Twenty-five years ago, I stood and watched as a screaming buzz
saw tossed clouds of sawdust into the air while slicing through
thick logs of Douglas fir at the Pope & Talbot sawmill in Port
Last week, I walked across the vacant site of the old mill,
which was torn down years ago. Along the edge of Port Gamble Bay, I
could hear nothing but the sound of the wind and an occasional call
of a seagull.
I came back to the old mill site to see how things looked
following completion of the $20-million-plus cleanup of Port Gamble
Bay. Some 111,000 cubic yards of dredge material is now piled up in
the middle of the site, an amount roughly equivalent to 10,000
In addition, nearly 8,600 wooden pilings — most imbedded with
creosote — were removed and shipped off for disposal, making it one
of the largest piling-removal projects in state history. The final
number of pilings removed far exceeded original estimates, largely
because buried ones kept turning up during the removal work.
“It’s a huge relief to get this done,” said Jon Rose, vice
president of Pope Resources who has overseen a decade of planning
and cleanup. “It has been very hard on our staff, hard on the town,
hard on our financial statements.
“I think we are on the right side of the mountain,” he added.
“Look at how incredible the shore looks.”
It’s official. Kitsap County has become the proud owner of 535
acres of prime lowland forest, including 1.5 miles of shoreline on
Port Gamble Bay. See the story I prepared for
tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun (subscription).
This is prime property, both from an ecological and recreational
viewpoint. It is extremely rare to find a place where so much
shoreline belongs to the public, especially in a populated area
like Kitsap County. With restoration work and time for nature to
respond, this property could return to a near-pristine
This is the first property sale completed by the Kitsap Forest
& Bay Project. More than two years ago, I attended a kick-off
meeting to launch the fund-raising effort. It all began with an
option agreement to buy up to 7,000 acres of forestland from Pope
See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 19, 2012.
The effort followed a disbanded plan by the county to trade the
land for increased housing density near Port Gamble. (See
Kitsap Sun, Jan. 19, 2010.)
The new effort was spearheaded by Cascade Land Conservancy, now
called Forterra. CLC President Gene Duvernoy spelled out the task
ahead as he announced that Michelle Connor, a vice president of
CLC, would be put in charge. Duvernoy declared:
“This is probably the most important project we can accomplish
to save Puget Sound… Anytime we have a real thorny project, we hand
it to Michelle to make it happen… This option agreement is a reason
to celebrate, but now we need to get serious. Now, we can look at
all the financing and funding possibilities. Until today, we were
unable to do that.”
Other acquisitions are expected to be completed soon, but it
remains unclear how much of the 7,000 acres can be acquired from
In celebration of the completed sale, I would like to share the
statements made in a news
release by a variety of people involved in the project:
Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder:
“This acquisition has been years in the making and the beginning
of a series of great things to come in 2014. We are lining up
funding to protect additional lands from Kingston to Port Gamble as
part of this preservation effort.”
“Conservation of these lands will help sustain the cultural
heritage and health of our communities, the functioning of our
environment and diversity of our economy. Moving the whole effort
forward is a testament to the leadership of local residents, Kitsap
County, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, and
the state of Washington.”
Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman:
“The public purchase of the shoreline block at Port Gamble Bay
is an accomplishment worth celebrating. The Suquamish Tribe is
grateful that this critical marine habitat will be protected for
time immemorial and help in efforts to protect the water quality of
Port Gamble Bay.”
Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam
“One of my tribe’s ongoing priorities is to ensure that Port
Gamble Bay remains productive and healthy for future generations.
The conservation of this property furthers that goal by protecting
water quality, preventing development and limiting stormwater
runoff and other associated impacts.”
Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope
Resources’ real estate subsidiary:
“We are proud to be working with the community to protect these
forests, beaches and trails for future generations. This purchase
is a prize that has been earned through nearly a decade of
dedicated efforts by the local community.”
Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of Great
Peninsula Conservancy, a key player in the
“The many community partners involved in the Kitsap Forest &
Bay Coalition have dedicated countless hours to help achieve this
historic land purchase, handing out trail maps, speaking to
community groups and marching in parades. And when it came down to
the wire, the coalition raised over $10,000 in three days to fill
the final funding gap.”
Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of
“Restoring and sustaining the ecological systems that support
Port Gamble Bay is critical for Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and all of
us who call Washington home.”
Pope Resources officials have been meeting frantically with
legislators and other public officials to find a way out of the
dock dilemma. Jon Rose of Olympic Property Group emailed a
newsletter today to interested people involved in the Kitsap Forest
and Bay Association. In it, he explained the company’s position and
what is being done to resolve the dilemma:
“Our Kitsap delegation including Congressman Derek Kilmer, Sen.
