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Out of the shellfish beds, into the pockets of OPG

PORT GAMBLE — A marina at the old mill site in Port Gamble could generate tourism dollars for the sleepy little town. However, that promise comes at a price.

Across the water, the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribal members use the bay to build their economy and culture, generating income from shellfish harvesting in and around Port Gamble Bay. With a permanent dock structure, closure for shellfish harvesting in Port Gamble Bay would be imminent.

Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, proposed the idea of a permanent 160-foot dock to be used for hosting tour boats, commercial fishing boats and recreational users.

Rose’s proposal was already approved once by the county. It was appealed when Port Gamble Tribal Chairman Ron Charles got wind and saw immediate repercussions of proposed float planes and Argosy cruise lines triggering shellfish closures around the bay.

“Anything that could possibly close the bay to shellfish harvesting, we are going to contest it,” Charles said. “We have been a thorn in their sides.”

Rose said he is aware of the implications the dock has on the tribe. “I don’t dispute the shellfish closures,” he said.

Shellfish harvesting accounts for $3 million in annual total income for individual fishermen, according to the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Natural Resources Shellfish Management Program’s harvest reviews between 2003-06.

Kitsap County Commissioners will decide the marina dock’s fate at their scheduled April 14 meeting.

“The Department of Health follows the Food and Drug Administration guidance on the National Sanitation Program,” said Mark Toy, environmental engineer for the Washington State Department of Health. “The FDA directs closure in the place of the marina where there are a significant number of boats capable of discharging waste.”

That number, defined by the FDA, is 10 boats, assuming there are two people in each boat.

“This case is a little unusual because he (Rose) is proposing fewer boats but a lot more people,” Toy said.

Bays also face immediate closure when a derelict vessel is in the process of sinking, Toy said. The closure comes in accordance to the National Shellfish Sanitation Manual of Operations.

The main concern initiating closure is the risk of people consuming fecal coliform bacteria, which originates from human waste.

The Health Department warns eating shellfish contaminated by biotoxins is deadly. Biotoxins cannot be destroyed through cooking or freezing.

“It’s devastating for the tribe to have the beds closed,” Charles said. “(Port Gamble Bay) is one of the only bays in Washington clean enough for shellfish harvesting and it’s because of the committed tribe. A lot are polluted by marinas.”

Rose first planed to build a dock for the Washington State Department of Transportation to use and rent from OPG for the passenger-only ferry during the Hood Canal Bridge construction in 2009.

“It was a cool idea,” Rose said. “It was a win for us, it was a win for Port Gamble and a win for taxpayers.”

WSDOT didn’t have time to wait for the outcome of the appeal process and Rose will not be building permanent dock for the passenger ferry. WSDOT received a temporary dock permit and plans to build the the dock this summer, said Joe Irwin, communications consultant for the Hood Canal Bridge Project. The dock will be torn down after the bridge construction is complete, which is set to last six weeks.

“It’s disheartening,” Rose said. “We could really use a working marina. We have been working really hard to breathe new life into Port Gamble.”

Charles said that he agrees with many of the projects Rose is heading; however, not this one.

“Jon’s ideas could be good,” Charles said. “We don’t want to see the land sold off. We’d actually like it to see it stay like it is, with a lot of forestry.”

Although the permanent dock could create an economy boosted by summer tourism, it would destroy the communities living there year-round, both tribal and the local water ecology, said Hans Daubenberger, habitat biologist for the Port Gamble S’klallam Tribe Natural Resources Department.

Daubenberger said he is concerned with the way the water structure is already and it doesn’t need additional stresses factored into the equation.

The dock’s environmental impacts would add to those created by the mill when it was in production and the sewage out-fall from the township, which has been entering the water on the North side of the town since before 2000.

“Sediment in the area is toxic,” Daubenberger said. “It’s unknown what is causing the toxicity directly.”

The more boats that come in and out of the bay, the higher the risk of is that propellers will re-suspending toxic settlement over shellfish beds. Biologists don’t know how much spreading already occurred.

“It’s not just the traffic in and out of bay,” Daubenberger said. “It’s the actual structure of the marina. A marine facility creates shading, which changes the makeup of micro-algae, sensitive to limitations of light. The activity around marina or facility can change the make up of the bottom as well because sediment is shifted and it makes it difficult for rooted algae.”

Algae, he said, provides habitat for juvenile fish, crab and spawning substrate for herring. Juvenile salmon prefer the rooted eel-grass beds and need aglae structure to hide from predators and find food.

“What we are asking for is very little,” Rose said. “We have every justification for it.”

Many entities have a stake in the issue and it’s not an easy task to say who has more to win, or lose. The process is “down right complicated,” Charles said.

More research needs to be made to determine the quality at present before any forward movement is made. (New conclusion after talk to Jon Rose tonight with the decision from the commissioners)

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