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Port Gamble tourist zoning decision nears

The county is prepared to make a final decision regarding water-related tourist zones in Port Gamble Bay, after nearly a year of wrangling over economic and environmental viability.

There was an unintentional change from C to X when the county was reviewing the urban zoning codes in 2008, meaning docks for tour boats and sea planes went from “permitted with conditions” (C) to prohibited (X).

Olympic Property Group pointed out this change when applying for a dock for a planned passenger boat between Jefferson and Kitsap counties.

The county planning commission recommended to return to permitted with conditions in the rural code in November. The county has been taking public comment since then. If the commissioners vote to adopt the recommendation on Monday, Commissioner Rob Gelder said, this does not mean docks for seaplanes or tourist boats will immediately able to be built — a permit with conditions means several other agencies, including the state Department of Ecology and the Corps of Engineers, will also weigh in.

“We’ve heard from those from the town that are really looking at supporting tourism, and hearing from not only the [Port Gamble S’Klallam] tribe but other individuals who are concerned about the environment,” Gelder said. “We’ll take all of that into consideration.”

The code change would allow docks for tour boats and sea planes to be built in Port Gamble Bay.

The tribe has fought this code change, concerned that more water traffic will adversely impact herring spawning areas and other environmental factors important to the tribe. Noel Higa, director of economic development for the tribe, said their shellfish harvesting in the bay would be impacted if tourist impacts cause a closure due to poor water quality.

“Tribal members have every right if not more to enjoy economic success,” he said. The tribe’s concerns about environmental impacts were echoed by other area organizations, such as the Hood Canal Environmental Council and the West Sound Conservation Council.

Other businesses in Port Gamble have praised the code change, agreeing that it would bring more people and more money to the town. Scott Diener, manager of policy and planning in the Department of Community Development, said the county comprehensive plan and the zoning codes “frankly supports tourism and the redevelopment of the waterfront.”

Jon Rose, president of OPG, said they would hold off on re-applying for a permit until their bay clean-up project is complete, which should be finished at the end of the year. The dock they originally proposed was 2,800 square feet and situated northwest of the mouth of the bay — compared to the 40,000 square-foot dock used during the town’s mill days.

“We’ve all been coexisting for 160 years,” he said. “The bay is big enough, and if the cleanup is positive enough, we should be able to live together.”

The county commissioners will issue their decision at their regularly scheduled board meeting on Monday, 7 p.m., in Port Orchard.

 

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