OPG dock decision upheld, however conditions apply

PORT GAMBLE — Kitsap County Commissioners upheld the decision to grant a necessary permit for Olympic Property Group’s permanent dock in Port Gamble Bay.

The decision came April 14, just before Washington State Department of Transportation decided not to build a temporary dock out of environmental concern for the bay.

“Because of the history with the sawmill, there is a lot of accumulation of wood chips and debris,” said Russ McMillan, Puget Sound initiative coordinator for the Department of Ecology. “The site where the passenger ferry dock was proposed is fairly shallow and the boats could disturb the settlement there.”

Port Gamble S’Klallam Habitat Biologist Hans Daubenberger voiced to Kitsap County staff that boat propellor wash may re-suspend toxic materials, impacting the shellfish and geoduck beds belonging to the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.

Besides the shellfish, Port Gamble Bay is also home to the second largest herring spawning ground in Washington, said Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, who applied for the necessary shoreline substantial development permit.

“It was the second biggest in the state even during the 150 years the mill was running,” Rose said.

Both the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and Friends of Port Gamble Bay appealed the proposed 160-foot dock when it was recommended for approval by county staff in September 2007 and later approved by the hearing examiner in January.

Although appeals were denied, commissioners did place conditions on the dock, such as no overnight moorage, said North End’s Kitsap County Commissioner Steve Bauer.

“It (Port Gamble Bay) is a place of significant culture and environmental importance,” he said. “Our decision was to support the hearing officer’s decision.”

Bauer also said he is unhappy with the county hearing approval process as it currently stands.

“It takes a lot of time every time we get one of these and we don’t get the original testimony or all the records,” Bauer said. “It forces people to go through a process that is adversarial the whole way.”

Bauer said the next goal is to ensure that there won’t be any shellfish closures and to come up with a written plan that Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe can comment on.

The main reason for closing the dock for overnight moorage is out of fear for personal waste discharged into the bay, creating coliform bacteria.

This would ensure immediate closure to the bay for shellfish harvesting, said Mark Toy, environmental engineer for the Washington State Department of Health, in a previous Herald article.

“I just think that (people discharging their waste) during the day is negligable,” Bauer said.

If parties are unhappy with conditions, the next step is the Superior Court, where it will be a battle of money and time, he said.

“We are mulling over whether or not to appeal the decision,” Rose said. “No overnight mooring kind of defeats the purpose.”

OPG needs three permits — from the county, state and federal levels. It has now received the county’s shoreline permit, based on the April 14 decision, and a hydraulic permit from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Rose said the next step for OPG is attaining a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Rose said the first time he submitted the dock plans for approval by the WDFW, they were denied because of its importance to herring habitat.

“We hired a bunch of PHD guys to check out the water where we want to build the dock,” Rose said. “We were able to show them, based on 40 hours of dive work that that particular area doesn’t grow a lot of vegetation. It’s not real important herring habitat.”

According to county code, Title 22, areas identified by the WDFW, or Department of Natural Resources, as “having a high environmental value for shellfish, fish life, or wild life, piers and docks shall not be allowed except where functionally necessary to the propagation, harvesting, testing or experimentation of said marine fisheries or wildlife, unless it can be established conclusively, as determined by the shoreline administrator, that the dock or pier will not be detrimental to the natural habitat or species of concern.”

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