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Pope: Permit before removal
PORT GAMBLE — The agreement to clean up the old Port Gamble mill site and the southern portion of the bay is stalled, as officials from the state Department of Ecology and Pope Resources haggle over the fate of two docks.
Tim Nord, land and aquatics cleanup manager for Ecology, said an agreement was reached with Pope in August, but then Pope had an unexpected request: leave the two docks on the southern side of the mill site in the water until Pope receives the permits for a new dock, to be built on the north side outside the bay.
“The challenge is we need to make sure we remove all the contamination,” Nord said. “I think everybody recognizes that. Pope’s proposal doesn’t do that for us, that’s a core issue … [We] need to make sure that we clean up and protect Port Gamble Bay, which is a huge and magnificent resource for Kitsap County. That’s our primary charge.”
However, Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group — the Pope Resources subsidiary that owns the Port Gamble mill site — said everything can be accomplished with the right timing.
“All we’re asking for is patience,” Rose said. “Cleanups are often phased. Why does [Ecology] need that dock out today?”
In 2002, Pope entered into Ecology’s voluntary cleanup program to remove contamination from the bay after more than 140 years of wood-mill work. The cleanup will remove 1,800 creosoted pilings and two docks, and dredge the bay for wood debris.
“Pilings are coated with creosote. Creosote is intended to kill things,” Nord said. The bay also has “thousands of tons of wood waste that was, over decades of operation, placed on the floor of the bay. They degrade. That degradation causes a problem for aquatic life.”
Rose said Pope has agreed to the cleanup settlement, except for the two docks on the southern side of the mill site. He would like some flexibility from Ecology on when the docks are removed; Pope intends to apply for permits to build a new, smaller dock on the north side of Port Gamble. According to Pope, the removal of the two docks would offset the impacts from a new dock, as required under an advanced mitigation program required by several agencies. Rose said that if the current docks are removed first, Pope would not have an offset when it applies for a permit for a new dock.
According to Rose, the permit for the new dock must be obtained before the old docks are removed. “If we lose the docks, we’ll never have another dock without mitigation,” Rose said.
Pope has suggested leaving the two docks in place, covering the piles with metal sleeves. The company would remove the docks and re-dredge the area once the new dock project is under way. Rose said he will apply for the new dock’s permits within 30 days of signing the cleanup agreement.
Nord, however, said the dock issue and the cleanup are separate.
“[Ecology doesn’t] do cleanups that leave a little island of a problem. Legally, [Pope] is asking something that we can’t give,” Nord said. “[Pope] wants to use those docks to purposes unrelated to the cleanup. The permitting of a new dock is unrelated to our cleanup and restoration.
“We’re drawing a very important line here that their northern dock issue is unrelated to a cleanup.”
The total cost is estimated at $17.5 million, according to Rose. Between OPG and Pope & Talbot, the founding company of Pope Resources that went bankrupt, Rose estimates the company has spent $10 million so far on environmental clean-up. Rose said they have been in discussions with the Department of Natural Resources about sharing the remaining cost of the cleanup, but those talks are also on hold until the agreement is signed.
The cleanup agreement is a critical piece to the future of Port Gamble. A coalition of environmental groups, the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish Tribes, and the county are raising funds to purchase nearly 7,000 acres of Pope Resources land, called the Kitsap Forest and Bay Project. Pope and the coalition signed an option agreement that expires March 28. The environmental nonprofits Forterra and Great Peninsula Conservancy are leading the fundraising effort.
Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, said the coalition has raised about $12 million so far.
An appraisal for the 7,000 acres has been completed and the appraised value accepted by Forterra and Pope. Liz Johnston, conservation transactions director for Forterra, would not disclose the appraised value, saying it’s “proprietary information.”
The coalition will purchase as much land as possible when the option agreement ends. The cleanup agreement will release $9 million approved by the state Legislature last year — $7 million for purchase of Port Gamble Bay western shoreline, and $2 million to remove the sewage outfall and open a geoduck bed on the northern shore. The state’s package also includes financial contributions to the establishment of a marine science resource center, extensive restoration on the shoreline around mill site and management of the western shoreline block.
In addition to the $9 million from the state, Johnston said Kitsap County has received $400,000 from the U.S. Forest Service for the Heritage Park Addition. Pending grants would be used to purchase land in the Divide Block and Heritage Park Expansion, near the Port Gamble S’Klallam reservation.
“We are very hopeful that the Department of Ecology and Pope Resources reinitiate their conversations,” Staples-Bortner said. “There’s too much at stake here to let this slip away from us.”
Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said the news of the stalled agreement was “unfortunate.”
“We’re certainly disappointed they haven’t come to an agreement,” Sullivan said. “I’m not surprised Ecology wants to do a good clean up, and I’m not surprised Pope wants to preserve water access,” he added.
Nord and Rose said discussions are ongoing, and Nord said he welcomes more “imaginative thinking.”
“I’m still open to ideas,” Nord said. “I’m not under pressure.”