seattle Shellfish will be required to obtain individual permits under the Clean Water Act for each of the areas that was not authorized, "subjecting it to unnecessary regulatory processes that may take years to complete at significant expense to Seattle Shellfish," the lawsuit states.
Unfortunately, the dispute is not an isolated case.
"Growers are frustrated over the permit process," Bill Taylor, president of Shelton-based Taylor Shellfish, said in a release. "In spite of the fact that shellfish farmers are a key economic driver for jobs in rural areas, there hasn't been a new shellfish farm permitted in Washington state in over seven years."
Tribes are hurt by the Army Corps' decision, as well, said Sue Shotwell, shellfish farm manager for the Nisqually Tribe.
AWB President Don Brunell said the extra permit requirements and agency consultations being required by the Corps of Engineers has a chilling effect for business.
"We believe that businesses should meet our state permit requirements, but requiring companies to spend millions of dollars to duplicate efforts will drive much-needed jobs and tax revenue elsewhere," Brunell said.
The dispute is one more example of the kind of over-regulation that Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, claims is holding back the economy.
Timmons, who spoke last month at AWB's Manufacturing Summit in Seattle, said that manufacturers have been "pummeled" by new regulation for years.
"I'm not saying all regulations are bad, but they really need to be balanced," Timmons said. "And right now, they are not."