Community Environment

New restrictions on docks proposed for parts of Fox Island, Key Peninsula

Posted on April 5th, 2022 By:

Pierce County is proposing prohibiting new residential docks and piers on 7.3 miles of shoreline on Fox Island and the Key Peninsula.

The prohibition is among five proposed amendments to the county’s Shoreline Master Program, a set of regulations required by the state Shoreline Management Act.

The other amendments deal with aquaculture, fencing within buffers and setback areas, and other shoreline regulation. But the dock proposal drew the most comment at recent meetings of land-use advisory committees for the affected areas.

The proposal was presented to the Pierce County Planning Commission on Tuesday, April 5.

Where the restriction would apply

The proposed prohibition on new docks would cover 2.06 miles of shoreline on the south end of Fox Island; 3.58 miles on the south end of the Key Peninsula; and 1.67 miles on the west side of the Key Peninsula, north of Taylor Bay.


If approved, the prohibition would affect 136 properties on Fox Island and the Key Peninsula.

The three areas proposed for new restrictions meet the following criteria, according to a presentation to land use advisory committees by Pierce County shoreline planning supervisor Dave Risvold: 

  • They include stretches of shoreline at least 1.5 miles long.
  • They provide habitat for forage fish spawning.
  • Critical salmon habitat is present in some areas.
  • They include little or no current known overwater structures.
  • They are adjacent to established public access opportunities.

Other factors considered including whether offshore tidal velocities might make an area potentially hazardous for recreational activities like kayaking; and whether beach slopes would “necessitate long docks, which just exacerbate the issues we’re talking about,” Risvold told the Gig Harbor Land Use Advisory Committee.

Existing dock regulations

Residential docks and piers are already prohibited on about 23 percent of Pierce County’s shoreline. That’s mainly in areas designated as natural environments and high intensity environments.

Risvold’s presentation indicates that residential piers and docks are regulated due to their impact on shoreline habitat and function; their potential to reduce public recreation activities; their effect on views, aesthetics and shoreline character; and their impact on tribal fishing rights.

In 2019, the Pierce County Council asked staff to perform a new analysis of shoreline function. A study by consultants from Environmental Science Associates found that additional restrictions would be appropriate.

2021 proposal

Proposed restrictions issued in fall 2021 called for prohibiting residential docks along nearly 39 miles of marine shoreline.

However, the 2021 proposal would have led to a confusing patchwork of pier prohibition. For example, the 2021 proposal would have banned new residential docks on about 4 miles of the western shore of Fox Island. But interspersed in those 4 miles were about 1 1/3 miles where the prohibition did not apply.

“We wouldn’t have long stretches of shoreline with a prohibition for overwater structures. Instead, we would have a punctuated series of prohibitions that could be as little as 200 feet,” Risvold told the Key Peninsula advisory committee on March 16. “It was a very awkward patchwork of prohibitions. Staff don’t really find that addresses the full range of concerns we received.”

The current proposal fixes that by applying the prohibition on new residential docks only to stretches of shoreline at least 1 1/2 miles in length that also meet other criteria.

Some property owners opposed 

The proposal met with opposition from several property owners at the two advisory committee meetings.

Bob Perry told the Gig Harbor advisory committee that he bought property about two years ago in a part of the Key Peninsula now proposed for restriction. He was “shocked” to receive a notification of the proposed restriction from Pierce County.


John Larsen owns property in the proposed prohibited area on Fox Island. He said he has no plans to build a dock, but “not being able to build a dock is going to undermine the future property value that I have.”

“This is a taking,” Perry added.

The environmental group Friends of Pierce County urged a slower approach.

The county’s data on docks and piers is more than 10 years old, Friends of Pierce County executive director Marian Berejikian told the planning commission. She urged them to recommend delaying action on dock restrictions until the county has updated its information. A study of those issues is expected to be completed in 2022-23.

Net pens

Another SMP amendment would tweak regulations governing net pens for aquaculture, or fish farming. Current regulations do not differentiate between commercial net pens and those intended for restoration of native stocks, Risvold told the Gig Harbor area land use advisory committee.

Current regulations prohibit new finfish aquaculture net pens to the south and west of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and within marine aquatic reserves.

Risvold said the proposed amendment would “recognize there is a thing called restoration and enhancement aquaculture.”

“It would give staff the authority to not require everything that’s in code for these noncommercial enhancement or restoration applications,” Risvold said.

Members of Friends of Pierce County and the Tacoma Audobon Society urged the Planning Commission to recommend against the auqaculture amendment, arguing that even net pens intended for restoration of native stocks could potentially threaten marine wildlife.

Next steps

The proposal will be taken up next by committees of the Pierce County Council, starting with the Community Development Committee on April 18. The council must approve any changes before they take effect.

The public can still comment on the proposals. To submit a comment, go to Pierce County’s Shoreline Master Program update website.