Hood Canal property will compensate for Navy construction at Bangor

Hood Canal Coordinating Council has finally found some shoreline property to compensate for environmental damage from the Navy’s $448-million Explosives Handling Wharf at Bangor.

The shoreline of a 6.7-acre property to be used for mitigation of the Navy’s Explosives Handling Wharf at Bangor. // Photo: Hood Canal Coordinating Council

The 6.7 acres of waterfront property — located near Kitsap County’s Anderson Landing Preserve on Hood Canal — becomes the first saltwater mitigation site in Washington state under an in-lieu-fee mitigation program. The $275,000 purchase was approved Wednesday by the coordinating council, which manages the in-lieu-fee program.

The Navy itself is not a party to the transaction, having paid the coordinating council $6.9 million to handle all the freshwater and saltwater mitigation required for the wharf project — including managing the mitigation properties in perpetuity.

The coordinating council’s in-lieu-fee program, which is overseen by state and federal agencies, allows developers to pay a flat fee for their environmental damage instead of undertaking mitigation work themselves.

The five-year-old mitigation program has been working well so far, said Scott Brewer, executive director of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, noting that the Navy’s Explosives Handling Wharf is the first — and by far the largest — of four developments involved in the Hood Canal program.

“When the Navy first proposed this, the potential benefits really struck me,” Scott said. “At the time I didn’t know of all the complexity.”

Of course, it would be better for the environment if development never took place, Scott told me, but environmental damage cannot be avoided for some construction projects. The in-lieu-fee program ensures that any restoration work is done correctly with the property permanently protected. When developers are in charge of mitigation, nobody may be motivated enough to protect the site into the future.

“The difficulty we have experienced,” Scott said, “is that we have to play the property market game. That is not a straightforward thing, but we are learning as we go and breaking new ground.”

The Hood Canal program is the first in-lieu-fee program to cover saltwater shorelines as well as freshwater habitats. Programs run by King County, Pierce County and the Tulalip Tribe are focused on freshwater, such as wetlands and streams. It has taken the Hood Canal Coordinating Council five years to find a suitable saltwater site for mitigation.

Part of the problem is finding unoccupied land or else houses that can be demolished or else removed at a reasonable price to allow for a large-scale mitigation.

The original concept was to restore public land for mitigation, said Patty Michak, mitigation program manager for the Hood Canal Coordinating Council. But mitigation programs generally require limited public access and other restrictions that are often at odds with the goals of public use.

A view of Hood Canal from the mitigation property near Anderson Landing Preserve.
Photo: Hood Canal Coordinating Council

Patty said she is still looking for sites with several acres of undeveloped waterfront that can be purchased or placed into a conservation easement. Because the coordinating council is not chartered to own land, some properties — including the latest purchase — are placed under the ownership of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, a regional land trust.

Hood Canal Coordinating Council is recognized by the state as a key environmental manager of the Hood Canal ecosystem. The council is made up of the county commissioners in Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties as well as leaders of the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Skokomish tribes.

The new waterfront mitigation site is just southwest of Anderson Landing Preserve northeast of Seabeck. The property, which includes 3.1 acres of tidelands and 391 feet of shoreline, has been named Little Anderson Bluff after Little Anderson Creek, which flows nearby.

The property is being purchased from the University of Washington. It includes a so-called “feeder bluff” rated “exceptional” for its ability to produce high-quality sands and gravels. Sand lance, a forage fish that help to feed salmon, are known to spawn on the property’s beach. The property is in good condition and will need little or no restoration.

Impacts of the Explosives Handling Wharf include 0.25 acres of subtidal vegetated habitat, 0.45 acres of intertidal non-vegetated habitat and 0.65 acres of shoreline vegetation.

When it comes to mitigation under the in-lieu-fee program, the acreage is only one factor. In addition, the quality of habitat and the extent of damage go into creating a numerical score, which is listed as a deficit on a mitigation ledger. When a property is purchased and any restoration work is done, the ledger shows a credit of mitigation points.

It’s a little complicated, but after one or more mitigation projects is completed, the deficit created by the original development is canceled out by the mitigation credits. In the end, the ecosystem gets some permanent protection. In a Kitsap Sun story back in 2012, I outlined the deficits for the Navy project.

Because restoration is not a major aspect of the Little Anderson Bluff project, the credits are somewhat limited. The project will generate about 75 percent of the credits needed to mitigate for intertidal impacts from the Navy project. It will also cover about 82 percent of credits needed for impacts to the shoreline.

Another major project using the in-lieu-fee program is the Highway 3 widening project and stormwater controls in Belfair. The project damaged 0.08 acres of wetlands, for which credits were purchased by the Washington Department of Transportation.

The first wetlands-mitigation site purchased under the Hood Canal in-lieu-fee program was a 17-acre property with a pond located near Belfair. The property, known as Irene Pond, includes wetlands rated the highest value under state wetlands standards. Unfortunately, the wetlands were degraded by human alterations, including an abandoned house, garbage and debris. When completed, the mitigation project is expected to generate more than three times the number of credits needed to compensate for the Belfair highway project.

Another wetlands-mitigation site is 22.4 acres near Poulsbo where a branch of Gamble Creek flows through. Mapped as a high-quality aquifer-recharge area, the property had been used to graze cattle. A mitigation plan is under development, and the project is expected to fully compensate for wetlands damage from Navy’s Explosives Handling Wharf — with credits to spare.

The in-lieu-fee program is available to anyone in the Hood Canal region. Two different waterfront property owners purchased credits for mitigation required for their bulkhead projects — beyond any on-site mitigation that could be done. The coordinating council has not yet identified waterfront property to offset those deficits on the mitigation ledger.

The Navy may return to the Hood Canal Coordinating Council to offset environmental impacts from a proposed 540-foot extension to the Service Pier at Naval Base Kitsap — Bangor. Another likely project is an upgrade to the “land-water interface” at Bangor — a fancy name for a high-tech security fence that connects the land to the water, including special observation platforms.

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