Christine Rolfes, Rep. Drew Hansen, and Rep. Sherry Appleton have
all engaged with the Department of Ecology and the Governors’
“Additionally, a new DOE director Maia Bellon took office around
the same time as the newspaper story broke. She has spent a great
deal of time coming up to speed on this project and met last Friday
with Pope Resources CEO David Nunes.
“At this point, our suggestion is to stand by and be ready to
assist our elected officials when they indicate it is time to do
A proposed cleanup and restoration of Port Gamble Bay, worth
somewhere in the range of $30 million, seems so close yet so far
away this morning.
It seems Pope Resources has come to an impasse with the
Washington Department of Ecology, not over any aspect of the
cleanup or restoration, not over a plan to buy waterfront property,
not even over plans to restore the historic company town.
The issue comes down to a couple of docks that nobody wants or
needs, as I explain in a story in
today’s Kitsap Sun. Pope wants to keep the two docks inside the
bay until a new one is approved on the site of the old sawmill,
just outside the bay. Although the legal aspects are not entirely
clear, Jon Rose, who represents the company, told me that the old
docks would help preserve legal access to the water, serve as
environmental mitigation for the new dock and provide leverage and
a backup plan if the new dock is not approved.
If the deal can’t be put back together, Ecology will turn and
focus on the cleanup by putting together an enforcement order
against the company. The restoration plan, which has generated
enthusiastic support from all involved, would be abandoned, leaving
about $15 million in restoration work on the table.
Most everyone involved — including those representing Pope and
Ecology — have expressed disappointment that the parties have come
to this impasse over a couple of docks that nobody really
Port Gamble Bay is recognized as important to the overall health
of Puget Sound and to marine life around the Kitsap Peninsula. The
bay remains one of seven inlets listed as the top priority for
cleanup under the
Puget Sound Initiative. That’s why nobody wants to believe a
deal cannot be struck.
Someone may have a real answer, but all I can see is that we
need to find a way to jump to the endgame, something akin to
traveling in a time machine. If everyone could agree to a dock that
would meet the town’s needs without causing environmental harm and
if the permits could be obtained practically overnight, then
everything would be fine. But, of course, those two “ifs” are
central to the problem.
It reminds me of the impasse in Congress over the federal
budget. Both sides are well-meaning. Both sides want to get things
done. But they can’t seem to find a pathway to agreement without
compromising their fundamental principles.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday announced that $20
million in grants will go to 24 coastal wetland projects throughout
the United States.
Fully one-third of those grants will go to Washington state, and
seven of the eight will be used for projects in the Puget Sound
“This just goes to show that Puget Sound is recognized as one of
the most important estuaries in the country,” Michelle Connor,
chief program officer for Fortera, told me for a story in
today’s Kitsap Sun.
I believe this focus on Puget Sound also could say something
about state and local priorities in a time of economic
Former Gov. Chris Gregoire often said the effort to preserve and
protect Puget Sound must not let up, regardless of the economy, or
we could lose the precious ecosystem under the pressure of ongoing
development. Here’s what she told me in an interview before she
left office (Water
Ways, Dec. 12, 2012).
“I think we have held our own and made some improvement, but not
the improvement we should have. We have to kick it up. The
population continues to grow. We’re going to have to kick it up or
we are going to lose ground. I’m not proud of the fact that we are
kind of treading water right now.”
Gov. Jay Inslee has his hands full trying to fully fund
education. As far as I know, he has made no specific funding
commitments for Puget Sound. Meanwhile, priorities for both the
Legislature and Congress are evolving.
As for these new coastal grants, the total local and state match
for all these projects nationwide is $21.3 million — more than the
total of the federal grants. Fortunately, the local share for most
of the projects in Washington state are considerably smaller than
the federal share.
I’m not sure how many grant proposals were submitted, but it is
clear that only those states and communities willing put out their
own dollars in these tough economic times would even apply for the
My story in today’s Kitsap Sun deals mostly with a project that
would buy 1.8 miles of undeveloped shoreline along Port Gamble Bay,
but some of the other projects in Puget Sound are equally valuable.
For a brief description of those projects, read the
news release (PDF 147 kb) I received from the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service. The nationwide
list (PDF 66 kb) contains only funding information.
The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe has received $617,000 in federal
grants to investigate toxic pollution around Port Gamble Bay —
including the reservation, mill site and possibly other private
properties where owners wish to know if they have a problem.
In a story I wrote for
today’s Kitsap Sun, I reported on the study process, which
includes hiring a consultant as early as this week.
Going forward methodically, the effort could finally determine
how many sites need major cleanup, how many can be handled with
some minor soil removal and how many need no attention at all.
Portions of the mill site and the bottom of the bay in places
are expected to require significant work. In an agreed
order signed between Pope Resources and the Washington
Department of Ecology, pollution is being studied around the mill
site and offshore. A report on that work is expected to come out
soon. Continue reading →