Whatcom officials to tolerate tubers on Nooksack, increase patrols

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 6, 2013 

Whatcom County officials will continue to allow tubing on the south fork Nooksack River but will spend $30,000 a year to beef up law enforcement and reduce alcohol-fueled bad behavior.

The Whatcom County Council informally agreed in a Tuesday, Aug. 6, meeting to pay for some overtime for sheriff's deputies and to post signs before next summer warning tubers of the consequences of breaking the law. Reports of assaults, lewd conduct, trespassing and driving under the influence have come from the Acme Valley during tubing season the past few years, Sheriff Bill Elfo told the council.

Executive Jack Louws and the sheriff responded to complaints from residents by increasing patrols starting July 20. Deputies have logged 94 hours of overtime so far. In concert with Washington State Patrol troopers, the deputies have issued dozens of warnings and infractions, and made 10 arrests - four for DUI, five for trespassing and one for lewd conduct, Elfo said.

Tubers, residents and the sheriff at Tuesday's meeting all said the lawbreaking was "fueled by alcohol," in Elfo's words.

Increased patrols over the past couple weeks have had the intended effect, the sheriff and one valley resident said.

"It has made a definite impact," said Susan Sebastian of Van Zandt. Still, she would like the county to place trash receptacles and portable restrooms along the river.

Louws wasn't ready to commit to either because he didn't know how the county would pay for them. Besides, too many amenities might increase the attraction for tubers. About 1,500 of them come to the river on a sunny weekend day, according to the Facebook page "Trouble with Nooksack Tubers."

"There's going to be a balance between putting up with it and enabling it," Louws said.

The executive told council members he would come to them in September asking for $30,000 to cover overtime costs. He expects the same amount will be needed next year.

County officials will re-evaluate this approach after next summer, Louws said. He told council this is the beginning of a long-term strategy to quell troublemakers on the river.

"I believe this will bring tubers who are causing problems under control over the next few years," Louws said.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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