Port Gamble shoreline plan upsets bay neighbors

The Pope Resources mill site is under contention.  - File photo
The Pope Resources mill site is under contention.
— image credit: File photo

POULSBO — Although the county has nearly 300 miles of marine, lake, river and stream shoreline to account for in its Shoreline Management Program update, much of the testimony Monday from the north end of the county dealt with a half-mile stretch in Port Gamble.

Two parties are at odds over the future of the former Pope Resources mill site: owners of Olympic Property Group say their plan to redevelop the site will restore ecological function decimated in the 150-year history of the wood mill, and stimulate the tourism industry; the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe says the site is an ancestral village of important cultural significance, and development will undo the work of the Port Gamble Bay clean up, decreasing access to fishing and shellfish harvesting areas.

The county Board of Commissioners held a special public hearing at Poulsbo City Hall, where more than 100 residents turned out and about 30 testified. The county is updating its SMP, which must be turned in to the state Department of Ecology by the end of the year.

One of the three goals of the SMP is no net loss of ecological value or function. The crux of the Port Gamble issue is no one can agree on what its shoreline ecological baseline is. OPG maintains its development will come with environmental restoration, while the Tribe would like to see the site restored to its pre-settler condition.

"I'm curious to know what the middle ground is, but I don't think there is a middle ground," Port Gamble S'Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said.

The SMP regulates use of the shoreline up to 200 feet inland from the ordinary high-water mark. Included in OPG's Port Gamble Master Plan is a 100-room hotel, restaurant, shops and homes on the former mill site — an infill paved lot. OPG President Jon Rose said the plan will also include beach restoration, dredging for wood waste and removal of the former dock and creosoted pilings.

Tribal leadership implored the commissioners to see the town site and the bay in different economic terms.

"There are other economic values besides building a building and putting people in it," Sullivan said, referring to fishing, crabbing and shellfish harvesting. "All the money made on those beaches goes back into this county."

Sullivan has said previously that a dock, such as the 2,800-square-foot dock proposed by OPG for sea planes and tour boats, could trigger shellfish closures by the Department of Health.

Rose said the issues raised during the public hearing "can be addressed and mitigated." Their plan also includes modern stormwater treatment for the entire 120-acre townsite, which Rose said no populated area in Kitsap currently has.

"The bay will continue to be restored, water quality is clearly a focus of ours and our design team," he added. "The EIS process should ferret out issues as they do."

Sullivan also said the county should take cultural resources into account as well.

"When I bring my son out to crab, and he tells me where I need to set the crab pots, I get excited about that," Sullivan said. "He's learning about his culture, he's learning about something that his grandfather did, his great-grandfather did, he's learning … a tradition, a culture. It needs to be protected."

He said Port Gamble is "important, valuable" land the Tribe's meriting attention. He disagreed with Poulsbo Councilwoman Linda Berry-Maraist, who said she was concerned the two sides of the bay were not being held to the same standards.

"The combination of [the Tribe] wanting the mill site, the environmental concerns which are very real, and the very real issue in that the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe sees that property as formerly theirs," Berry-Maraist testified. "But I ask all of us here, as I've asked the chairman of S'Klallam Tribe, isn't all the land that we own formerly the tribe's land? The Port Gamble/Pope land is really no different than the land I own, it all belonged to the tribes before we were here, and I would ask you [commissioners] to try to have the same standards to both sides of the bay."

Sullivan said Tribe has hunting and gathering sites all around the county, but Port Gamble is a cultural site.

Many others testified that zoning Port Gamble as Urban Conservancy doesn't align with the policies of the state's Growth Management Act. Kitsap County designated Port Gamble a Limited Area of More Intense Rural Development (LAMIRD) in the 1990s.

Gene Bullock of Poulsbo said there are other areas in the county, already designated as commercial or urban zones, that would be better to develop.

"The purpose of the GMA is to steer efforts into these areas where infrastructure already exists," Bullock said. He said he doesn't want to see Port Gamble go the way of Port Ludlow's shellfish beds, which are closed because of water quality.

"Port Gamble Bay is one of the most valuable and productive marine nurseries in all of Puget Sound," he added.

Members of the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe and neighbors, including Poulsbo's Mayor Becky Erickson, testifying as a county resident, also spoke about their concerns of the intensity of development.

The project has not been filed with the county yet; Rose said they intend to by the end of the year. It was added to the SMP as policy language in September, another thorn in the Tribe's side.

The Tribe had a representative on the SMP task force — a 20-member team of agencies, organizations and residents — but Sullivan said the Port Gamble plan was not brought up in those meetings, held at the beginning of the year. Sullivan called the county's failure to consult "disrespectful." The Board of Commissioners has since called a meeting with the Tribe to discuss concerns.

"It's disappointing how late it was, but it's a really good initial step," Sullivan said after the meeting.

About half the testifiers spoke directly about the Port Gamble plan, overwhelmingly negatively. After the meeting, Rose said that the reaction was positive of the 400 or so residents who came to their master plan meeting in June. Those that already live there did speak up for the OPG plan at the public hearing.

John Kuntz, owner of Olympic Outdoor Center in Port Gamble, said his businesses relies on the quality of the bay, as well as steady tourism.

"There's not an economy to run a businesses there full-time because we don't have people coming throughout the year," he said. "We do need to expand tourism in Port Gamble, as well as smart development and preserve the quality of the bay."

Buffers and Aquaculture

Prior to the meeting, residents could see blown-up maps of the county's shoreline and talk with planning staff. Nearly 50 percent of the county's shoreline is proposed to be labeled Rural Conservancy, 25.2 percent Natural, and 21.9 percent Shoreline Residential.  David Greetham, county environmental planner, said besides the Port Gamble proposal, the primary SMP changes include buffer flexibility and a higher review standard for aquaculture permits.

Some residents from South Kitsap testified they were concerned the new buffers infringe upon private property rights. The county is proposing to increase the critical area buffers in the most sensitive areas, Natural and Rural Conservancy, but allowing more flexibility in Shoreline Residential buffers.

The SMP is a state-mandated document that must provide three goals for the management of shorelines: no net loss of ecological value or function, protect public access to the shoreline, and prioritize water-dependent uses. The county SMP was last updated in 1999.

Residents have until end of business Nov. 5 to submit a comment on the SMP. The draft can be viewed at, where comments can be submitted. Residents can also write to Greetham at


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