Will Seattle pull the plug on some floating homes?

floatinghomes2By Kate Burgess

Q13 FOX News reporter

SEATTLE -- Seattle’s floating homes are creating waves for city planners, who are trying to come up with new rules about what’s legal on the water. About 150 floating houses are at issue; officials say they don’t belong on the lake.

The city says several homes for being “illegal structures,” because they look more like houses, not boats.  But these homes feature engines, navigation stations, fuel systems, and they can be navigated into the waters of Lake Union. And that’s what’s causing all the confusion.

The Bagley home may look like an average residence: Carpeting, a gas stove and holiday decorations. But the Bagleys can drive it wherever they want. They live on one of Lake Union’s floating barges, and they’re concerned about the city’s attempts to redefine their home.

Kevin Bagley, founder of the Lake Union Live Aboard Association, said, “It’s allowed to live aboard a vessel as long as the shape is a trawler or a sailboat or a yacht, but if the shape is more boxlike, then we’re being subjected to rules that are trying to remove us, even though those box-shaped vessels are truly vessels.”

Nearly 500 floating homes – attached to the city’s sewer system and permanently moored at their docks are legal. But as Seattle writes up new waterfront rules to comply with the state’s shoreline management act, about 150 houseboats could be sunk. And rule changes could make it difficult for new building and for existing homeowners to remodel.

One of the major issues is waste water. Washington department of Ecology spokesman Larry Altose is concerned about the “ecological footprints” of floating homes.

Altose said, “Black water, which people define as the waste water from toilets, is obviously illegal and disgusting to put into the water.”

Bagley agreed and said he and all of his neighbors pump their septic systems monthly.

“The majority of the pollution that occurs is caused by runoff from city streets, from overrun of our city sewer system, and the contribution by house boats is really negligible,” Bagley said.

Seattle officials are also working to strike a balance between public and private shoreline space and establish “water-use priorities.” But as they try to define what exactly a vessel is, some floating homeowners are left in limbo.

The City Council is voting on the shoreline master program in about two weeks.