North Kitsap Herald


Port Gamble’s future: Things to consider

March 25, 2013 · 10:12 AM

I grew up in Port Gamble. My father and grandmother were born there. All together, our family worked for the mill company for a combined total of about 300 years.

One of my uncles was killed in the mill and our earlier elders worked with Pope and Talbot in Maine, first arriving here in the 1850s with Captain Keller. And so, you can imagine how connected we have been in the past. Our family is equally concerned about the future, especially the environmental condition of Port Gamble Bay and its tributaries.

As a former Port Gamble S’Klallam fisheries biologist, I helped place Laudine DeCouteau Creek on maps. Prior to that time, its watershed had been clearcut and sprayed to kill riparian habitat simply because it was not placed on any existing maps. This small but valuable tributary to Port Gamble Bay has since garnered some attention and will eventually heal on its own, but I hope environmental impact review considers possible restorations and, by all means, future protection.

As a child, I played in the headwaters of Machias Creek, tromping up and down wooden flumes that still carried water to the town supply. We could, at that time, run back home and turn on the faucet to see muddy water caused by our young and ignorant mischief. Machias Creek is a historic salmon stream and I hope environmental impact review considers possible restoration as water supply issues surface, given the plans for additional homes.

I think I had 40 customers when I delivered the Bremerton Sun to town residents in the 1960s. Not sure, but I guess, as is happening in other towns like Poulsbo, more water is going to be needed to supply all those additional people with drinking water. Perhaps if wells are planned, other water sources from springs that fed Machias Creek can once again be a part of its headwaters.

My understanding is that Machias Creek is a major piece of the history of why the original inhabitants of Port Gamble mill townsite were asked to move across the channel — the mill needed their water supply. I remember what my father told me of the very first reservoir, and we visited it once. It would be a westbank tributary to Machias Creek maybe only half a mile upstream from the bay on the east side of the old road to the Babcock farm. I remember it as a wooden structure similar to a small reservoir where I fished as a child, one used by the Alder Mill as its water supply in the south fork of Laudine Decouteau Creek.

I’m certain that others have addressed most of my concerns for protection of Port Gamble Bay, but I think there may be issues I know about because of my long-time experience with the shoreline. For example, the species diversity under and, ironically, on dock pilings at the mill site is incredibly high. There are (or were) unusual populations of marine invertebrates on rocks and the pilings as well as in substrate that will be altered on removal of the pilings. As did others, we harvested scallops and butter clams under the dock. I also harvested invertebrates for my cousin, Tom Rice, for display purposes at the Of Sea and Shore Museum.

I’m not suggesting that removal of the pilings should not take place, but efforts might include possible salvage of unique species, including chitons and any scallops still present. Given the long-term presence of human alteration of the site, habitat has been created that supports some amazing life, some of which has cultural value. Pockets of unusual species assemblages might be moved to other locations where Tribal efforts are under way to protect and even restore similar habitat, such as kelp forests.

Ron Hirschi


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