At the start of Labor Day weekend, on Friday August 30, upwards of 450,000 gallons of raw sewage burst through a broken sewer main in Winslow and began leaking into nearby Eagle Harbor. The following day, August 31, the City of Bainbridge Island discovered the broken line at Donald Place, located near the beach between Wing Point and the Bainbridge ferry dock. The City finished repairs on the breach the morning of Sunday, September 1.
Bainbridge Island residents Penny Irvin and Heather Moore Paradis were unaware of the sewage spill. At about 2:30 in the afternoon on September 2, Labor Day, Irvin rented paddleboards from Olympic Outdoor Center (OOC) for herself, her daughter, and Moore Paradis’s daughter. Irvin said the young man who rented the boards to them did not mention the sewage spill: “The young guy met us at the water, asked us if we had rented boards before (I said yes), and set us up with life jackets and boards. He only mentioned that we had to keep the leash on our ankles in case we fell in (so we wouldn’t lose the paddleboard).”
According to Irvin, the young teens shared a board and both fell into the water during the outing. The three paddled across the Harbor to Pritchard Park, where they briefly played in the water and waited to meet the rest of Irvin’s family at the beach.
Irvin described the scene: “[Pritchard Park] was full of people on the beach, some children swimming, dogs in the water, etc. My husband was planning to meet us at the park with towels and bring our son, in case he wanted to paddle with me on my board. The girls brought their board briefly onto the beach and played a bit in the water.”
Irvin then learned of the sewage spill: “I ran into Udo Wald [owner of Back of Beyond, a canoe and kayak rental business in Winslow] out on the water leading a group in a canoe. He said, ‘Make sure you take a good shower after this because of the sewage leak.’” Alarmed, Irvin instructed the girls to quickly and safely paddle back to the OOC rental dock, located behind the Pub.
Irvin, who had planned to keep the rental boards out until closing at 6 that evening, said the man at OOC was surprised when they returned only after about an hour: “I told him I was very upset because of the news we received from Udo. He agreed that he should have told us about the sewage leak but that his boss gave them a direct order not to disclose this information. He said, ‘I didn’t even think we should be open today.’ I confronted him about withholding vital information that affected our health directly, and he did not answer. When I asked him again to explain why there was no warning on his part (nor were there signs anywhere that mentioned the leak), he said, ‘It’s public information.’ I asked for the manager/owner’s name and number, and he gave it to me. He did not charge me for the cost of the rental,” said Irvin.
When Heather Moore Paradis learned of the events of the day, she called Seattle Children’s Hospital to find out what potential health risk her daughter and her friend had been exposed to. Moore Paradis told me, “Children’s said it was serious. They told us the girls were at risk for E coli, Giardia, and Salmonella, which can be transmitted through mucous membranes [i.e., the mouth, nose, eyelids].”
Moore Paradis said she called Bainbridge Island City Manager Doug Schulze the next morning. She said he told her that he was disappointed to see a local paper run an article about the sewage spill with a photograph that showed people playing in Eagle Harbor in the background. He said he would have someone go down to talk with the business owners of OOC, but that the spill itself was relatively quite small and two tides would have moved through by then. Moore Paradis said that after she further explained her concern in the matter, Schulze grew quiet.
When I asked Schulze about the incident, he told me he had received a call from a concerned citizen on Tuesday, September 3, and had followed up with a call to Kitsap Public Health District about the paddleboard rentals. He was not sure what, if anything, the Health District had done in response to the citizen complaint, but that it was their responsibility to handle it. I asked if warning signs had been posted about the beach closures after the sewage leak, and he said he was certain they had been put up at public access points around Eagle Harbor by Sunday morning, September 1, or possibly the evening before, on August 31.
When I spoke with the Health District Water Pollution Identification and Corrections Program Manager Stuart Whitford he told me that a representative, Eva Crim, from the District visited OOC the afternoon of September 3 after hearing from Schulze. Crim found no one at the Bainbridge business office of OOC. She left a Health District hanger on the door reminding the business of the health risk from the spill and asking them to call the Health District. Whitford told me that as of today, September 9, nearly one week later, the Health District has not heard back from OOC. He also explained that the District cannot do “enforcement” in a case like this and that basically it is up to the honor system for a business not to rent to customers under the circumstances.
Whitford confirmed that warning signs had been posted Saturday, August 31. I asked Whitford if he knew whether a sign had been posted near OOC, and he said, “I don’t believe there were signs posted there. We didn’t know about this facility.” He said the District had hoped to find the business owner and was disappointed not to have heard back from him.
Inside Bainbridge called the owner of OOC, John Kuntz, for comment on this article twice on his cell phone and at the OOC general business number. An employee at the business told us that the owner was out of town but efforts would be made to get in touch with him and have him call us. So far we have not heard back.
About the sewage spill Whitford said it was “huge” and that the people in the water over the Labor Day weekend were swimming at the height of potential health risk. However, he said that there were several mitigating circumstances, including tidal flushings of the Harbor, the fact that saltwater and ultraviolet sunlight tend to break down bacteria and viruses, and the fact that people tend not to ingest saltwater.
Whitford said viruses tend to live longer in saltwater and that testing is going on this morning, September 9, “as we speak” to determine if the beaches are safe to reopen. “We are sampling for the bacteria enterolcocci, which lives longer than most bacteria and mimics the survival rates of most viruses [which can't be sampled for],” Whitford explained. He told me the week-long closure is a very cautious amount of time and that he expects the beaches will reopen tomorrow, September 10.
- Eagle Harbor Beach Closure Extended
- Up to 450,000 Gallons of Raw Sewage in Eagle Harbor
- City Still Working on Broken Sewer Main in Eagle Harbor
- Sewage Spill into Eagle Harbor Closes Nearby Bainbridge Beaches
Featured photo courtesy of Mike Baird. Photo of Pritchard Park by Julie Hall.