Agreement reached on Port Gamble Bay cleanup

Source: Kitsap Sun (Bremerton, WA), March 23, 2013
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Breaking their weeks-long impasse, the Washington Department of Ecology and Pope Resources have agreed on a $17-million cleanup plan for Port Gamble Bay.

The agreement, to be spelled out in a legally binding consent decree, ensures that Ecology will provide $2 million toward the purchase and protection of 83 acres of tidelands and 470 acres of uplands along the western shoreline of Port Gamble Bay.

The agreement will allow Pope Resources to keep two docks at the south end of the former Pope & Talbot sawmill site until 2015. The company had been seeking to keep the docks in place until a new one could be approved at the north end of the property.

No agreement was reached for settling natural resource damage claims to be paid by Pope Resources. That raises questions about whether plans can move forward to use Ecology funds to purchase additional property on the mill site, where an educational and research center had been proposed.

“Thanks to the hard work of Ecology staff, Pope Resources, and a number of people and organizations, this agreement represents a major milestone in the cleanup of Port Gamble Bay,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon in a prepared statement.

“This project will benefit the environment by restoring and protecting the bay’s health; will benefit the economy by allowing for the restoration of shellfish harvesting; and will benefit the quality of life for Washington citizens and visitors who enjoy the bay and its surrounding environment,” she said.

David Nunes, Pope Resources’ President and CEO, thanked Bellon for stepping in to work out an equitable resolution, starting from her first day in office.

“I want to thank everyone involved in this for working long and hard to reach a conclusion to these negotiations that will allow for the final phase of Port Gamble’s cleanup to commence,” Nunes said in the statement.

He also thanked the state legislators from the 23rd District, along with U. S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, for their encouragement to keep the negotiations going.

State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said the new cleanup agreement will be good for the entire region, especially considering that the public will have “guaranteed access to the restored shoreline.”

“I’m disappointed that the larger negotiation surrounding the clean-up and restoration of the old mill site has not been resolved,” Rolfes stated in an email, “but my understanding is that a second round of negotiations related to settling natural resource damages is now set to begin.”

Agreement on a natural resources damage assessment ties in to Pope Resources’ plans to redevelop the Port Gamble town site with up to 176 new homes. A less-intensive development scheme depends on the company selling a portion of the old mill site, officials have said. The less-intensive plan could include an education and research center on that portion of the mill site.

The Legislature appropriated $9 million for the cleanup and restoration of Port Gamble Bay, one of seven bays identified for high-priority cleanup under the Puget Sound Initiative.

About $2 million of that will be used to replace the Port Gamble sewage system, which discharges into the bay, with a large on-site septic system.

Another $2 million of Ecology funds would be dedicated to purchasing Pope’s property on the western shoreline, valued at $4.6 million. Another $1 million for the property acquisition is expected to come from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant.

Meanwhile, Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition, made up of various community groups, continues to seek grants to complete the purchase of that property, along with several thousand acres of company-owned forestland in North Kitsap.

Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, the development arm of Pope Resources, said the cleanup agreement will keep the two old docks in place long enough for the company to get mitigation credit for a new dock proposed for the northern part of the mill site.

Applications for that dock will be pushed ahead of other development plans, he said, and it is possible the new dock could be approved before the old docks are torn down.

Rose said he plans to begin discussions about the size and use of that dock with the community, including members of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Tribal leaders have said they are worried that pollution from boats could force shellfish beds to remain closed before they are even reopened as a result of cleanup of the bay.

The $17-million cleanup plan includes the removal of about 2,000 pilings plus overwater structures, along with about 80,000 cubic yards of wood waste and contaminated sediments (including amounts already removed).

The cleanup also will include the placement of a sand “cap” up to 4 feet thick over contaminants in selected portions of the bay.

Costs of the cleanup will be shared by Pope Resources, the Washington Department of Natural Resources and possibly other responsible parties. A cost-sharing agreement has yet to be negotiated, but it is not expected to delay the cleanup work.

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