Olympic Property Group’s demand to the Department of Ecology that OPG be allowed to keep two docks at the old mill site until it gets permission to build a new dock on the north shore of Port Gamble, outside of the bay, seems to be little more than a strategic move to guarantee it gets the new dock it wants.
Here’s OPG’s message: The state wants us to remove two old docks as part of the cleanup plan. We’ll remove the old docks, but only after we get permission to build a new dock. If we and the state can’t reach agreement on this, millions of dollars in legislative funding for shoreline acquisition and a variety of community amenities will go away.
All of this comes one month before the expiration of an option agreement by which the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition is raising money to buy Pope Resources’ North Kitsap forestland for public open space and trails. Good timing.
Let’s boil this down.
One, Pope Resources, OPG’s parent company, must clean up the old mill site, remove old pilings and remove wood waste from the bay floor.
Two, Pope Resources has submitted to the county a master plan for development of Port Gamble. Master plan approval will be decided by the county based on current zoning regulations, not on whether Pope completes a cleanup agreement with the state. Likewise, Pope’s proposed new dock is also unrelated to the cleanup.
Three, OPG claims that the timing of the dock removal is important — that when it applies for a new dock, it must have something to remove in order to offset the environmental impacts of the new dock. Ecology is one of the agencies that would permit the new dock. Tim Nord, director of Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program, said removal of the old docks and approval of the new dock are not tied together. Ecology’s message is, the old docks must come down anyway. When the new dock is proposed, other restoration work can be considered for their mitigation value.
Pope Resources entered the Department of Ecology’s Voluntary Clean-up Program 11 years ago, meaning cleanup would be cooperative, not enforced. According to OPG, Pope Resources has spent more than $10 million “remediating landfills, contaminated soils in town and on the millsite itself. Two woodwaste dredging projects were also performed in the Bay.” In a letter to conservation advocates, OPG President Jon Rose wrote, “We made it clear to DOE that once the clean-up was complete, Pope Resources intended to re-develop Port Gamble to the thriving town it once was.” But cleanup and redevelopment are not tied together.
While Pope entered Ecology’s cleanup program voluntarily, there is nothing voluntary about the cleanup. The $10 million Pope Resources has invested in cleanup was going to be spent anyway. And cleanup is never a guarantee of future development. Washington’s shorelines are littered with sites where fortunes were made and environmental catastrophe was left behind. Look no further than the Duwamish River, which is a Superfund cleanup site. As this editorial is written, a contractor is removing 500 tons of soil contaminated with mercury from the former Georgia-Pacific pulp mill on the Bellingham waterfront.
In Port Gamble Bay, a Pacific herring spawning site, leachate from wood waste has resulted in a herring egg mortality of at least 20 percent, according to Western Washington University. Shellfish closures and harvesting restrictions have been in place since 1999.
Pope Resources has a right to develop according to current zoning laws, and we appreciate the efforts that are going into making Port Gamble a viable town. But we have a right too — to not live with the environmental impacts of 142 years of industrial use on the shoreline.
Pope Resources should do the right thing and sign the plan — an agreement it reached in October with Ecology — and pursue its new dock during the master plan process for redevelopment of Port Gamble.