Suquamish Tribe readies 526-foot dock

SUQUAMISH — In an effort to begin building up its heritage in a big way, the Suquamish Tribe took the first step in a series of projects by applying for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits that will allow for a new 526-foot community dock.

While the tribe is emphasizing the community aspects of the structure, concerned residents are already questioning its potential for commercial use as outlined in the project design.

Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman confirmed the dock could eventually be used to ferry Clearwater Casino visitors but stressed the amenity would be open to the public. As a result, visitors will be allowed to walk along it, use it for fishing, temporarily tie their boats to it and utilize three mooring buoys located north of the proposed project.

“Not at this time, the current plans don’t call for that,” Forsman said when asked if there would be slips incorporated into the project later on for private boat storage. “We do have the year-round float. For the most part it’s not that much different from the old dock.”

When constructed, the new dock will be located north of the previous one, near the “slab,” downtown businesses and Parkway Street.

The dock is expected to be built in 2008, said Suquamish Tribal engineer Bob Gatz.

The tribe was hoping it would be approved by this summer’s construction window, but that appears unlikely as it begins July 15, and only 45 days are available for the work.

“It isn’t going to happen in 2007,” Gatz said. “We were hoping to catch the window but between the permits not coming fast enough and waiting for the steel... July 15, 2008 we plan to start.”

The tribe aims to complete the dock by the 2009 Tribal Journeys, a canoe trip that brings numerous western Washington tribes together annually. In two years, Suquamish will be the final destination, drawing thousands of canoe pullers and their families and friends to the area.

Despite any cultural relevance the dock may have for the 2009 event, several residents have taken issue with the potential for increased traffic and the dock being used for primarily commercial enterprises — namely the Clearwater Casino.

“I think my overlying concern is the traffic this new infrastructure is going to change and who’s going to pay for it,” said Suquamish resident Tammy Mathisen.

In addition to the dock, the tribe is also preparing to construct a new museum and arts center and a Community House for tribal and public gatherings.

Mathisen said she can appreciate the Suquamish reclaiming their culture, and noted they have improved their processes in the last few years.

“The structures they’re doing are not like a laundry mat and grocery store,” she said. You’re talking about an enormous amount of new infrastructure.”

Suquamish resident Thornton Percival said he feels the dock would not be allowed outside of Suquamish because of the commercial usage, so it and all other options should be examined carefully before construction proceeds.

“It’s called a ‘community dock’ when really it allows for the tribe’s commercial use and tribal fishing, and it’s using the Kitsap County right of way,” he said. “I kind of want to open an debate about this to see if it’s really what’s best for the area.”

Gatz said a group of stakeholders, ranging from biologists to commercial fisherman and long-time area residents, helped with the design process for the proposed project.

“We want this to be a community facility, so we got those kind of stakeholders that would help us,” he said.

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