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Suquamish assessing damage from oil spill

INDIANOLA — The Suquamish Tribe is taking its time in deciding how to correct the recent damage to its once pristine estuary near Jefferson Point.

The tribal council will hold meetings this week to assess the damage on the now tarnished wetlands that were soaked by oil from a Dec. 30 spill near Edmonds. The reserve, known as the Doe-Keg-Wats, is a private tribal area used by members for fishing and ceremonial purposes and was the most affected area by the spill.

Tribal council members said they hope to make a formal decision on how they will handle the situation by the end of the week, said tribal spokesperson Leonard Forsman. The tribe is looking to form a trusteeship with other agencies to work together to assess and correct the damage.

The tribe will also send a representative to testify on the spill’s impact at a state legislative hearing. That session is expected to take place Jan. 15 in Olympia.

Clean up efforts are still taking place on the beaches, including cutting back some of the oiled marsh grass in the estuary as a way to remove some of the oil, Forsman said.

“That, I think, is a positive,” he said. “They cut it above the root so it should be able to grow back.”

However, the number of recovery workers on the beach has also been scaled back, from 70 to 30, said Department of Ecology spokesperson Larry Altose.

“As recovery progresses, there will be a lesser and lesser need,” Altose said. “Recovery is expected to take place for several more weeks.”

Test results regarding the damage are expected to be released after Wednesday, providing more information, Forsman said.

The Department of Ecology has since closed the beaches and it is unclear when they will be open again, Forsman added.

In regards to wildlife, Altose said animals are always affected by oil spills, no matter the intensity of the damage.

While the DOE doesn’t have a particular count for animals affected in the Suquamish preserve, Altose said 12 birds were recovered overall but only two survived. One was expected to be released back into the wild this week. The two seal pups that were recovered also died.

Altose noted that citizens and wildlife rescue experts have witnessed other animals affected by the oil but they have not been captured.

If citizens see animals affected by the oil, Altose advises calling (800) 22-BIRDS. A trained volunteer or staff person from the Department of Fish and Wildlife will come and take care of the animal, he said.

Altose also warned boaters to steer clear of the buoys that are in the intertidal areas near the affected beaches. The buoys are on site to mark where pom-pom booms are still collecting oil, he said, and could be a boating hazard.

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