Tribe raises eyebrows over proposed OPG dock

PORT GAMBLE — An estimated 230-foot dock proposed near the Port Gamble mill site is floating concerns from the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. Docks have already been a touchy subject to residents living along the bay in recent years, and now the tribe is hoping a compromise can be reached to protect not only its way of life, but also its shellfish harvesting and beaches.

Olympic Property Group, which is designing the dock, maintains it will have a low impact in the surrounding bay and is an important part of Port Gamble’s future growth.

A third aspect to the entire issue is the Washington State Department of Transportation hoping to piggyback on the OPG project during the Hood Canal Bridge closure in May and June 2009, using it for a passenger-only ferry from Jefferson to Kitsap.

“What it is, is we entered into the option to lease the dock with OPG if they were able to build it, or rather get it permitted by the end of this year,” said WSDOT communications manager Theresa Gren. “The shoreline permit process is still with Kitsap County and they have not approved it.”

If the dock doesn’t get permitted by the end of this year, WSDOT will go forward with its own temporary dock on the site, she said.

The tribe appealed the State Environmental Policy Act permitting, and has been concerned that if such a dock is constructed, it will cause more harm to the Port Gamble Bay environment, and create a high potential for the Washington State Department of Health to shut down the beaches and shellfish harvesting areas due to pollutants brought in by vessels.

“Once it becomes a marine terminal, the Department of Health would check on the coliform levels and other pollutants generally caused by pleasure boats and other vessels that would use this dock,” said Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Chief Executive Officer Doug Quade. “The incidence of that is very high ... Once a shellfish area is closed, it’s closed for 34 months, and if during that time they find more pollutants, they close it for another 34 months. Once it’s closed, it pretty much remains closed.”

Should a closure occur in the bay, a large area including most of the tribe’s beaches and harvesting locations would be affected. OPG President Jon Rose said the company is willing to work with the tribe to allay such concerns, and a future meeting between him, Quade and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Chairman Ron Charles was being discussed last week. Rose said he feels OPG has done quite a bit of research and knows the placement of the dock, on the footprint of a pier that had been at the site for years, will minimize impacts. There is also a rock jetty that would protect the rest of the bay from the dock and boats utilizing it, and the dock wouldn’t be situated in the bay, but at the mouth.

“We are using the existing pier,” he said. “The terms of the mitigation have raised some concerns of closures to shellfish beds that happens after we get a certain number of boats. We’ve agreed to limit the boats, boats with bathrooms, to 10... We’re working on meeting together, and those are compromises we made to address the written comments from the tribe.”

“I think unless they changed something, like Doug mentioned before, there could be some uses for the dock like that that would not trigger a Department of Health closure,” Charles said, referring to using the dock for kayaks, canoes and other non-motorized boats. “They’d have to change their attitude of the proposal for the uses. We’re not enjoying being the ones to bring this up, and this could be an opportunity for their efforts, and they are welcome to sit down and talk with us.”

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