Water system would “bring a vibrancy” to Copalis Beach

Water main extension first step toward public water system in North Beach town

Sharon Voss has owned and operated Copalis Beach Grocery off the shoulder of state Route 109 for seven years. The store, while small, boasts racks of blooming flowers out front, and “strives to be like a true grocery store,” offering more than just convenience foods.

“We have capers, so let’s put it that way,” Voss said.

But, as of now, if a thirsty tourist wandered in on a hot day and asked for a drink from the tap, Voss couldn’t fill so much as a dog bowl. She also has no ice maker, and she pours water from a jug in order to brew a pot of coffee.

Like the majority of homes and businesses in Copalis Beach, Voss operates on a private well. Her store is “dry” meaning all water for commercial purposes needs to be brought in. Without a commercial sink — a way to clean cookware — she can’t sell fresh meats or produce.

Those inconveniences, while seemingly minor, have held Voss back from developing her business to its full potential.

For Voss and others, that could change by the end of this summer. A simple water line extension project will connect local businesses to a Grays Harbor County water system, providing them a major lift, and could be the first step toward a public water system likely to spur activity in an area that’s been mostly left out of a flurry of development on the North Beach.

The first phase of the project, dubbed the Haven By the Sea Water Main Extension, was recently approved by county commissioners at a price of $124,000. This summer, crews from Rognlin’s Inc. will bore a hole under state Route 109, connecting a small county-operated system — which currently serves 30-40 houses in the Haven By the Sea Community — with a backup well behind the Copalis Community Church. It will then be linked to local businesses, and, in the coming years, to homeowners and new developments, if everything goes to plan.

Grays Harbor County operates six public water systems in the North Beach area: drinking water and sewer systems for Pacific Beach and Moclips, a system for Ocean City, water and sewer at Hogan’s Corner, and the Haven By the Sea system.

The expansion of public water in Copalis Beach is years in the making, said Mark Cox, director of utilities, facilities and parks for Grays Harbor County.

The county acquired the well from the church in 2018, but still had to go through the long process of transferring water rights. Cox said the well is a good producer of water — 50 gallons per minute — at a high quality, “which is hard to find at the beach.”

Located just up the street from the grocery store, the Green Lantern Pub has operated on a private well since it opened 10 years ago. Claire Hall, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Rick, said the lack of public water has posed a constant challenge. The Halls recently renovated the inside of the Green Lantern, but plans to improve the beer garden area outside can’t be completed until they connect to a new water source.

Their private well won’t last forever, Hall said, and without the water line extension, “the Lantern’s not going to be here.”

Without fire hydrants nearby, insurance prices have soared. Hall, who also owns the Copalis Cove restaurant in Ocean Shores, said she pays more than $8,000 less for insurance there than for the Green Lantern in Copalis Beach.

“Copalis Beach is just kind of left in the dark ages,” Hall said.

According to Cox, a lack of public water is a “direct driver” for why Copalis Beach hasn’t seen similar development to nearby neighborhoods like Seabrook or Ocean Shores. Both Hall and Voss cited a lack of water as a reason developers have passed on a 23-acre beachfront property currently for sale in Copalis Beach.

“Without a good source of water and a significant capacity of water, you really can’t develop much,” Cox said. “It’s one of the last beaches out there that really hasn’t seen a lot of development over the last few decades.”

Cox said bringing in “fire flow” — which, in theory, would accompany a new public water system — will entice people to build houses, and businesses to capitalize on a prime oceanside location.

But a full system of public water in Copalis Beach is still years down the road, Cox said. It will require “several million dollars” as well as a reservoir for water storage. The new system could look similar to what the county currently operates at Hogan’s Corner, which serves the nearby hotel and casino.

Voss believes the first phase of the project, and a supplanting water and sewer system, will boost her revenues at the grocery store and make property values rise throughout the town.

“It could bring a vibrancy to Copalis Beach on more levels than just mine,” Voss said.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.