Taylor files damages claim
Taylor Shellfish Farms of Shelton, Wash., today filed a $4.5 million claim against the Washington Department of Natural Resources, the latest step in an ongoing dispute over what the shellfish farmer claims is a breach of contract regarding a lease to raise geoducks on state lands.
The company has farmed shellfish in the Totten Inlet area since 1969 and always maintained equitable ownership of the property, but a recent survey indicated that Washington's largest shellfish grower was inadvertently trespassing on state-owned lands.
On 12 January, Taylor signed a five-year lease agreement to farm shellfish on the tidelands with Doug Southerland, the former commissioner who left office the following day. Incoming Commissioner Peter Goldmark said the public was "shut out" of the approval process, a claim the company denies. Goldmark refused to sign the lease agreement that would have allowed Taylor Shellfish to harvest geoducks (large burrowing clams, Panopea abrupta) from the disputed property.
Taylor Shellfish President Bill Taylor said the company had hoped to resolve the dispute without court action, but it has filed two lawsuits: one in Thurston County Superior Court to assert its quiet title claim of ownership and a federal suit that sought to establish the validity of a substitution clause in its deed to the tidelands.
“DNR’s assertion of ownership to these tidelands has restricted our use of property that we have claimed ownership to all along,” said Bill Taylor, company president. “As a result, we’ve been prohibited from farming, planting and harvesting our product and we’ve been damaged.”
Taylor Shellfish claims Goldmark's decision to not honor the agreement constitutes breach of contract and violates Washington's SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) law that requires public input be considered in the decision to lease state property to Taylor, which is joined in the federal suit by Helen Senff, who owns property in Totten Inlet that she leases to the company.
Company spokesman Bill Dewey said the tidelands in question contain about 300,000 geoducks, some of which are ready to harvest now and others that won't be ready for five years, as well as 240,000 oysters.
“The signed settlement was fair to all parties,” said Dewey. “Given what’s at stake here for the state, I am dumbfounded by Commissioner Goldmark’s decision in this dispute.”
In the settlement, Taylor had agreed to forfeit its ownership claims to the property if DNR decided to lease 21 acres to Taylor for five years to harvest shellfish already planted on the land. According to the agreement, Taylor, which donated more than USD 3,500 (EUR 2,700) to Sutherland's failed re-election campaign, would not have to pay fines without the five-year lease.
In addition, Taylor agreed to pay USD 480,838 (EUR 377,772) in back rent plus leasehold excise tax, interest and USD 53,241 (EUR 41,829) of staff time reimbursement totaling USD 629,762 (EUR 494,565); pay USD 200,000 (EUR 157,064) to the Geoduck Aquaculture Research Account for Washington Sea Grant to conduct research of geoduck farming practices at the site, bringing the total to USD 829,762 (EUR 651,574); and pay an estimated USD 500,000 (EUR 392,627) in additional rent over the next five years.