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Shoreline money is in, purchase on hold

The old dock on the Pope Resources mill site may be the site of a new dock.                               - Megan Stephenson / Herald
The old dock on the Pope Resources mill site may be the site of a new dock.
— image credit: Megan Stephenson / Herald

PORT GAMBLE — Olympic Property Group and the state Department of Natural Resources are expected to have an agreement in place this summer for the cleanup of the waters adjacent to the Port Gamble mill site.

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday signed a supplemental capital budget that includes $7 million for the acquisition of Port Gamble shoreline targeted for conservation, and $2 million for the abandonment of a Port Gamble wastewater treatment plant that threatens a geoduck bed.

(Read a funding update about the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project here.)

But an Ecology official said that day the $7 million won’t be spent on shoreline acquisition until the cleanup agreement is signed. The cleanup involves removal of wood waste and creosoted pilings.

“We won’t execute the transaction until we have a mill site cleanup agreement,” said Tim Nord, Ecology’s manager of land and aquatic lands cleanup.

Nord and Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, the real estate arm of Pope Resources, expect cleanup agreement discussions to begin in May. The extent of OPG’s responsibility is not clear, Rose said — Pope Resources spun off from Pope & Talbot and leased the mill site from the older company from 1985 to 1995, when the mill closed. Pope & Talbot went bankrupt in 2002 and no longer exists.

It was Pope & Talbot, not Pope Resources, that bore the responsibility for cleanup, according to Rose.

“There are two organizations (responsible for cleanup): One is Pope Resources or OPG, the other is DNR,” Nord said in response.

DNR is a liable party because it owns the bedlands and had lease agreements with the mill that allowed it to do the work that created the contamination.

Pope & Talbot operated a sawmill at the site from 1853 to 1995; the site and its docks were the center of a host of industrial practices allowed by law at the time – including log transferring, rafting, storing, shipping and wood-chipping.

“We don’t blame anybody in this stuff. It just is,” Nord said. He said removing the wood waste will involve dredging and capping, or burying it under a layer of clean sediment.

“The extent (of the dredging and capping), we’re trying to figure that out now,” Nord said. “We will make these environmental decisions this summer.”Cleanup began soon after the mill closed in 1995. Rose said that in the last 10 years, Pope & Talbot and OPG cleaned up five landfills — two upland and three on shore – and removed “lots of contaminated soil” from the town and the mill site. Rose declined to comment on how much his company has spent.

Last year, a leaking underground fuel storage tank was detected in a slope between the General Store and the mill site. The fuel storage tank and contaminated soil were removed at a cost of about $400,000, Rose said.

Within the next two years, Port Gamble will close its wastewater treatment plant and convert the town to septic systems, Rose said. That’s the purpose of the other $2 million.

On further cleanup at the mill site, Rose said, “We’re optimistic something will get worked out.”

The shoreline acquisition is a critical part of the bay’s health, Nord said.

“One of the things we want to make sure is this land (and) the bay are going to be preserved for a long, long time, and cleanup is going to be sustained,” he said.

“There’s not a lot of development around Port Gamble Bay. Now there’s this opportunity to purchase the western shore of the bay. What that does is it will make sure man’s intrusion will not occur, and that’s important when you have an enclosed bay that is rich in shellfish, rich in heritage. It makes our cleanup decision more robust and long-lasting.”

It’s not known how much shoreline can be purchased for $7 million. An appraisal is under way now and is expected to be completed by mid-summer, Nord said. The two miles of waterfront is attached to 26, 20-acre parcels, a total of 520 acres. The effort to acquire the shoreline, as well as 6,500 forested upland acres owned by Pope Resources, is being led by Forterra, a land conservation group.

“This is a unique opportunity we have to pull together a fairly significant cleanup and accentuate the health of the bay as well as preserve it. I’m optimistic,” Nord said.

Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said Tuesday he’s excited about the governor’s approval of the supplemental budget and the upcoming discussions of the cleanup. The three S’Klallam bands – Elwha, Jamestown and Port Gamble – have shellfish harvesting rights guaranteed by the Treaty of Point No Point, rights adversely affected by contamination.

“Ecology has made it pretty clear that a cleanup plan is a priority, the cleanup process itself is a priority,” Sullivan said. “The Tribe’s always been concerned with the cleanup, making sure it’s done correctly. We’re not interested in how or who is responsible. The outcome is what we’re looking for. The product of a clean bay is the most important thing.

“If we can open up the geoduck bed, and improve conditions for oysters and shellfish, it will be positive for everybody.”

 

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