OPG ‘open’ to S’Klallam acquisition of old mill site

PORT GAMBLE  — When Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan looks at the old Port Gamble mill site across from Point Julia, he envisions something beautiful there.

A true beach. Eelgrass growing in the water. A sandy shore teeming with clams. A smokehouse – a cedar-planked building in which ceremonies and gatherings are held. A dozen or more canoes arriving during the annual Canoe Journey. A park-like place, where people can learn about indigenous history, native plants and their uses, how people lived here before contact.

“It would be complementary to the national historic town site (of Port Gamble),” Sullivan said. “I don’t think it would be in the best interest of Port Gamble and the Tribe to not have them both complement each other. There’s an opportunity to do that. I don’t know if it’s attainable or not. I hope it is.”

S’Klallam leaders have long expressed their interest in having the mill site returned to their people; S’Klallam people were moved from what is now Port Gamble to Point Julia in the 1850s to make way for the mill and its town. If Olympic Property Group, the real estate arm of Pope Resources, and Port Gamble S’Klallam can agree on OPG’s plans to build a dock on a portion of the land – and can find funding to buy the land — Sullivan’s vision could become reality.

(Read about the agreement here.)

“Probably the easiest is putting parts of it in conservation,” said OPG President Jon Rose said April 24. “(The Tribe’s) concern is polluting or repolluting the bay, but whether you are buying it or conserving it, there are some pieces we’d like to retain for development. We still want to put a dock down there. But we’re really open (to discussion).”

Rose said a dock is an important part of the town’s plan to boost its economy with construction of more homes, a hotel and other amenities. The dock would provide another way for visitors, such as tour boats, to arrive here. The word “dock” is a potential sticking point.

Sullivan said he would support a dock, but “It depends on what kind of dock it is. We’ve always taken the approach that if you’re calling it a ‘dock,’ you’re calling it a ‘dock’ as defined by the Department of Health ... If you can tie up 10 vessels, it’s no longer a dock. We don’t write that kind of code, the Department of Health does.”

Mark Toy, shellfish program coordinator with the state Department of Health, said a marina is “based on the number of boats. It can be a dock (or) a mooring field.”

DOH defines a marina as accommodating one boat with a marine toilet per acre.

“We count any boat large enough to accommodate a marine toilet. We do not count small boats that can’t reasonably accommodate a marine toilet such as open skiffs, kayaks, etc.,” Toy said.

“A permanent marina closure zone is established for areas that always have more than 10 boats docked or moored there. However, many marine areas in Washington reach this number only during the boating or fishing season. For these areas a ‘conditional closure’ is established for those seasons.”

Sullivan fears pollution from a marina would cause shellfish closures, like in Port Ludlow, where the S’Klallam have a treaty right to shellfish harvesting that they can’t exercise.

“The real problem with marinas is if they find something, like fecal coliform, it’s a 30-month closure zone,” Sullivan said. “We’re worried about closing the bay down. We’ve already lost treaty right access (to shellfish). Putting a big dock in there that’s automatically going to close the bay (to harvesting) is not just our concern. It’s landowners south of us, our neighbors in Port Gamble Bay, that will be affected.”

Rose said OPG’s application, currently on file with Kitsap County but on hold until the cleanup action plan is finalized with the state, proposes 10 boats or less and is smaller in size and scope than the one approved in Suquamish several years ago. He also said that it “would not trigger an automatic shellfish closure.”

“We have not proposed a marina, but as of today we have never ruled one out,” Rose said. The dock would allow commercial and recreational boats, but will not function as a commercial entity — no slips to rent, no fueling station. The proposed “community dock” is technically outside the bay, at the site of the former dock where old pilings still stand.

Inside the bay, the Tribe harvests crab, geoduck, horse clams, cockles, littlenecks, manilas, oysters, shrimp, and a variety of fish.The appraised value of the mill site hasn’t been determined, and value hinges on the cleanup to be performed by OPG and the Department of Natural Resources.

Sullivan hopes any unforeseen environmental risks left from 150 years of industrial use will be discovered during cleanup.

“That particular shoreline, no one wants to acquire the risk,” Sullivan said. “We assess (the site) as a cultural value. We would really love to take ownership back for the S’Klallam people, but we need to know what we’re getting into.

“When we know what the true value is, we will do our best to acquire it. We are certainly interested in it.”

(Read about conservation efforts from the Kitsap Forest & Bay preservation project here.)

— Staff Writer Megan Stephenson contributed to this report.

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