Sutherland to scuttle live-aboard challenges

"A legislative effort to allow people who live on boats to keep doing so has won the support of the state's newly elected commissioner of public lands.Pierce County Executive Doug Sutherland said last week that once he takes the state job on Jan. 10, he will abandon the effort begun in March by Commissioner Jennifer Belcher to eliminate private residences on state aquatic lands.Sutherland's stance means that the more than 20 people who live on their boats at Oak Harbor Marina will be able to continue their lifestyle.The commissioner manages the state Department of Natural Resources and sets policy for 5.6 million acres of publicly owned farms, forests, aquatic areas and open-space reserves.Sutherland said he would support legislative efforts to retire the live-aboard issue through changes in state law.State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said she would introduce legislation to authorize live-aboards on state aquatic lands and might also propose cutting their state lease rate by 70 percent.Sutherland also could move to resolve the issue administratively by rewriting leases to allow live-aboards and by settling a lawsuit brought by boat owners against the department's live-aboard policy. The case is scheduled to go to court in the spring.The live-aboard issue arose when Belcher made a strict interpretation of a 1984 state law that restricts use of state aquatic lands to water-dependent uses. Belcher said that doesn't include a residence, since a residence can just as easily be on land.But live-aboards aren't mentioned as a prohibited use in the law. Residents fighting efforts to evict them have used that as a weapon.In my mind, boats are water dependent, said Don Stonehill, chairman of The Liveaboard Association of Puget Sound.He and other live-aboard residents, as well as the marine and boating industry, contributed to Sutherland's campaign, in which he promised to drop the issue if elected. Sutherland, a Republican, defeated former Gov. Mike Lowry in the Nov. 7 election.No candidates for lands commissioner, including Lowry, indicated they would carry on the fight against live-aboards. "

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