Public Safety Committee considers lifeguards for next summer

With the news Sunday that a third person had drowned in the waters of Lake Tapps this season still ringing in their ears, the Bonney Lake City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday continued their discussion on whether Allan Yorke Park should be staffed with lifeguards.

For now, the jury is still out.

According to Councilman Mark Hamilton, who chairs the committee, the discussion included input from the city, East Pierce Fire and Rescue, County Councilman Dan Roach and members of the community, including some with expertise on the topic.

“It was a real well-rounded discussion on the potential of putting lifeguards at Allan Yorke Park,” he said.

Hamilton said the committee is considering all the information it can before making a recommendation to the full council, something he said he is not yet ready to do, but hopes to complete by the end of the year.

“We’re just getting information and learning as much as we can so we can implement something next year,” he said.

Hamilton said the committee discussed the possibility of adding five lifeguards to the city on a temporary basis in the summer, as well as an aquatics supervisor to oversee the staff.

The cost of doing so would be between $35,000 and $40,000 annually and provide coverage at the park during the day in season.

The current discussion over lake safety was spurred on by the June 21 death of Bonney Lake teenager Quentin Boggan, who drowned at the park while swimming with friends on the last day of school. Since then, two others have drowned in the lake, both at North Tapps County Park. The most recent, Marques Weekly, 19, of Kent, died Aug. 5, matching the highest number of drowning deaths in a single season on Lake Tapps.

But through their discussions, Hamilton warned that simply adding a lifeguard to the park may not have saved Boggan or the others.

“Lifeguards are not a panacea, they’re not a for-sure thing,” he said. “You can still have drownings.”

As evidence, Hamilton pointed to drownings this year in Federal Way and Lakewood, both of which had lifeguards on duty at the time.

“The public needs to know that,” he said.

Joining the discussion was Bonney Lake resident and Lynnwood Aquatics Supervisor Bill Haugen.

Huagen on Friday said his number one message to the committee was to make sure the public is educated in water safety, but also said he thought it was time to put a trained set of eyes on the swimming area at Allan Yorke PArk.

“We need to have lifeguarded beaches,” he said. “We have too much water not to.”

“Not all beaches need to be lifeguarded,” Haugen said, “but the public needs to know they have a well-supervised area to bring their kids.”

As a city resident, Haugen also said that he would be willing to pay slightly more in taxes for better safety at the parks.

But in the near-term, Haugen recommended the city hire an aquatics expert to come in and review the city’s park and procedures.

“Bring someone in that knows about aquatic recreation and have them review the site,” he said.

Hamilton said the committee’s focus will continue to be on education first, something urged by Haugen, the fire department and Police Chief Dana Powers.

Because Lake Tapps is a man-made lake filled through glacial melt, the waters are often darker and colder than swimmers expect, which can lead to dangerous conditions and incidents of cramping that can effect even the best swimmers.

Mayor Neil Johnson said his administration is focused on a public education campaign, including new signs at the lake, including one that will give water temperature and better explain the dangers of swimming in cold water.

Johnson also said he understands the push for lifeguards at the lake, especially given the incidents this summer, but is not sure it is right for the city.

“It sounds like it could be an easy answer, but it isn’t,” he said. “It’s not cut and dry.”

Johnson said the year-to-year funding of lifeguards is something that needs to be addressed and could become part of a metropolitan parks district. He also said the park currently has “recreational immunity,” something it can lose if the city positions lifeguards on duty.

“Once you add a lifeguard, your risk goes up,” Johnson said. “Those are the issues we’re dealing with.

Hamilton also mentioned the increased liability and said that was the next topic the public safety committee would tackle before making any recommendations.

Any changes to city policy would not be implemented until summer 2013. Until then, the city plans to focus on water safety education.