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$9 million for shoreline restoration at risk in docks dispute
State funding jeopardized by impasse over Port Gamble mill site cleanup

The circles on this aerial photo of the Port Gamble mill site show the two docks in question in a disagreement between Pope Resources and the state Ecology Department over completion of the cleanup at the site on Port Gamble Bay. (Pope Resources Photo)A disagreement over delaying the removal of two docks as part of the cleanup at the former Port Gamble mill site threatens to scuttle a widely supported plan to use $9 million in state funding to purchase and restore critical shoreline areas.

The state Department of Ecology has been negotiating the final terms of the mill site cleanup with landowner Pope Resources, which has been working for several years on a master redevelopment plan for the town of Port Gamble. A key piece of Pope’s plan — which the company filed in January with Kitsap County to begin the lengthy review process for approval — is a community dock that would be built north of the mill site, near a proposed waterfront hotel and retail center.

Jon Rose, president of Pope’s real estate subsidiary Olympic Property Group, said the company asked Ecology to allow a phased cleanup project so that two docks on the mill site’s south side could remain intact until Pope obtains permits to build the new dock. Rose said the two southern docks would be removed in the future to meet mitigation requirements for getting permits to build a replacement dock.

Pope, which has committed to spending about $17 million to complete the cleanup, would remove all other docks, over-water structures and creosoted pilings in the bay, and the company says that dredging to remove accumulated wood waste could be substantially completed with the two docks left in place.

However, the Ecology department disagrees with that assessment, and the two sides have been unable to resolve the issue. In a Feb. 11 letter to Pope Resources, Ecology official Tim Nord said the agency was terminating negotiations over the cleanup because of the company’s refusal to remove the two docks.

As a result, a deal negotiated with multiple stakeholders — encompassing cleanup, restoration and purchase of hundreds of acres of property along 1.8 miles of shoreline — stands to lose millions in state funding. Nord’s letter states that the funding “has been redirected to higher priority projects.”

His letter noted that the “combined efforts” of Ecology, Pope Resources and various public agencies and community groups had achieved an agreement that “reflects our mutual interests and promotes a healthy and sustainable Port Gamble Bay ecosystem.” But he wrote that Pope’s “unwillingness to remove the two southern docks to conduct the cleanup collapses these efforts.”

Rose, who’s been meeting in Olympia with legislators to try to resolve the disagreement with Ecology, said Pope Resources has always agreed that it would remove all structures on the mill site and complete the bay cleanup to state standards. But the company wants some flexibility in doing that, in order to protect its investment in Port Gamble by maintaining crucial waterfront access.

“We always agreed all the old stuff will be pulled out of there,” Rose said. “We’re just asking for two things: allow us to phase it to complete the cleanup, and allow us to keep those docks” until permits for a new dock are secured.

In a fact sheet prepared to update legislators on the status of cleanup discussions with Ecology, the company states that without keeping the south docks to meet future mitigation requirements, “Pope’s legal rights to reconstruct a dock will be severely, if not completely, disabled.”

In a phone interview Feb. 12, Nord said that even though negotiations have ended, Ecology can issue an enforcement action requiring Pope to complete the mill site cleanup, regardless of the loss of funding for the related shoreline plan.

Of the $9 million appropriated by the Legislature, $7 million would have gone toward purchasing the shoreline block south of the mill site, and $2 million would have paid for removing a wastewater treatment plant outfall on the bay’s north side that has closed some shellfish beds.

The $7 million represents the largest contribution in an estimated $12 million in grants the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project anticipated would be available when an 18-month purchase option with Pope Resources expires at the end of March. The available money will be used to acquire and conserve as much forest land as possible in five separate tracts comprising almost 7,000 acres between Port Gamble and Kingston.

The 564-acre block that includes 1.8 miles of shoreline south of the mill site is the top priority, and a recently announced $1 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will go toward the shoreline purchase. It requires a $520,000 match in state and local funds, but that may still be available from the Dept. of Ecology.

“I think all of us are very hopeful they’re going to resolve this impasse (over the docks) and move forward as we originally hoped,” said Sandra Staples-Bortner with the Great Peninsula Conservancy, one of the key environmental groups involved. “There’s just too much to be lost here.”

Other partners with the numerous conservation groups in the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project include Kitsap County, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe — which is contributing money from a Hood Canal mitigation settlement with the Navy — and the Suquamish Tribe.

“The community has really invested lots of energy, and we have our hearts in this project,” Staples-Bortner said. “It really speaks to the future of Kitsap County, and we think it’s too important to let it slip away.”

Nord said Pope Resources has been cooperative throughout all the negotiations, and that the company has the right to its position on leveraging the two south docks. But concerns about future dock construction in Pope’s town redevelopment plans are outside Ecology’s limited focus on the mill site cleanup, he said.

And to complete that cleanup, “you can’t work around (the two docks); you have to remove them,” Nord said. “They have the right to rebuild those. We’re not taking anything away from them.”

The most significant opposition to putting in a new dock — as well as to Pope’s expansive redevelopment plans for the town — has come from the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe, whose reservation is on the east side of the bay.

Tribal officials are typically unresponsive to media requests for comment, and there was no response to phone messages left for Tribal Chairman Jeromy Sullivan requesting an interview for this article.

The tribe’s only response to the breakdown in cleanup negotiations was a generic statement Sullivan issued through a public relations firm. It said the tribe was “disappointed” but remained “hopeful for a complete cleanup in the future.”

Sullivan made no mention of the docks issue in his statement.

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