Suquamish sues Navy over wharf project

SUQUAMISH — The Suquamish Tribe has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Navy, the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service, to fight the proposed explosives-handling wharf at Naval Base Kitsap Bangor.

“We just came to an impasse,” Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman said. “The Navy wasn’t willing to acknowledge our treaty rights.”

The proposed wharf is located in Hood Canal, within what the Tribe says is it’s usual and accustomed fishing and harvesting grounds protected by the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855.

Forsman said Suquamish and the Navy have met since 2009 and reached some consensus on financial and environmental mitigation earlier this year. However, Forsman said the Navy did not acknowledge Suquamish treaty rights in Hood Canal, citing a 1984 court case regarding Tribal jurisdiction. However, Suquamish was re-affirmed secondary fishing rights in Hood Canal in a 1985 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case, titled “Quinault, Suquamish and Skokomish Indian Tribes vs. State of Washington.”

“Like the three S’Klallam Tribes, the Suquamish Tribe has adjudicated usual and accustomed fishing grounds and adjudicated secondary rights in Hood Canal,” Suquamish Tribe attorney Melody Allen said.

“The Skokomish Tribe has adjudicated usual and accustomed fishing areas and adjudicated primary rights. The Suquamish Tribe’s treaty rights in Hood Canal remain intact, according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Forsman said, “They [the Navy] just are unwilling to compromise on that. We just feel that the Navy hasn’t adequately mitigated the projects as far as our treaty rights are concerned. We feel we made some pretty big compromises concerning the scope and impacts of this project.”

Leslie Yuenger, Navy public affairs officer, said the Navy does not comment on ongoing litigation.

The Navy set up mitigation meetings with the Tribes — Port Gamble S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, Skokomish and Suquamish — because of the environmental impacts the wharf and its construction will have on the canal. The project will “permanently disrupt salmon and other species migration patterns” and noise from the construction will injure seven species of fish, many of which are listed as “endangered” or “threatened,” according to Forsman.

The wharf would be a second explosives-handling wharf at Bangor, covering 6.3 acres. It would extend 600 feet from the shoreline and use 1,250 steel pilings. Construction costs are estimated to be $331 million, and construction is set to begin in September, according to Yuenger. All permits have been received; the Army Corps authorized the final permit Aug. 21, after other mitigation agreements were signed and the Department of Ecology authorized a water quality certification.

“We wanted to try to make this work … we feel strongly about national security, strongly about the economy in Kitsap,” Forsman said. “We also have a strong responsibility to protect treaty resources and habitat.”

The Navy reached a $9 million mitigation agreement with Port Gamble S’Klallam and Skokomish in May. The mitigation plan calls for improvements to Tribal hatcheries, beach enhancement, a research facility, and up to $3.5 million to help acquire shoreline along Port Gamble Bay, south of the former Pope Resources mill site. Construction is set to begin this fall.

Mitigation is designed to offset the impacts on wildlife and natural resources caused by the wharf.


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