We hope ‘still talking’ means agreement near | In Our Opinion

Editor's note: Pope Resources and the Department of Ecology did reach an agreement, announced Friday.

Officials with Pope Resources and the Department of Ecology are saying they’re “still talking” regarding the final cleanup plan for the Port Gamble mill site.

The deadline for Pope to sign the agreement was March 4, or DOE would take it as a refusal and serve an enforcement order on the company. The dispute: Pope wanted one part of the agreement removed — a requirement that it remove two docks with creosoted pilings. Pope wants to keep the docks in place, so it can use the removal as mitigation when it applies for a permit to build a new dock. Without those docks, Pope fears it will have nothing to offer to offset the impacts of a new dock, lessening its chances of getting a new permit. DOE has said that Pope’s future development plans and the cleanup are separate issues.

In the Herald’s last story about the dispute, an Ecology official said the agency is “open to a discussion” with Pope Resources regarding an advance mitigation agreement which would give Pope credit from the cleanup that it could use toward its dock permit. Developing an advance mitigation agreement is a formal process involving the agencies that permit docks.

We hope agreement can be reached, because there is a lot at stake.

Some $7 million in state funding is tied to the cleanup plan — called a Natural Resource Damage Assessment, or NRD. That money is more than half the money raised by a coalition, which includes Ecology, to buy North Kitsap acreage and shoreline being sold by Pope Resources. Buying shoreline and associated uplands are key to helping preserve the health of the bay. In addition, Ecology has another $2 million in state funding to close a sewer outfall and restore geoduck beds.

Without the NRD, Pope loses a buyer of more 565 acres of uplands and tidelands. And cleanup of the old mill site and bay would no longer be voluntary. Pope entered Ecology’s voluntary cleanup program 11 years ago and has spent $10 million on marine and upland cleanup so far. To be done: The removal of 1,800 creosoted pilings and removal of above-water structures, and dredging and removal of wood waste from the bay.

In the NRD, Pope Resources has agreed to contribute to the startup costs of a marine science center to be owned by Western Washington University — which would include a  Port Gamble S’Klallam cultural center — and to donate approximately 25 acres and 1.1 miles of tidelands to the state. That goes away if the NRD fails.

Today, there are hopeful signs. Pope proposes a dock that will accommodate up to nine boats, meaning it won’t be a marina that would cause an automatic shellfish harvest closure. Ecology carved out of the latest cleanup plan a mitigation that Pope could use for its dock permit — the elimination of shading, which inhibits the growth of eelgrass, that would result from the removal of the southern dock. And Ecology also says it is “open to a discussion” with Pope Resources regarding an advance mitigation agreement which would give Pope credit from the cleanup that it could use toward its dock permit.

We hope “Still talking” means an agreement is being reached that will enable the town of Port Gamble to become economically viable in a responsible way, while protecting treaty fishing and harvesting rights and the health of the bay. Such an agreement may be a model for resolving similar conflicts elsewhere.


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