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Funds in jeopardy in Pope, DOE stalemate

STAFF REPORT

PORT GAMBLE —Pope Resources’ final draft cleanup plan, submitted to Department of Ecology in October, is held up by Pope’s desire to not remove two docks until it receives approval for a new dock.

According to Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope and Ecology have agreed to all other parts of the plan. He said Pope is afraid of losing its water access.

Because of the stalemate in the agreement, called a Natural Resources Damages Agreement, $7 million in state funding allocated to meet Ecology’s end of the agreement — shoreline acquisition and other environmental improvements — could cease to be available. And Tim Nord, manager of Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program, said Pope could be forced to remove the docks anyway; he was directed to prepare an enforcement order, which is scheduled to be served March 5.

The $7 million is a big chunk of the $12 million that’s been raised from various sources for acquisition of North Kitsap land and shoreline that’s being sold by Pope Resources. The Kitsap Forest & Bay Project — a coalition that includes conservation groups, the county, Ecology, the state Department of Natural Resources, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and the Suquamish Tribe — want to buy the land and shoreline for conservation and public open space.

The coalition’s option agreement expires on March 28. All told, 7,000 acres are for sale.

Pope Resources entered the Department of Ecology’s Voluntary Clean-up Program 11 years ago, meaning cleanup of the mill site would be cooperative, not forced. Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope’s real estate arm, said Pope has spent $10 million on upland and mill site cleanup since then.

In 2011, Nord requested and received a request for funds for land acquisition — enough to buy the 564-acre shoreline block, to be owned by the county; five acres of mill site for a marine science center, to be operated by Western Washington University; and another eight acres of mill site, to be owned by the Department of Natural Resources. Remaining funds would be used to close a wastewater outfall that is contaminating a geoduck bed. But that acquisition was tied to the cleanup and restoration agreement.

“I wanted to protect the bay and shoreline for generations, and the best way to do that was to buy land,” Nord said.

In the agreement, also known as an NRD, Pope Resources agreed to extend utilities to the marine science center, at a cost of approximately $250,000; commit $600,000 in start-up funds to the center; and give $175,000 to Kitsap County to assist in the cost of stewardship for the shoreline block.

In addition, according to Rose, Pope Resources is donating approximately 25 acres and 1.1 miles of tidelands to the state.

Its cleanup responsibility includes removal of 1,800 pilings and all overwater structures, including those two docks; removal of wood waste from the bay floor; and the planting of riparian buffers.

“In October, Pope said ‘We agree with the agreement and we have a NRD settlement,’” Nord said. “In late fall/early winter, they said, ‘Hey, we want to [remove] these docks from the agreement.’ I said, no, you can’t do that. We’re not going to leave an island of contamination after we clean up the sea. They want to use these docks as leverage for an unrelated activity. That issue is their responsibility. Pope is the one that is drawing this out for an unrelated issue.”

The new dock is part of Pope Resources’ master plan for the redevelopment in the Port Gamble township. The master plan was submitted to the county in January.

Rose said Pope Resources agreed “on the big pieces,” but not on all of the details. “We agreed to take out all creosote[d] pilings. We didn’t agree if we would lose legal access to the water,” he said.

In a letter he wrote to conservation advocates, Rose said he wants to remove the old docks after he applies for a new dock. He said the removal of the old docks will mitigate, or offset, any environmental impacts a new dock would pose. But if the old docks are removed now, he won’t have anything to offer for mitigation, he said.

“[W]henever a new dock is built, local, state and federal agencies all require that the applicant show there is ‘no net loss of habitat,’” Rose wrote. “In order to do so, we must be able to remove the old docks after the date of application … [R]emoval of the docks in the nearby vicinity of the new dock gives us our best hope of ever getting an approval.”

Nord said the docks have to be removed because they have creosoted pilings and there are “massive amounts of wood waste under those structures.”

After the cleanup, “Pope has the ability to work with the county to rebuild those docks,” Nord said. “We’re not taking away any water-access rights from Pope.”

Of the money for land and shoreline acquisition that would be lost, Nord said, “We were the only game in town. We had a whole bunch of money to buy land and they’re putting that in jeopardy.”

The marine science center would include an educational component about the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe; the marine science and cultural center was negotiated by Ecology.

“We certainly have been in discussion with Ecology about an education center at the mill site,” said Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan, whose people originally lived at what is now the Port Gamble township before the arrival of Pope & Talbot.

“We’ve talked about a presence in Port Gamble that is lacking right now. We certainly would support something like that.”

As of Feb. 20, it was still not too late to save the NRD and the funding.

“We had an agreement,” Nord said. “That agreement was for cleanup and land acquisition. All we have ever wanted to do was honor that agreement. If Pope came to us and said, ‘We misunderstood, mea culpa,’ the NRD would still be in effect.

“Once we issue that enforcement order, it’s a different ballgame.”

— Editor Richard Walker and reporters Megan Stephenson and Kipp Robertson contributed to this report.

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