North Kitsap Legacy Partnership poised for big step

PORT GAMBLE — A proposed agreement between Kitsap County and Olympic Property Group would pave the way for 7,000 acres of timberland to be made public and allow more homes and businesses to be built in the town of Port Gamble.

The North Kitsap Legacy Partnership agreement, however, faces steep opposition from the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribes, which contend the added development would damage the environmental health of Port Gamble Bay.

The Board of County Commissioners will vote on a memorandum of understanding between the county and Olympic on Sept. 13 in Port Orchard. The memorandum won’t bind the county or Olympic to following through with the land deal, but will lay out the process for reaching the goals of partnership.

In essence, Olympic will sell about 7,000 acres of its commercial timberland in North Kitsap to the county to be preserved as parkland. Rather than buy the land outright, the county will make trades to cover a chunk of the cost. The county would allow Olympic to cluster denser development into the Port Gamble townsite and 1,000 acres of uplands. That development would otherwise have been spread across all of its acreage.

The county could also offset some of the cost of the land by helping Olympic install water and sewer treatment facilities in Port Gamble.

The county would still need grants to pay for a portion of the land. Olympic’s asking price for the property has not been set, Olympic Property Group president Jon Rose said.

Rose said Olympic would add no more than 800 new homes to Port Gamble, and quite possibly fewer.

“There’s only a certain number of lots and homes this market will absorb,” Rose said.

The new population allocation would have to be approved by the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council.

Even in its preliminary form, the agreement has drawn fire from North Kitsap tribes.

On Aug. 4, Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman and S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan sent a joint letter to County Commissioner Steve Bauer laying out the tribes’ many concerns with the agreement, even in its preliminary stage.

Forsman and Sullivan wrote they liked the idea of preserving open space, but the agreement needed to better define how shellfish harvests on the bay would be protected and how the development would be allowed under the state’s Growth Management Act.

The county revised and reissued the memorandum on Aug. 16, in part to take into account the tribe’s concerns, Kitsap County Special Projects Manager Eric Baker said.

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe still has fundamental problems with the agreement, said Paul McCollum, the tribe’s director of natural resources. For one, the tribe believes new homes should not be clustered near Port Gamble Bay.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that you would put this development in the most environmentally sensitive area, to preserve open space in less sensitive areas,” McCollum said.

The tribe is interested in discussing compromises but the agreement would need to change drastically to earn its support, McCollum said.

Rose said Olympic hopes to discuss solutions with the tribe but said his company needs to realize a return on its property and can only make some concessions.

“It’s a challenge,” Rose said. “But it’s a challenge we’re willing to roll up our sleeves and work on.”

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